The No. 16 Arkansas men’s basketball team is 2-0 in the regular season, but a major playmaking issue has arisen for the Razorbacks.
Through the Razorbacks' two exhibition games and first two games of the regular season, their assist-to-turnover ratio was 55-48. However, the majority of the assists came in the Razorbacks’ Saturday matchup against Gardner-Webb, in which the team recorded 23.
“We have got to have a better assist-to-turnover ratio,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said in a press conference after the season opener against Mercer. “That has to get better.”
In the two previous seasons of Musselman’s tenure, Arkansas hovered around a one-to-one ratio of assists-to-turnovers, including 1.1 assists for every turnover during last season, when the Razorbacks made the Elite Eight.
The difference between this year’s team and the Razorbacks of the past is that Musselman has always had one main point guard who could facilitate and direct the offense to find open cutters and shooters. This year’s team has not found that player yet.
The candidates are sophomore guards Davonte Davis and Khalen Robinson, graduate transfer guard Chris Lykes and senior guard JD Notae.
Lykes has been coming off the bench for the Hogs this year and seems to have found a sixth-man role that fits him well. The 5-foot-7-inch guard has a great handle and tremendous speed, but uses it mainly to find himself open looks off the dribble or on a drive. Lykes’ last full season was for Miami in 2019-2020, and he only averaged 2.4 assists in 30 minutes per game.
If Lykes were to become a primary playmaker for Arkansas, he would have to change his approach to how he has played his entire five-year collegiate career.
Davis has the most potential to become the starting point guard for the Hogs. He is entering his sophomore season, but has yet to fully utilize his elite athleticism on the offensive end. The sophomore guard only averaged 2.1 assists in 23 minutes per game during his freshman year, but has expressed a willingness to facilitate and still has time to improve that part of his game.
“I know Coach has been talking about needing a point guard,” Davis said after his six-assist performance against Gardner-Webb. “I’m just going to try and continue to involve (my teammates) and get better at being a true point guard to help the team out.”
Robinson missed all but 11 games last year with a foot injury and has been knocking some rust off in his limited play this season. The Bryant native was slated to have a rotational role on last season’s team, but mainly as a scorer. Robinson has the potential to grow into a primary playmaker role for Arkansas, but even going back to his high school days, that has never been his game.
Notae regularly gets the most opportunities to be a solid playmaker for the Hogs. As the team's most talented scorer, the ball is in his hands more often than anyone else’s. However, the senior guard has only one year under his belt in which he averaged over two assists per game, and that came before he transferred to Arkansas. Notae is a pure and simple bucket-getter, not a floor general, so it is unlikely that he can be the passer the Hogs are looking for while still being the scorer they need him to be.
In the interim, 6-foot-10-inch Jaylin Williams has been serving as playmaker for the Razorbacks. Williams has excellent court vision and anticipation on cuts from guards, and he has been using these skills, along with his defensive talent, to become a necessity in the Hogs’ rotation this season.
“Jaylin was awesome,” Musselman said after Williams recorded a career-high five assists against Mercer. “He’s our best facilitator. I can’t play him at the point (guard), but we need his passing. He’s a willing passer. He’s got great court vision.”
Until someone else steps up, fans should expect to see Williams on the elbow with the ball, initiating a lot of the Razorback offense. With the battle for starting point guard still anyone’s game, the Razorbacks will take playmaking wherever they can find it.