Photo Credit to the Fayetteville Flyer
The SEC’s returning leading scorer announced last Saturday that he would return to college to play his junior year.
News of Joe’s return came as a welcome surprise to Razorback fans. The 6-5 sharpshooter will likely be in contention for SEC Player of the Year and will add more experience to this roster.
Joe, who has started 59 of the 60 games he’s played in college, is coming off a sophomore campaign where he averaged 16.9 points per game, but saw his shooting percentage drop by five-percent overall and seven-percent from behind the arc.
With Joe being a presumed started for the third-consecutive year, his return creates more certainty in the starting lineup, as well as increased quality depth on the roster as a whole, another outside scoring threat, and an increase in competition for the last starting spot or two.
At most, there are only two starting spots open right now. Joe, Moses Moody, and Justin Smith occupy three starting spots, with the point guard and center positions left open.
With JD Notae out injured, for the time being there is a legitimate battle between KK Robinson and Desi Sills for the starting guard spot. Sills provides experience, starting nearly half of his 66 college games, and averaging eight points per game for his career in Fayetteville. Robinson is a heralded true freshman with elite speed and athleticism. Both guards bring unique traits to the court, and the talent and skill that each possesses should make the coaching staff comfortable with either option.
Also competing for the spot is other true freshman Davonte Davis, a 6-4, big-bodied guard with an undeniable work ethic. Developing a shot would help Davis see the floor, but with as many shooters as the Hogs have, and his passing and driving ability, Davis could likely see plenty of minutes.
The competition at the center position rests firmly between Cal-transfer and Little Rock native Connor Vanover, and graduate transfer Vance Jackson. Jackson is a 6-9 point-forward who can guard most positions on defense, while Vanover is 7-3 and less mobile, but can spread the floor with his outside shot. These two can be interchangeable depending on matchup, but Vance would still spread the floor and could allow the defense to still operate in a standard switching man.
Adding Joe to the starting lineup pushes one other potential starter to the bench, obviously, but it also give Moody multiple options to play alongside to help ease him along through his freshman season.
According to sources, Moody has exceeded his lofty expectations already in camp so far, and had the opportunity presented itself, could have been a one-and-done prospect without Joe on the roster. Joe coming back increases the possibility of Moody staying for another year.
Regardless of the combination of starters, there will be four players on the court who are legitimate outside threats. Sills, Jackson, and Joe have each finished a full season shooting 40% or better from behind the arc, while Moody was heralded as one of the best shooters in his class and Vanover shot over 35% from three as a freshman at Cal.
Joe took the feedback from the NBA Draft process to work on his game while weighing his decision. Some of the key areas of his game he needed to improve were simply increasing his shooting percentage, getting better at scoring in isolation situations and off the dribble, developing his ballhandling, and becoming a better on-ball defender.
After weeks of operating under both circumstances, both preparing for a season with and without Isaiah Joe, Coach Musselman’s deep roster is even deeper now.