EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of player profiles of the scholarship Hoop Hogs as a lead-up to the 2020-21 season.
By Kevin McPherson
LITTLE ROCK — He’s midway through his college career, and one thing Arkansas Razorbacks junior Desi Sills (6-1 combo guard, Jonesboro) has proven is he’s a strong finisher in the back stretch of a season. The next step for Sills will be providing a leadership role in addition to consistent production and impact on the court as a veteran.
Sills finished both of his first two seasons better than he started them, and he was one of four Hogs in double-figures scoring last year as he averaged 10.6 points per game (on 42.5% field goals, including 47-of-143 from 3 for 32.9%, and 64.8% free throws) to go with 3.0 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 31.2 minutes. He got off to a rough 2-of-32 start from distance, but finished 45-of-111 for 40.5% the rest of the way.
In Arkansas’ final game — an 86-73 win over Vanderbilt in the first round of the SEC tournament on March 11 — Sills poured in 20 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field, including 5-of-6 from 3. It was his second 20-point scoring outing in the Hogs’ final four games of the season, perhaps foreshadowing that Sills is ready to carry more of the point production load moving forward.
If junior guard Isaiah Joe opts to forgo the final two years of his college career to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft pool (a decision will be coming by Aug. 3), it will be Sills who leads the charge in year two of the Eric Musselman era at Arkansas as he will be the Hogs’ leading returner in scoring, rebounds, assists, steals, and minutes.
A Joe departure would also mean that Sills is the sole returning guard from a 5-player backcourt rotation that helped Arkansas lead the nation a season ago in 3-point field goal defense as well as finishing in the top 10 in turnover margin.
As a freshman in ’18-19, Sills averaged 5.3 points, 1.7 assists, and 1.3 rebounds in 16.9 minutes per game, but he started the final eight games of the season and increased his production to 10.1 points (four games scoring in double figures including a then-career-high 18 points in the season finale at Indiana) with blistering 3-point shooting (19-of-28 from distance for 67.9%) and a leap in free-throw shooting efficiency (13-of-16 for 81.3%) as his minutes also increased to 24.1 per outing.
What we already know: As stated above, Sills’ career as a Hog has been defined by the fact his best basketball has been played in the second half of the SEC slate as Arkansas began its shift into postseason-play mode — his first season he benefitted by moving into the starting lineup late in the year, then his second go-round he started 24 of 32 games but played better once he embraced a role off the bench … Sills has been an opportunistic, spot-up three-point shooter whose counter-punches off defensive closeouts or good offensive ball movement were hard drives into the teeth of the defense for tough paint buckets … Sills’ play has been better in an off-the-ball role, so he’s more of a 2-guard than a 1 … Sills’ energy has always been lauded as a positive spark for the Hogs and helped fuel a 20-win campaign in ’19-20.
What to look for in ’20-21: Again, the expectation for Sills is leadership and consistent production on a team with 10 newcomers … if Joe is gone, Sills will head up a 6-player backcourt that is highly regarded as a unit but also top-heavy with 5 players who have never competed at the high-major level, so it will be up to him to model Musselman’s expectations while taking guys under his wing on and off the court … Sills’ development from year one to year two was obvious (see the graphic below generated by UA men’s basketball staff for some of the statistical progress), but there is room for improvement in terms of ball-handling, mid-range shooting, and defensive lateral footwork and physicality … Sills’ enthusiam and energy for the game often mirrors that of Musselman’s, a dynamic offering great coach-player chemistry that can rub off on the entire team — an intangible that can lead to buy-in and be the difference in winning and losing.
Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman talks about Desi Sills’ leadership role (from a July 1 prress conference): ”We need a player-led voice that knows what’s going on. In some of the things that we really emphasize, whether it’s hands in the eye ball, whether it’s defensively bottom of the eye, whether it’s drop and sink on dribble penetrations, we need another voice out there to try and help buddy coach. Desi is the guy that understands our schemes. So, I think it’s going to be very important.”
2019-20 Projection: Starter or 6th man with starter value.
Graphic courtesy of University of Arkansas men’s basketball