Arkansas’ Nick Smith, a projected NBA Draft lottery pick, returns from injury in loss to Mississippi State

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Star Arkansas rookie Nick Smith returned to the Razorbacks’ lineup on Saturday against Mississippi State, scoring five points on 2-of-7 shooting in 17 minutes off the bench in his team’s 70-64 loss. Smith had missed most of the past two months with knee problems after ranking as the #1 overall prospect in the Class of 2022, per 247Sports.

The 6-foot-1 point guard left the court indefinitely in December, what the school called “right knee management” and had not played since Dec. 17. Smith also missed the first six games of the season with a knee problem. Collectively, the knee problems put Smith’s future with the team in question, as he is considered a likely lottery pick in the 2023 NBA Draft regardless. Smith is ranked 7th on CBS Sports’ NBA Draft Prospect Rankings and ranked 4th for the Charlotte Hornets in Kyle Boone’s most recent mock draft.

Smith’s return is good news for the Razorbacks (17-8, 6-6 SEC), who entered the weekend projected as the 10th seed in Jerry Palm’s Bracketology but considered a bubble team. In addition to Smith’s extended absence, Arkansas also lost center Trevon Brazille for the season in December with a knee injury.

Despite the injuries, the Razorbacks started to bounce back with five wins in their previous six games before losing on Saturday to the Bulldogs. Still, offense has at times been a concern for the Razorbacks, who ranked 352nd nationally with just 4.9 3-pointers per game entering Saturday’s action. Smith’s versatile offensive play should open things up for the Razorbacks down the stretch as he gets to grips with the game’s action.

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