Jarace Walker combines Defensive Player of the Year upside with singular power and finesse on the offensive end.
“Versatility” has become something of a buzzword in the NBA discourse. It is, if nothing else, a rather versatile word. It can apply to a broad number of attributes, many different facets of the game. What makes Jarace Walker special — and what makes him a potential top-5 pick — is his versatility. And, in the case of Walker, that word can hold any number of different meanings.
Walker, who looks like he would make a tremendous professional wrestler if he ever fancied a change of profession, has been a guiding light for one of the best programs in college basketball. He impacts the game at a high level on both ends and he’s set up well for a potentially deep run in March.
The top of the draft is loaded with talent. A lot of prospects fit a more traditional mold of theoretical offensive star than Walker. A lot of prospects play flashier basketball, or have bigger followings on social media. But not many of them will outwork Walker, and very few project as better NBA players long-term.
Jarace Walker NBA Draft bio
Weight: 240 pounds
Birthdate: September 4, 2003
Offensive Role: Slasher, playmaking big
Defensive Role: Five-position superstar
Projected Draft Range: 3-10
NBA Draft highlights
Jarace Walker would also make an excellent tight end. His movement ability at 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds is frankly unbelievable. A lot of high-leapers will garner the label of “freak athlete” ahead of the 2023 NBA Draft, but Walker should be mentioned right alongside them. He can side-step defenders, pirouette through traffic, or simply put his head down and run over anyone brave enough to stand in his way.
NBA teams should be able to deploy Walker in a variety of roles offensively. He can set thundering screens and roll hard to the rim, where his power and soft touch guarantees favorable results. He can operate as a playmaking hub from the elbow, sizing up the defense from a triple-threat position before either driving the lane or locating an open teammate. He has the potential to draw a lot of double teams because of his raw strength.
Over the course of his freshman season at Houston, Walker has flashed some impressive shot-making. He’s not the best shooter by any stretch, but seeing a player with his size and athleticism hit pull-up 3s is quite the double-take moment. If teams believe in Walker as a shooter long-term, there’s very little keeping him out of the top half of the lottery.
Walker is an intriguing playmaker for his position and a potentially dominant slasher. But, the reason NBA teams will draft Walker high isn’t the offense. It’s the defense. Walker has the strength and quickness to guard all five positions, and not just theoretically. He’s constantly toggling between different spots on the floor, mirroring guards move for move on the perimeter or stifling big men in the post. He takes immense pride in his ability to get stops. Walker could be one of the league’s top defenders sooner than later.
Walker is going to carve out a niche in the NBA based on athleticism and effort alone. It’s hard to imagine him not making a positive impact on defense, inhaling rebounds, and at the very least thriving as a connective role player. That’s his floor.
As for Walker’s ceiling, there are hurdles he will have to clear before reaching true stardom. The jumper is not terribly consistent right now. The NBA is a different ballgame and he will have to make NBA defenders guard him on the perimeter to fully unlock his slashing.
The same can be said for Walker’s passing. He can make seriously impressive reads out of the post, or rolling to the rim, but he’s equally liable to get bottled up by swarming defenses. If he can speed up his decision-making and fully embrace the playmaking leg of his skill set, Walker will assuredly prosper at the next level.
The upside for Walker is somewhere in the realm of Julius Randle, just obliterating defenders by sheer force of will and supplying his future NBA team with all-world defense. The downside, however, is a fairly inefficient shooter who doesn’t always play to his strengths offensively. There are two sides to every prospect, and Walker is no different. He’s not risk-free, even if the floor is relatively high.
If any player deserves the benefit of the doubt, it’s probably Walker. He out-works just about everyone and the beating heart of any genuine NBA contender is an elite defensive backbone. Players who can guard five positions like Walker are exceedingly rare. He has small-ball center potential and is a postseason cheat code in the making.
The offense is less assured than the defense, but Walker knows how to weaponize his hulking frame and there are too many flashes of diverse shot-making and impressive passing to ignore. If he puts it all together, Walker has two-way stardom in the bag. If not, he can still dominate the offensive glass and make his presence felt as a rim-runner.
NBA teams are going to covet the intangibles with Walker. He checks too many boxes personality-wise and basketball-wise not to be a high pick. My advice to prospective drafters: don’t overthink it. Walker has one of the highest floors on the board and his ceiling isn’t much lower than the springy wings who threaten his position.
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