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NBA Draft Prospect Review: Jarace Walker

Ryan Hinske

Before their epic loss to Temple at the same time that the Bengals were advancing to

the AFC Championship, #1 ranked Houston University was the giant in the NCAA. This

abnormal loss that exposed the holes in Houston’s offense made me take a closer look at what

is going on when the Cougars play basketball, and even with the loss, one player stuck out to

me while watching this game: Jarace Walker, a 6’8 forward with a 7’2 wingspan that is possibly

the best defender in the NCAA.

Defensively, Walker has incredibly quick hands, even when he arrives at the ball late. He

can close out cleanly, able to change directions at lightning speed considering his built frame.

He avoids fouling jump shooters by keeping his hands high rather than jumping out of control

and finding himself in the landing space of the shooter. This also helps with resisting to fall for

pump fakes.

He doesn’t have great blocking ability, but he can cover a lot of ground very fast, which

is why NBA teams are so high on him as a weak side defender. Imagine he’s guarding Jeremi

Grant of the Portland Trail Blazers as Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic are running a two-man

pick and roll action. The two defenders in the pick and roll will both come up to avoid giving

Dame any space, and here is where the luxury of having Jarace Walker falls into place: he can

get to the wide open Nurkic quickly if Dame passes it inside, but he is also capable of closing

out to Grant in the corner if Dame kicks it out.

Off-ball defense is extremely undervalued by NBA fans and media because it isn’t pretty,

but NBA teams should absolutely love having this type of defender on their roster.

Walker’s offense is a topic of discussion among the media, and most see him as a raw

offensive player with a ton of room to grow, but they tend to be very high on his development.

Here is what I noticed.

He likes to hang out in the dunker's spot, which is not going to fly in the NBA. His lane

awareness isn't good either; he hangs out in the paint even when teammates are driving

successfully, in the NBA you have to be able to spread the floor to give the driver room to get to

the rim. He is quick to pick up his dribble, and he doesn’t have good driving IQ. He has a

package of very awkward dribble moves, although at least he is willing to put the ball on the

deck unlike defensive specialists he’s being compared to (namely Onyeka Okongwu and

Precious Achiuwa). If he has time and space, he can be a willing passer who hits cutters well in

stride. He struggles passing out of double teams, but that will only become a problem if he

morphs into an NBA offensive star. He doesn't have the tightest post shots, and he doesn't

shoot confidently in traffic or have good touch on close jumpshots. He does have a very nice

mid range game that many think can expand to the 3 point line in the NBA.

I see his floor being Onyeka Okongwu, which is a pretty high floor. An NBA team can

look at it this way: at the very least, you have a defensive specialist that struggles to spread the

floor on offense but helps make up for the superstar's defensive holes

Walker’s ceiling, to me, is Paul Millsap. Millsap is Okongwu that learned to spread the

floor by his peak. He never averaged more than 18 PPG, but he did play a lot of games at

around 33 minutes per game, played great defense, occasionally put a post move or 2 in on

offense, but mostly stayed out of the way, set solid screens, and had a nice mid-range jumper.

By his peak, we can see increases in his 3 point attempts and accuracy as he began to adjust to

the ultra-spread-out NBA offense. Although I don't think Walker has star potential, having

someone like Paul Millsap on a really good team is more valuable than some of these guys that

have higher offensive ceilings but are not as complete.

To learn more about Jarace Walker, the rest of the 2023 draft class and the future of the

NBA, tune in to NBA Tomorrow on Radio Depaul Sports every Tuesday at 12:00 PM Central.

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