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Prospect Profiles: The case for Jarace Walker to the Wizards at 8

The Houston Cougars freshman brings an NBA-ready body with some tantalizing skills.

Miami v Houston Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

If given the chance, the Washington Wizards can’t pass up on Jarace Walker in the 2023 NBA Draft. Even if this is a prospect profile, I won’t get cryptic about that personal sentiment.

During his interview at the 2023 NBA Draft Combine, the Houston Cougars freshman was asked about his potential place in the NBA.

“I feel like there’s nothing on the floor I can’t do,” Walker said at the combine, via HoopsHype. “I feel like I’m a great playmaker getting my teammates involved, and I can knock down shots. Defensively, I can guard multiple positions, coverage calls, pick-and-rolls.”

Normally, when a yet-to-be-drafted player spouts a similar adage, you take it with a grain of salt. A fluff statement you’re supposed to say with NBA scouts lurking around every corner. Jarace Walker has a pretty compelling case for that actually being true.

Physical Tools

The Wizards drafted Johnny Davis last season despite some questions regarding how well he would hold up physically against grown NBA players. There will be no such questions with Jarace Walker.

He stands at 6’8” while being built like a linebacker more suited for the Washington Commanders. His wingspan measured at 7’2.5” at the combine, the longest for a non-center in this class and comparable to Bam Adebayo and Daniel Gafford.

He’s incredibly fleet of foot for his size. He tied for 10th in the three quarter sprint drill and 14th in lane agility while also ranking 4th in standing vertical leap among all players, not just forwards. All those despite weighing in as one of the bulkiest prospects at just shy of 250 pounds.

Defensive Potential

Jarace Walker leveraged his physical gifts to serve as the beating heart of a stout Houston defense that ranked top-5 in the country, per KenPom efficiency rankings.

Walker projects to be the ideal forward capable of anchoring a switch-everything defense given that he can feasibly guard 1-through-5 once he gets a feel for NBA defenses.

Walker’s mobility allows him to hold his own when switched on to perimeter players and even pick off passing lanes with precision. But his real value is as a potential help-side rim protector given his size and excellent wingspan.

His shot-blocking was on full display during the Cougars’ NCAA tournament run, when he averaged 4.0 blocks per game through the Sweet Sixteen.

Walker is no stiff but can be beat with a quick first step. His length and leaping ability paired with strong defensive instincts often helped him recover just enough in college to alter or block shots even after his man turns the corner.

However, given all the bulk he carries, if he’s caught leaning on the wrong side, quicker wings can take advantage. It’s something to watch out for once he gets switched onto shifty NBA guards.

Offensive Upside

While Jarace Walker is seen as a top-tier defensive prospect, his offensive skills and how they develop will arguably determine his ceiling.

His numbers during his lone Houston season don’t jump out at you: 11.2 points and 1.8 assists per game. But for a guy of his frame, he has some legitimate skills that could translate with proper NBA coaching and development.

Secondary Playmaking

Walker played in a guard-heavy offense featuring a backcourt of upperclassmen in Marcus Sasser and Jamal Shead. While he didn’t even average two assists per game, he did show flashes every now and then of being a heady secondary playmaker off the short roll.

He has a great knack for making quick decisions and even touch passes right as the ball-handler dumps it off to him. Once he draws the defense’s attention, he can hit the open man on the weak side.

If the defense commits to the outside shooters, he can drop it off to a teammate sitting by the dunker’s spot.

In an NBA offense that’s less averse to big men as offensive hubs, Jarace Walker could potentially expand his passing game once he gets drafted.

Perimeter Potential

Walker was far from a knockdown shooter. He shot 34.7 percent from deep on 2.8 attempts which was so-so while his free throw shooting left a lot to be desired at 66.3 percent.

He does exhibit pretty fluid shooting mechanics and has a more natural release that lends to the idea that he can develop into a decent, if unspectacular outside threat.

What really gets me excited is how comfortable he looks off the dribble. Walker is by no means a lead ball-handler at this point and probably won’t do most of his scoring starting from the perimeter, but there is real promise as a threat off the bounce.

With how powerful his frame is, it doesn’t even need to be fancy. The right face-up move and hesitation could be enough to bully his way to the rim like on this drive:

Walker is still very raw when it comes to his offensive abilities and he probably won’t ever be a first-option, 27-point scorer. But there remains major upside as a serious two-way threat.

Far From a Finished Product

However, despite repeated mentions of his physically imposing build and operating primarily within the arc, Jarace Walker only shot 46.5 percent from the floor. He has a long way to go as a finisher in the paint, often settling for floaters and off-balanced shots instead of powering his way through to the rim. He also settles for midrange jumpers way more often than you’d expect.

It’s clear that he has yet to truly understand how to leverage his frame on offense the same way he does on defense. There’s no guarantee he ever figures that part out at all.

Another knock against him is that he’s never had to be the fulcrum of an offense thus far. He’s had primary playmakers around him in both college and during his high school stint at IMG academy, which puts in to question whether he can be anything more than a high-end role player with great defense. Not bad, but also not the All-Star player teams hope to draft.

While it’s hard to bet on him figuring everything out, the chance to see if he does is the risk any team willing to draft him will take.

After all, he’s still just 19 years old. If there weren’t any question marks to his game, then he wouldn’t be falling anywhere outside the top 5.

Could it be the Wizards?

There’s no guarantee that Jarace Walker will even be there for the Wizards at 8. He’s impressed in the lead-up to the NBA Draft with his stock steadily rising.

The HoopsHype mock draft compilation, which took into consideration mocks from several major outlets including SB Nation, ranked him at 7th among prospects going to the Indiana Pacers as of May 28th with the potential to go as high as 5th.

Should he fall to 8th, Michael Winger needs to give him a long, hard look.