Jarace Walker has entered the top-five conversation
We're going to start this by calling back to our original (yet very brief) evaluation of Jarace Walker from the preseason in our 'way-too-early' 2023 NBA Draft Big Board:
"Don’t be mistaken: although Jarace Walker isn’t currently a bit higher on this board, he’s quickly become one of my personal favorite players to watch and could quickly rise. The 6’8”, 240-pound forward undoubtedly has the best ballhandling skills for his size in his class, is a great playmaker, and is a defensive menace on and off the ball. His fit with Kelvin Sampson’s Houston Cougars is a match made in heaven and I’m very confident that it will do wonders for his draft stock going into next summer.
We’re generally proponents of the “draft the best player available and figure out fit later” model of drafting, but at this stage, it’s a bit difficult to envision Walker coexisting with Jeremy Sochan in the same lineups. This is a small nitpick that could very quickly change if he proves to be a high-level rim protector and signs of a more reliable jump shot emerge, but the level of talent is so high among this draft class’ wings that this knocks him down a bit for now. Even so, this is far from the last time we’ll be bringing up his name in draft conversations."
Walker's tape from his time at IMG Academy was convincing enough for me to have him as one of the top prospects for Spurs fans to watch in college basketball, and as expected, he and the Houston Cougars have been a near-perfect match. His defensive prowess, which we'll talk about more in-depth shortly, has shone brightly throughout the season, and despite a bit of a slow start, he's generally settled into his role incredibly well over the past few months.
The two most pressing question marks in our preseason evaluation of Walker were his shooting and rim protection capabilities. But alas, he's shown convincing flashes of legitimate upside in both areas. He's shot just a hair under 35% from three on 2.7 attempts per game this season and most recently recorded six blocks in his NCAA Tournament performance against the Auburn Tigers.
Having averaged 11.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.2 blocks, and 1.0 steals per game throughout the season despite playing next to several talented (and older) teammates on a Houston team with championship aspirations, I'm incredibly confident that Walker is a top-10-level prospect in his draft class at the very least. And I think he has a genuine chance to break into the top five.