Jarace Walker is the perfect two-way connector for a rebuilding Spurs roster
The Houston product has all the makings of a successful multi-positional defender, with the frame, length, and strength to cover three through five in the NBA. Walker was one of the most versatile stoppers in the country, holding opponents to a ridiculous 52-of-180 (28.9%) shooting this season, an impressive number for anyone, let alone a freshman.
Walker was effective against taller wings and forwards, walling off drives with his chest and contesting shots at the basket with verticality. He kept his assignments out of the paint and beat them to their spot with his elite anticipation and massive seven-two wingspan, forcing them into kick-outs and blocking their last-ditch heaves when they settled for tough jumpers.
Though he is a bit undersized to patrol the middle, his reach, sturdy base, well-defined upper body, and physicality prevent traditional bruisers from bulldozing through him. Jarace welcomes contact and does not relinquish much ground on post-ups, baiting seven-footers into settling for awkward hooks and low-percentage fadeaways despite the height disparity.
The reigning AAC Rookie of the Year may not be perfect on the perimeter, but he has enough mobility to avoid getting stranded on an island against guards. His nimble feet and flexible hips help him stay in a low stance and slide with ballhandlers. Even when his backcourt players beat him off the dribble, Walker has the tools to recover and erase layups from behind.
One of the things that makes Walker so distinctive is his proficiency as a point-of-attack defender in the pick-and-roll. He understands when to go under or over ball screens and whether to have a high or low pickup point. His screen navigation is shockingly good for his size, enabling him to stay in front of his man or sneak in a solid rearview contest.
Jarace is also insanely scheme versatile. He can switch across positions, hedge, trap, and even play drop coverage. The 6-foot-8 teen is imposing when blitzing ball screens. And he suffocates players who prematurely kill their dribble, coming up with deflections, dislodging the ball, and causing errant passes with his active hands and lightning-quick reactions.
No scouting report on Walker is complete without emphasizing his elite team defense. He is an energetic helper, digging on drives and post-ups and punctually closing out to his man under control. His ground coverage is outrageous, he is rarely out of position or late making a rotation, and his discipline is lightyears ahead of most players his age.
Walker reads the passing lanes well and rarely compromises the defense, making calculated gambles for steals and exhibiting an eye for picking off crosscourt feeds when tagging the roller. He turned those steals into transition opportunities and breakaway slams, and his event creation as a defender stood out in nearly every game he suited up for this season.
The positive attributes are endless for Walker, and you can add weakside rim protection to that list. The polished prospect makes on-time rotations to block or disrupt shots, tags rollers and lures them into extra steps, and makes up for mistakes from his teammates. The Spurs will have a difficult decision if they slide in the draft and land in the mid-lottery.