The Charlotte Hornets finished the 2022-23 season with one of the better defenses in the league down the stretch. That was largely anchored by big Mark Williams and Nick Richards with some help from guys like Dennis Smith Jr and PJ Washington. If the Hornets want to add even more teeth to that defense, they could elect to select Jarace Walker, forward out of Houston and the eighth ranked player on our big board.
Weight: 240 pounds
Physical profile, defense, basketball IQ
Jarace Walker is a physical specimen, especially when you consider how young he is. He has a supersized tight end’s body with long arms and a ton of strength. He moves very well laterally for a player his size and has some pretty impressive leaping ability.
He knows how to use those physical tools on the defensive end too. Outside of Victor Wembanyama, Walker can make a case for the best defensive player in this draft class. He uses his strength and length to body up physical offensive players both in the post and on the perimeter. He has very active feet and takes quick, choppy steps to stay in front of his man. If he does get beat off the dribble, he has the motor and the physical talent to recover with blocks and contests from behind. He has a whole highlight reel of possessions where he guards seemingly every offensive player over the course of single possessions.
He flourishes as an off ball defender as well. You can see a little bit of it in the first clip above. He’s aggressive rotating to protect the basket and always puts himself in the right spot. His motor doesn’t stop and he clearly takes a ton of pride in getting stops. He generated 3.3 stocks (steals + blocks) per 40 minutes and had a very strong +4.4 defensive box plus minus.
He has a very high basketball IQ that contributes to his defensive acumen. That IQ is the biggest strength of his offensive game as well. He is a very quick decision maker and well above average passer for his possession. He has a knack for manipulating defenses to create passing angles and makes advanced reads with the ball.
Walker can be a weapon in the short roll like how the Warriors use Draymond Green. He complements that passing prowess with a good enough outside shot that defenses have to respect it, which opens up the floor.
Scoring ability, ball handling
Walker is one of those players that does everything well except for score the basketball. His shot making is limited to spot up 3-pointers and floaters if he’s run off the arc. He hasn’t shown much ability to make jumpers off the dribble and he almost never gets to the basket on the drive. He’ll get his fair share of points off catch-and-shoot jumpers and catch-and-finish dump offs, but he isn’t going to create much for himself. He scored in single digits in exactly half of his 36 collegiate games.
Part of his offensive limitations can be attributed to his ball handling. He has almost no wiggle with the ball, and the ball slows down his movement. His passing ability could be opened up even further if he tightens his handle, but for now it’s fair to wonder how much that’ll limit his ability to be creative on the offensive end of the floor.
Walker is somewhat similar to last year’s ninth overall pick Jeremy Sochan. He’s a hard nosed defender with limitations as a scorer but upside as a passer, though Walker has a more proven 3-point shot and showed a little bit more of his passing chops in college. He also compares favorably to 2022 Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes. Every team could use a player like Jarace Walker, and he’d instantly add more grit and toughness to the team’s defense.