Draft prospect No. 1: Jarace Walker, Houston Cougars
The most-heralded prospect we’ll consider here is Jarace Walker, a 6’8″ big man from the University of Houston. Walker could go anywhere from No. 4 to the late lottery, and after Victor Wembanyama is probably the second-best big on the board.
An absolutely elite defender, Walker can do it all on that end of the court. His rotations were as crisp as a five-year NBA veteran, not a college freshman, and he is comfortable banging in the post or switching onto the perimeter. If he gets a lane to a weakside shot-blocking attempt, watch out for a highlight swat.
Walker will almost certainly be a perennial All-Defense candidate, but the swing factor for Walker will be his offense. He is an excellent passer and playmaker and a good finisher at the rim, and he can rebound well on either end of the court. Does his improved shot at Houston translate to league-average efficiency in the NBA? And can he ever create his own shot? That’s the difference between becoming Aaron Gordon and becoming Giannis-lite.
In the event that the Cavaliers move Jarrett Allen and end up with a lottery pick, Jarace Walker looks like a fascinating pairing for Evan Mobley. They would swap a bit of size for versatility, and Walker has more offensive versatility to space the court. It wouldn’t solve their issues at small forward, but it would be the path to maintaining a league-leading defense for years to come.