The Houston Cougars didn’t finish the 2022-23 college basketball season the way they expected. After almost an entire regular season in which the Cougars sat atop KenPom’s adjusted efficiency rankings, the team ended up losing to the Miami Hurricanes in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. However, despite the poor March Madness showing, Houston still had a year that the team should be proud of. And a lot of that had to do with the superb two-way play of Jarace Walker, who skyrocketed up 2023 NBA Draft boards throughout his tremendous freshman season.

By the time this year’s draft rolls around, Walker just might be considered a lock to be a top-five selection. Walker’s 11.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 1.0 steals per game might not stand out as special, but the 6-foot-8 big man has all the tools to be a wrecking ball at the next level. He might not be as tall as your standard NBA center, but he has some meat on his bones, along with the muscle required to bang with traditional centers. Walker also has a 7-foot-2 wingspan, which will allow him to play a bit bigger than his height.

On the defensive end, Walker should step into the league and immediately please his coaches. The 19-year-old really pays attention to detail, and he served as a vocal leader for the Cougars last year. Considering Houston was the fifth-ranked defensive team in the nation, it’s hard to ignore that he was the anchor of the defense. Whether it was with his ability to time opponents’ shots perfectly to come away with blocks or get his long arms into the lane for steals, Walker was no stranger to creating chaos defensively. He also had the lateral quickness to go out and show on guards in pick-and-roll scenarios, and all of those skills will translate to the NBA.

Walker just moves a lot better than you’d expect after taking a quick look at him, and he should be something of a Swiss Army knife once he gets his feet wet in the pros. Draft analysts are always trying to find another Draymond Green, and Walker isn’t anywhere near as versatile as the Golden State Warriors superstar. Green is one of the best defensive players in the history of the game, but Walker’s switchability is going to present all sorts of possibilities in the NBA. Playing him alongside three or four competent defenders would make for a difficult group to score on, and that’s what makes you fall in love with him as a prospect. It’s hard to find guys that are just as passionate about defense as they are offense, but Walker is one of the good ones.

Offensively, Walker doesn’t profile as a guy that will be a main hub for his team. However, he does a lot of things well, and he could serve as a very nice connector in the NBA. Walker is a very good playmaker for a big man, and he seems to always make good reads when the ball finds his hands. It isn’t hard to see him picking teams apart on the short roll in pick-and-roll scenarios, and he could also be the type of big that constantly finds cutters from the elbow. Walker also delivers very accurate passes to spot-up shooters, and that will come in handy with NBA spacing.

Walker also looks like he could be a good pick-and-pop option down the road. The shooting percentages might tell a different story, but Walker has nice touch and a decent feel for shooting the basketball. Walker does appear to have some type of hitch in his jumper, but the mechanics are almost there, and he did have 11 games in which he hit at least two triples at Houston last year. Walker should be able to clean everything up once this becomes his actual profession, and his NBA coaching staff will find that there isn’t all that much that needs to be done here. But at the very least, Walker will be a punisher as a pick-and-roll finisher. Nobody wants to get in the way of somebody his size, and he has good enough footwork to get around them if they do.

The only holdup with drafting a player like Walker is that you might not be getting a guy with superstar potential. But there aren’t many NBA big men that play both ends of the floor at a high level, while also being able to fit with pretty much any type of player. Walker seemingly has a floor as a very good NBA starter, and he just might be an All-NBA Defensive Team player one day. And if that jumper ends up coming along, he’ll be an absolute gem. In a draft with all sorts of high-risk prospects in the lottery, is it really a bad idea to grab a player with the potential to star in his role?