In Baylor guard Ja’Kobe Walter’s first game at the collegiate level, he scored 28 points in a win over an Auburn team that is amongst the best in the country. That was the most points ever for a Baylor freshman debut. It was a remarkable performance for a player that was eighth in the 2023 ESPN 100, and it set the tone for the way draft analysts would look at him as a 2024 NBA Draft prospect. Since then, Walter has had several other big games, and big shots in key moments. He’s a tenacious competitor that isn’t afraid when the pressure is on. That says a lot about his composure and resolve.
Walter (6'5 with a 6'10 wingspan) just has a skill set a lot of teams are looking for right now. He’s a very confident three-point shooter, with a silky release and the ability to get his feet set in uncomfortable situations. That’s why many view Walter as a three-and-D prospect at the very least. But Walter should be able to find other ways to impact the game. After all, he’s averaging 15.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game, and he’s doing it while making 35.7% of his threes (on 5.9 attempts per game). According to Sports Reference, the only other freshmen to average 15.0 PPG and 4.5 RPG while shooting at least 35.0% on at least 5.7 threes per game are Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Stephen Curry and Rodney Stuckey.
Walter’s handle isn’t quite there, nor is the consistent on-ball creation teams are looking for at the shooting guard position. But he can attack closeouts and has an impressive floater game. Combining that with his ability to run off screens and find space for himself to get jumpers off makes it highly likely he’ll turn into a plus-level starter. He does a lot of things that some of the league’s best shooters do. And it’s not like his off-the-dribble game is hopeless. He has shown the ability to do it in spurts, and he also happens to be a player that clearly wants to be great. That said, you don’t want to bet against him adding to his game.
Walter feels like a player that will flirt with shooting 40.0% from deep in the pros. His college numbers might not support that right now, but he has a silky-looking release and is shooting 85.2% from the charity stripe. The latter is especially important. You’ll hear a lot about free throw shooting being a good indicator of long-term shooting potential throughout the draft cycle. Well, Walter isn’t just a good free throw shooter, he’s a great one. With that in mind, there’s a good shot he’ll end up being a sniper in catch-and-shoot situations at some point.
Defensively, Walter is a super competitive on-ball option. He gets his chest right up into his man, and uses his plus wingspan to make himself tough to drive by. Walter probably lacks the side-to-side quickness required to make him an elite defender in the NBA, but most coaches would be happy to have a guy like him on that end of the floor. He can generally be trusted to hold his own in his one-on-one assignments, and he’s also a smart team defender. Walter is always barking at his teammates, letting them know exactly what he sees. He’s also good at jumping passing lanes.
All in all, Walter is a guy that you want on your side in a battle between the lines. He has had two games this year in which he has shot absolutely horribly, but still gave Baylor everything he had. That was a 2-of-11 shooting performance in a win over Oklahoma State on January 6, as well as a 2-of-12 shooting performance in a triple overtime loss to TCU. The latter was a game in which Walter couldn’t hit a shot all night, but he hit the game-tying triple to send it to double overtime. Simply put, Walter is an absolute gamer.
In a draft that lacks legitimate starpower, it just shouldn’t surprise anybody if teams look to Walter as a top-10 pick. In many ways, he resembles a guy like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who can be a microwave shooting option that always competes hard defensively. But there’s a little more wiggle to Walter, so he possesses a floor of being a high-caliber rotation player. And if he continues to work on his tool kit, there’s a chance he ends up being a player that can be the third or fourth option on a winning team. That makes him something of a safe bet in the lottery.