2023 NBA Draft Profile: Jarace Walker is the connector the Detroit Pistons lack

Detroit Bad Boys

We’ve all got a type.

That includes Detroit Pistons GM Troy Weaver. We’ve seen the soft-spoken Weaver meander through three drafts during his time in Detroit. Each time, he’s been drawn toward prospects who fit a certain archetype — one that spans beyond positionality.

It’s hard to explain but, weirdly, I feel like describing it as “Goin’ to Work”-esque is actually the best way to put it.

Until recently, size and athleticism weren’t really top of mind. It was about the work ethic, effort and the idea of “playing” the game the right way. I don’t know if it’s actually that, of course, but it sure did feel like it with the 2020 and 2021 classes of players.

Weaver evolved that archetype in 2022, drafting a pair of high-level athletes in Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren while still holding true to the hard working and good people who want to get better mindset of guys like Isaiah Stewart and Cade Cunningham.

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with Houston big man Jarace Walker.

Well, I think Walker embodies allllllll of that stuff.

He’s a gritty dude who may lack the prototypical size, but makes up for it with excellent athleticism, a strong work ethic and a versatile game that’s perfect for the modern NBA game — the perfect forward to slot in alongside Cade, Duren and Ivey.

Defensive Ability

Defense is where Walker really shines.

It’s easy to see how his game translates to the next level thanks to the versatility he shows on this end of the floor. He averaged 2.3 stocks per game as a freshman at Houston, impacting the game with his ability as a help-side defender as well as switching:

Often times, we look at bigs in the draft and we talk about how “projectable” their defense is at the next level. It’s this idea that guys “can someday” be switchable defenders that gets thrown about. Stewart is a great example. There’s a lot he “could” do someday, but doesn’t do all that well right now.

Well, there’s no “someday” in projecting Walker as a switch defender. He can do it now.

That’s something the Pistons did a ton of under Dwane Casey and, when you look at Monty Williams’ teams in Phoenix, the best ones leaned heavily on versatile front-court defenders — mainly guys like Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder.

It’s not a coincidence that the Suns’ defense was special with those two and flammable with Kevin Durant and Torrey Craig. It was one of the rare instances where fit trumped talent.

But when you hear Williams talk about Bridges in particular, you can tell there’s a real admiration for how that man approached defense and for the work he put in to become the player he is now in Brooklyn. Walker has the same qualities defensively.

Jarace would step on the floor tomorrow for the Pistons and — barring the signing of a legit veteran defender in free agency — be their best defender from day one.

Offensive Ability

It’s easy to see the defensive upside with Walker, but offensively you need to squint a bit.

Most of that is stems from the fact that, as a potential top-five pick, Walker isn’t a big-time scorer. He’s never going to be that 20 points per night guy, but he is a very valuable offensive player. He slotted in perfectly with a Houston team built to win the NCAA title.

They fell short, obviously, but Walker showed throughout this season that, despite his lofty recruiting ranking, he was more than willing to step in and be the guy Houston needed.

He’s a connector, and every team needs those kinds of guys.

Walker is able to direct traffic when he doesn’t have the ball, and when he gets it, he doesn’t stop it. The Pistons were notorious for ball stopping last year. They ball stopped, and they ball watched — two things Walker does not do.

His game is very Draymond Green-esque, though I think he’s a much more athletic finisher around the rim. People point to his size as a concern, and it’s valid as 6-foot-8 guys don’t bang around in the paint much, but Walker has always made it work thanks to his skill and bounce.

Some worry about his shooting, but he shot 35% from 3 on nearly three attempts per game last season. The jumper isn’t broken and he’s got a nice stroke in the mid-range, too.

When you give Walker space, he’s effective and explosive. The 38-inch vertical and 7-foot-3 wingspan that help make him a menace on defense help on offense, too, as Walker can navigate tight spaces down low despite a relative lack of size.

But the below tweet really gives you a good look at what he can do as a playmaker:

Walker was a true point forward at IMG Academy, initiating offense at the highest level of prep ball. At Houston, he did the big man stuff because that’s what they needed. But don’t get it twisted, he still flashed his creativity as a passer at Houston:

Fit with the Pistons

I try not to be demonstrative either way when it comes to prospects, but this is just a perfect fit. Plain and simple.

Back in March, I can remember watching Walker and Houston play and thinking to myself, “Man, I’d LOVE this dude on the Pistons… but we’re getting Wemby so it doesn’t matter.”

That didn’t work out, but Walker will.

He’s basketball synergy. You plug him in. You get better. It’s that simple. Like I said, He’s a connector — a player who fits anywhere — and he’s going to elevate whichever team drafts him.

His willingness to move the ball and make the offense work without feeling the need to score or shoot is huge on a team with three guys — Cade, Ivey, Bojan — who are going to need to get their shots to be at their best.

And one other thing I’ve seen people say this so much over the past month: “Jarace is literally just Beef Stew.”

That’s lazy take that makes my eyes roll out of my skull. Walker and Stew have similarities from a measurable standpoint, but that’s where it ends. The difference is everything we may hope to see from Stewart is the stuff Walker already does.

Walker will fit Monty William’s “0.5” system perfectly because of his high-level passing and understanding of his role offensively. If he can nail 35-36% from downtown, provide leadership and switchable defense as a four and three, he’s going to fit alongside the Pistons core perfectly while elevating their defense.

I really think the best case for Walker is a hybrid between Draymond and Aaron Gordon, an athletic defender who plays smart on both sides of the ball and makes whatever team they’re on tangibly better despite not being the best player on the roster.

Drafting for fit isn’t smart when you’re a 17-win team, but Walker is the rare instance of fit and talent matching up perfectly.

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