The Dallas Mavericks are in an incredibly weird position because they both have so many areas of need and are so close to being a very good basketball team. It is common for teams drafting in the lottery to have a litany of needs. It is not common for them to have the breathtaking offensive talents of Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. Where the Mavericks fall in the draft will have a hand in determining who they pick. However, Jarace Walker is one of the few players who would make sense if they jumped up to the fourth pick and has the potential of falling all the way to the 10th pick.
Walker is an elite defensive prospect. He is a rock solid 6’8 with a 7’2 wingspan. He is incredibly athletic though not quite as flexible as Bam Adebayo. He is strong enough to bang with any center in the NBA, though Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid would likely be difficult matchups for him. This is a pointless concern because they are tough matchups for everyone. He is very switchable and provides rim protection. This is important because the combination of switch-ability and rim protection has replaced the combination of shooting and rim protection as the most valuable combination of skills for NBA bigs.
Defenders who can both switch and protect the rim cannot be played off of the floor in the playoffs. Rudy Gobert is among the greatest rim protectors in the history of the NBA, but he can’t defend the rim from the bench. That is where he ends up every year in the playoffs because he simply cannot defend the perimeter actions that teams put him in.
On the offensive end, Walker is raw but shows flashes of the ability to develop into a solid partner for Doncic. He has shown flashes of ball handling and being able to finish with short floaters in the paint. These skills are important as they show the ability to develop into a short roller in addition to a rim runner when paired with Doncic or Irving in the pick-and-roll.
He can contribute on both ends of the court. The Mavericks have a troubling lack of players who are good on both ends. Walker can become a screening hub for Doncic and Irving to work around while covering for their mistakes on the other end. In addition to not having enough defenders, the Mavericks have quietly lacked great screeners for years.
The Mavericks have focused on shooting and rim running with their bigs but the foundation of a pick-and-roll is the pick. Walker’s strength and girth allow him to set fantastic screens. The Mavericks' best offensive big men recently (Kristaps Porzingis or Christian Wood) have set mostly brush screens because of their body types and the fact that they were using screens as a way to set themselves up to score.
Starting with his offense as part of his positives is burying the lead. Walker is not quite perfect defensively. He is not the rim protector Victor Wembanyama is (no one is). He is not the switching defender Adebayo is. But he provides really good rim protection and mobility which the Mavericks simply must add.
Walker’s offense is a potential strength, but it is a current weakness. He is not a finished product on that end. The Mavericks are on a clock, and they may not have time for him to develop offensively before Doncic gives up on them. He is not a pure shooter and will likely fall short of being an actual spacing big even at his peak. Doncic’s offense has always been at its best when playing in a five-out offense and Walker limits that though he shot 34.7 percent on 2.8 three-point attempts per game.
Fit with Mavericks
The fit is fantastic. The Mavericks are already an all-time elite offense with Dwight Powell not providing shooting. Powell is a better player than he gets credit for, but Walker should be able to improve on Powell’s offense in time. He can then really help the Mavericks get better defensively and perhaps even help instill a defensive culture simply by playing with his manic energy.
Multiple players have been mentioned as comparisons for Walker and none of them are perfect. He is not as mobile or flexible as Adebayo. He is not the shooter Paul Millsap became in his prime, nor is he likely to be quite the scorer Millsap was. The comparison I come back to appears to be very negative, but he is a bit like former Mavericks Brandon Bass with a Mario Power-Star. He is much longer than Bass, who was about the same size and carved out a surprisingly effective offensive roll through aggression and a solid midrange jumper.
Bass averaged 12.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game for his career highs in 2011-12. Adjusted to today’s faster-paced NBA that correlates to about 15 and eight. Throw in the addition of the Mario Power-Star which will make opposing players bounce off of him for a few extra rebounds and that is about the right projection for Walker. Bass was a bit of a defensive liability which makes this hazy, but he also played at a time with virtually every team played two traditional big men. His athleticism would have likely made him a much better defender now.
Overall, Walker may not seem like an exciting prospect for the Mavericks' highest pick since Doncic. He will never be the best player in the league and given the defenders in the NBA, he will likely never even win a defensive player of the year award. But he would be a massive upgrade in both talent and fit for the Mavericks that could solve the majority of the Mavericks’ problems if everything breaks right.