If Blazers fans woke up on the morning of March 7 and took a gander at the NBA standings, they may have been pleasantly surprised.
After a 110-104 win against the Detroit Pistons, Portland is officially a play-in team! The Trail Blazers sit 10th in the West at 31-34 – tied with the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Pelicans, and Oklahoma City Thunder.
(Those standings are going to change just about every day until the end of the regular season; depending on who wins and loses among that group on any given night, teams are going to float in and out of the top 10 in the West).
Even if the Blazers do make the play-in tournament, though, the lottery is still in play unless Portland miraculously wins two games and lands the No. 7 or 8 seed. So a top-14 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft is still the likely scenario.
In its most recent mock draft, USA Today’s For the Win has the Trail Blazers filling their most immediate need with Houston’s Jarace Walker – a strong, long, switchable defender who can guard multiple positions and is quite possibly the most valuable defensive prospect in this year’s class.
Trail Blazers mock selection Jarace Walker would immediately upgrade Portland’s defense
Jarace Walker is a 6-foot-8, 240-pound freshman for the Houston Cougars. He’s still only 18 years old and has a 7-2 wingspan to go along with his thickly built body.
FTW has Portland landing Walker with the ninth overall selection.
His length, size, athleticism, and activity make him a defensive menace. In his draft guide for The Ringer, Kevin O’Connor referred to Walker as “a versatile wrecking ball on defense.”
You can see it in the above clips – he’s so strong and compact that he physically does look like a wrecking ball, but he can also move his feet well enough and has the defensive instincts to stick with players of multiple sizes and skill levels.
His defensive IQ is off the charts, as he knows when to help and how to force opponent ball handlers where they don’t want to go.
Offensively, Walker plays a bit like Zion Williamson. He’s slighter and not as explosive, but his touch around the rim is excellent and his IQ translates from the defensive end with the way he sees the floor and can playmake.
His strength allows him to barrel through defenders near the basket, especially when he’s the roll man off pick-and-roll action.
His shot is inconsistent at this point. He’s shooting 53 percent from the floor, but that’s greatly helped by the aforementioned size and touch around the rim. He’s shooting 36 percent from three on 2.7 attempts per night. However, he’s just a 61 percent free throw shooter.
The ability to become a decent catch-and-shoot big is there, and if Walker can add some pick-and-pop action to his ability to bully defenders on the roll, he can become a 15- to 20-point-per-game scorer.
Someone with Walker’s defensive skillset would be a perfect fit for Portland and a steal for the Blazers come draft night. He would help fix the team’s greatest deficiency the moment he steps foot on an NBA floor.