What can we learn about Jabari Walker from Colorado’s Central America exhibitions? A lot, apparently.
From Aug. 13 through Aug. 16, 2021, the Colorado University Men’s Basketball team took a trip through Central America to play some Costa Rican professional teams.
Just about every game was essentially a blowout, save for the third game that had to be called in the third quarter thanks to a broken backboard. But the team put nearly 150 minutes of film out, so I thought we could dive into sophomore Jabari Walker and what the games could mean for his draft hopes.
6-foot-8 210 pounds; sophomore, 182nd in c/o 2020 by 247
Walker came into Colorado as an underrated and underrecruited diamond in the rough, with California being his only other offer from a power program. He played at Compass Prep in Chandler, Arizona for his senior year of high school after playing his first three years at Campbell Hall in Los Angeles.
Freshman season in Boulder
Since Walker’s a late bloomer as far as “being really good at basketball,” it took a bit for him to get his legs under him in his first year. He never started a game, and it took him 13 games to see his first 20-plus minute allocation.
The first time he did cross 20 minutes, Walker passed tests with flying colors in 28 minutes, totaling 23 points (including 3-3 from three) and 11 rebounds in his only double-double of the season. His only other 20-point performance came in the first game of the NCAA tournament when he scored 24 points (5-5 from three) in just 20 minutes.
Walker would finish the season with a staggering 32.3 points, 18.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.0 blocks, and 2.0 steals per 100 possessions with shooting splits of 52.6/52.3/77.8 percent on 21.7/7.2/7.3 attempts per 100.
So with a projected higher share of opportunities in his sophomore season, what can we expect from the likely first-rounder?
For the uninitiated, the 2013 Portland Trailblazers did a great job explaining the nail here. A big chunk of Colorado’s offense – at least as demonstrated especially in the game against Abogados – involves stationing Walker right at the nail and having him be the heliocentric playmaker out of the halfcourt, shown at 2:15 in the film package.
Walker’s effectiveness from the nail varies from possession to possession, and that’s okay, given that it’s not something he was asked to do a ton of in his first year. He showed enough decisiveness during these games to make me believe it’s something that can be a staple – or even a nail – of his offensive package, greatly increasing his ceiling going forward.
Nearly a tenth of Walker’s offense as a freshman came as a P&R roll man, per Synergy, and it was his second-most efficient outlet of scoring as far as points per possession coming in at 1.4, which ranked in the 92nd percentile in NCAA.
If Colorado and head coach Tadd Boyle are going to insist on Walker being this P&R roll man like he’s shown he can be, it’s very clear that he’s going to suffer from the Buffaloes no longer having a veteran point guard like McKinley Wright IV, who’s now a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Former Arizona commit K.J. Simpson has the potential to become that really solid playmaker down the road for Colorado, but he’s not there yet and neither is sophomore Keeshawn Barthelemy. Whether or not Walker can find some P&R chemistry this year may determine the ceiling of his draft range.
Another determiner for Walker’s draft ceiling will be this positional versatility, so since he’s already shown the ability to play some small-ball 5 in spurts, teams will be interested to see if he can fill in at the 3, which will be shown in lineups with 7-foot freshman Lawson Lovering, who can stretch the floor a bit as well and comes in as a top 75 recruit according to ESPN, instead of just starting next to other forwards, like senior Evan Battey or sophomore Tristan De Silva, both of whom are listed at 6-foot-8.
Broken up into four sections (scoring, nail playmaking, non-nail playmaking, and defense) and not meant to show only the good plays, but any play that directly involved Walker, here’s his film package from the four Central American exhibitions:
Beyond the more gray aspects of his game, there are some things within Walker’s bag that are easy to point at. He’s going to be solid as a catch-and-shoot option. Set and forget. He’s also able to put the ball on the floor better than most players his size. He can drive and create for himself downhill.
The issues that are easy to point out include his lackluster rebounding during these exhibitions. He would often be outrebounded by much smaller guys. You can totally make the argument that “he doesn’t want to put his body on the line when the games don’t matter” and I’ll definitely accept that argument. But it’s something I’ll be looking for during his sophomore campaign.
Worth noting: K.J. Simpson
6-foot-2 175 pounds; freshman, 88th overall in c/o 2021 by 247
Simpson has a ways to go in the halfcourt as a playmaker, but so does every young combo guard, however he did show a lot of creativity and ambition passing in transition during the exhibitions.
He fights hard on the defensive end and is always active on offense, especially without the ball. Simpson’s best when going downhill or shooting off the catch, but has shown some pull-up promise out of the P&R.
Look for him to be a prospect down the road, but likely not for the 2022 draft. NBA comp: Cameron Payne.
For more Pac12 Basketball, check out our Pac12 Prospects to Watch.
Follow Damon on Twitter: @IAmDamonAllred