Timberwolves

Jabari Walker Would Be A 2nd-Round Steal For the Timberwolves

Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2022 NBA Draft just nine days away, many discussions about the Minnesota Timberwolves have consisted of potential draft targets and trades regarding the team’s first-round selection (19th overall). However, the Wolves also have three second-round picks.

In February, I wrote on how the Timberwolves front office would need to decide on what to do with three second-rounders in a seemingly weak draft class. And the time for that decision is now. The most likely move team president Tim Connelly could make would be to package the picks along with a player like Malik Beasley or Naz Reid to get a reliable defender. But Connelly is unlikely to trade away all three picks given his draft history.

So who could the Wolves target in the latter half of the draft?

Jabari Walker.

Draft experts did not project the University of Colorado forward to get drafted at the start of the college basketball season. But after a breakout sophomore campaign with the Buffaloes, Walker is now projected to be picked somewhere in the 40-50 range where, coincidently, Minnesota’s second-rounders lie (40, 48, and 50).

In 28 minutes per game, Walker averaged 14.6 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.7 steals, and 0.7 blocks per game on 46.1/34.6/78.4 shooting splits. While these numbers might not jump out at anyone, the context of Jabari’s situation needs to first be understood.

As a freshman, Walker played only 14 minutes a night, never seeing a spot in Colorado’s starting five. Still, he managed to thrive in his smaller offensive role, tallying over 7.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per contest on stellar 52.6/52.3/77.8 shooting splits!

In his second season, though, the Buffaloes made Walker a full-time starter and their primary scoring option, a role which hurt his impressive shooting efficiency. Colorado’s head coach Tad Boyle primarily used Jabari as an off-ball shooter who ran around pin-down screens to get open. The problem with Boyle’s offensive game plan was that Walker was an ineffective shooter when his feet weren’t completely set – a problem any screen-running shooter can have. And with limited offensive threats on the Buffaloes’ roster, Jabari was forced to try and create the majority of his team’s offense, which resulted in a large number of forced missed shots and turnovers.

But Walker has shown that he can be reliable from deep when given the role of a spot-up shooter from the corner. Even with a down shooting year, Walker managed to knock down just under 40% of his 2.5 attempts from deep during his time in Boulder.  If the Timberwolves draft him, Jabari could fit in perfectly as a backup for Jaden McDaniels. Being the fourth or fifth option while on the floor, Walker would have the opportunity to get his feet set to effectively knock down corner threes, while also being a versatile defender – much like McDaniels.

Listed at 6’9″, 215 lbs. with a near 7-foot wingspan, Walker has an NBA-ready body that allows him to cover a ton of ground, which could potentially make up for the defensive woes of Wolves players like D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley – assuming both players aren’t traded in the off-season. During his collegiate career, Walker also showcased the ability to switch onto and guard multiple positions, something Timberwolves guard Patrick Beverley has stated is a must-have on next season’s roster.

While he won’t wow you with his superb shot-blocking or playing of passing lanes, Walker will play great defense. He showcased a high defensive-IQ, both as a point-of-attack defender and as a weak-side rim protector. And for a team hungry to make the playoffs again next season, that’s all Minnesota should really be asking of any second round selection.

With four picks in next week’s draft and a mix of young talent and team-friendly contracts, there are plenty of avenues the Timberwolves’ front office could take in upgrading the roster. Tim Connelly and Co. will likely be aggressive come draft night, so expect to see them deal a draft pick or two.

Still, it’s unlikely Minnesota trades all three second-round picks. Drafting Jabari Walker makes a ton of sense for the Timberwolves. Walker can be to Jaden McDaniels what Naz Reid is to Karl-Anthony Towns: a backup who provides his team with the same playstyle of their resting starter. The New Orleans Pelicans found success in Herb Jones, a 6’8″ wing defender whose shot was questioned before last year’s draft, so the Wolves’ new-look front office should take a flier on the potential 3-and-D wing from Colorado.

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Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

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