In 2020, Jabari Walker, son of former NBA player Samaki Walker, chose the University of Colorado (CU) to start his college career after receiving many other Division I offers. The combination of Coach Tad Boyle’s developmental skills and Walker’s high-energy playing style proved fruitful for the Buffaloes. Walker was one of the main reasons CU won 44 of 65 (68%) games over the past two seasons, and he received recognition for his accomplishments during that time, earning him Pac-12 All-Freshman Team honors as well as being named to the first-team All-Pac-12 squad as a sophomore. Although the 20-year-old stayed at CU for only two years, his time there was well worth it and led him to declare for the 2022 NBA Draft, where he was picked 57th overall by the Portland Trail Blazers. This past July, after the NBA Summer League, the Trail Blazers signed the power forward to a standard NBA contract.
Walker showed great improvement in his game from his freshman to sophomore year. He became a more well-rounded player, which was necessary for him to excel in the pros. Playing only 14.1 minutes per game during his freshman campaign, with zero starts, Walker was able to average 7.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game while shooting 52.6 percent from the floor. During his sophomore season, he started in all 33 games, averaging 28.1 minutes played, 14.6 points, and 9.4 rebounds per game (best in the Pac-12). Hoops Prospects had the opportunity to to speak with the Colorado star before and after the 2021-22 season.
|Wingspan:||6’11”||Vertical:||29.5” standing, 32.5” max|
|Shot Hand:||Right||Stats:||Click here|
Walker is a proven scorer, both inside and out. In the half-court over the past two seasons, the Colorado product made 52.1 percent of his shots around the basket (138 of 265), including runners and post-ups, and he made 39.9 percent of his three-point attempts (59 of 148). Having good end-to-end speed, he also made 33 of 52 attempts (63.5 percent) in transition over the same span.
Walker is not the smoothest shooter, and his release could be quicker, but he has a solid stroke with no glaring flaws. His career college numbers of 40 percent from deep and 78 percent from the charity stripe are excellent for a power forward, and he was even better in Summer League action, shooting 43 percent from three and 80 percent from the free-throw line. Another plus is that he draws a lot of fouls; he averaged 3.9 points per game from the foul line alone this past season. He drew fouls on 18.8 percent of his possessions, which put him at the 92nd percentile among all DI players with at least 100 possessions in 2021-22.
As expected from a power forward, Walker plays big — much bigger than he actually is. He’s undersized for a four in terms of height, length, and weight, but on the court, you do not notice this fact. As a sophomore, he led the Pac-12 in total rebound percentage (19.5), ranked ninth for true shooting percentage (57.0), and finished 15th with a block percentage of 2.6. He is a strong screener and is a very effective scorer on short and long rolls, ranking above the 88th percentile for points per possession (PPP) on both types of plays as a sophomore. He also ranked at the 85th percentile for PPP on post-up plays even though he lacks a sophisticated game in the paint. He did struggle a bit as a cutter this season (39th percentile), but that was likely due to Colorado lacking experienced point guards as much as anything else. For his career, he made a respectable 54.2 percent of his attempts as a cutter.
Despite having a wing-like size, Walker also plays like a big when it comes to ball handling and passing, which is not a good thing. The 20-year-old is not a fluid driver in traffic, and he rarely gains separation due to a lack of explosiveness. His handle is loose, which leads to a lot of turnovers, including traveling violations. To make matters worse, he often tries to do too much and drives into walls, and subsequently, forces passes. Walker also tends to drive with his head down, which limits his court vision. The combination of all these factors resulted in a career assist-turnover ratio of 0.52, meaning that he had nearly twice as many turnovers than assists at CU. On the other hand, Walker does display more upside as a driver and playmaker than your average big, and these aspects of his game should improve at the pro level as he learns how to play away from the basket. He showed flashes of this in Summer League, posting an assist-turnover ratio of 1.75.
Walker is a reliable defender, with the size, length, savvy, and athleticism to guard multiple positions. He is not an exceptional overall athlete, but he does have good instincts and quick feet to handle most one-on-one assignments; he gets in a stance and knows how to angle his body to force a player into a difficult shot. He also has good spatial awareness, which benefits him in reading screens and communicating on defense. He is not afraid to switch onto the ball handler, instead of falling into a drop coverage. Additionally, Walker is an exceptional defensive rebounder. He is explosive off the ground and times his jumps perfectly. This past season, he averaged 7.3 defensive rebounds per game with a defensive rebounding percentage of 29.3, which was the 12th best in the country.
Walker’s defensive weakness is defending off-ball shooters. At times, he will lose track of his man and be late on closeouts due to ball-watching. He also can be tentative on closeouts even when he is in the proper position.
Walker’s high basketball IQ, hustle, and willingness to learn have allowed him to steadily improve his game, and having recently turned 20 years old, he is a young sophomore with the potential to keep getting better. With the Portland Trail Blazers, he is unlikely to get much playing time behind Jerami Grant and others. Instead, the youngster figures to spend the majority of his time in the G League. The former Colorado star has a solid foundation, and if he continues to play good defense and knock down his threes, his time in the NBA will come.
- Inside and Outside Scoring Threat — in his college career, he shot 40 percent from three, 78 percent from the free-throw line, and 48 percent from the floor.
- Pick-and-Roll Efficiency — effective on both rolls and pops, ranked at the 88th percentile for PPP via pick-and-rolls in his sophomore year.
- Transition Scoring — runs the floor well and ranked above the 75th percentile for PPP via transition in both of his seasons at CU.
- Consistent rebounder — he led the Pac-12 with 9.4 rebounds per game during his last season with CU and averaged 9.0 rebounds per game with Portland in Summer League.
- Good free-throw shooter, who draws a lot of fouls — was fouled on 18.8 percent of his possessions this past season, which ranked at the 92nd percentile among players with at least 100 possessions.
- Steady and Versatile Defender — ranked fourth in the Pac-12 with a defensive rating of 93.8 as a sophomore.
- Young and Coachable — at 20 years old, Walker is young enough for the Trail Blazers to use his talent to meet their needs. He has the potential to be a very versatile player.
- Shaky Ball Handler — tries to do too much, handle is not tight, and is turnover-prone.
- Poor Passer — partially related to his ball handling, he had an assist-turnover ratio of 0.52 for his college career.
- Shooting Consistency — on higher volume, his 3-point percentage dropped from 52.3 as a freshman to 34.1 as a sophomore. Also, struggled shooting off the bounce this past season (24th percentile for PPP). Shooting stroke has no glaring flaws, but his motion could be smoother and quicker.
- Spot-up Defending — awareness and aggressiveness could improve; ranked at the 49th percentile for PPP allowed on spot-ups this season.
Sources, Credits, and Acknowledgements
Statistics used in our scouting reports come from RealGM.com (international stats), Sports-Reference.com (NCAA stats), and Synergy Sports Technology (special analytics), Other outside sources are noted with links to the source. Click here to see the statistical abbreviation key.