Jordan Walsh, one of three one-and-done prospects from last season’s Arkansas Razorbacks squad that made the Elite 8, isn’t your typical McDonald’s All-American, one-and-done prospect. And that should have the Phoenix Suns drooling over the chance to add him.
I’m sure most think of hyper-athletic ball-handling highlight machines when they hear that kind of descriptor. Walsh did that to an extent in high school, finishing his prep career with Link Academy (MO), who has appeared in the GEICO National Championship in both of their seasons existing.
Let’s instead compare Walsh, a defensive-minded wing from the SEC, to New Orleans Pelicans two-year man Herbert Jones, another defensive-minded wing who came from the SEC.
Before we get to what makes Walsh such a special defensive prospect, let’s talk about the offense, because he’s not your typical non-factor on that end like many comparable defenders can be.
For starters, Walsh is one of the best slashers in the class, already very polished at how best to time his dribbles when backing down defenders and has a spin move he likes to go to. He uses his physicality to the tune of a .304 free throw rate where he shoots 71.2%.
As far as efficiency, there are only two offensive categories he’s above the 50th percentile per Synergy: runners in the 92nd percentile, producing 1.07 points per shot (albeit on only 15 possessions) as well as putbacks in the 86th percentile at 1.348 pps on 23 possessions over a 36-game span.
Overall, as an offensive player, he’s much more of a play finisher than a creator. One of the only gaping holes in that play finishing is the three-point jumper. On it’s face, 27.8% on 2.0 threes per game is just bad, no other way to slice it.
However, only about half of his attempts were open catch-and-shoot opportunities, which would likely be his most frequent if he ever played off of Devin Booker and Kevin Durant. He’s still not as good as you’d like there, but 34.9% is a decent starting point all things considered; for reference, one of the class’s best shooters, Kansas wing Gradey Dick, shot 35.6% on his open catch-and-shoots.
And team context plays a big part in explaining why Walsh wasn’t depended upon offensively in a meaningful way. Arkansas was led by two lottery-bound playmakers, Anthony Black and Nick Smith Jr., who both create for themselves and others quite well. Factor in Ricky Council IV, a shotmaker who also projects to be drafted, as well as stretch big Trevon Brazile, and you’re reminded that there’s only one ball, especially in a clogged offensive game at the college level.
By way of playing with so many other creators, Walsh displayed some of the connective aspects to his game that would set his baseline already above players like Torrey Craig, who can falter when asked to be the “middle man” of sorts on possessions.
But the Suns wouldn’t be drafting Walsh for his offense, so any offense that develops long-term is icing on the cake. It’s for his defense, where he can suffocate opposing creators and offenses.
I watched him make Creighton’s Arthur Kaluma look like a deer in the headlights, including numerous turnovers. I watched him stifle the entire Illinois offense – which includes multiple NBA players – and put Kansas wing Jalen Wilson in hell during March Madness.
The Synergy page for defense looks very different from the offensive one, because every shot type Walsh defends is above the 65th percentile. Several play types are above 70th percentile. He blows up actions both in traffic and in space, ranking in the 83rd percentile defending around screens and 73rd percentile when on an island in isolation.
At times, Walsh suffers from off-ball-disruptor-syndrome where he’ll get beat back door because he’s too focused on disrupting primary actions when that’s not where his assignment is. It’s a type of good problem to have as a prospect, because it shows an aggression on that end that just needs to be reined in a bit.
I’ve always been of the mindset that you’d rather someone be overly aggressive when they’re early in their development because its easier to focus aggression than it is to force aggression out of someone.
I also found that Walsh can never really catch a break from the officials. I counted numerous possessions where he plays excellent, harassing defense only for it to be mitigated by a 50-50 whistle on a contested shot.
Herb Jones would go on to be selected 35th overall in the 2021 draft and average 9.5 points (33.7% on 2.2 3PA), 3.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.7 steals in 29.9 minutes over 69 starts in 78 games. While I don’t expect Walsh to get as much run as a rookie, I do feel confident he can replicate that level of production, immediately becoming the Suns’ best option (pre-free agency and all that) among big wing stoppers on the roster.
Unfortunately for the Suns, there was quite an exodus of prospects withdrawing from the draft process and returning to college. A lot of those guys could’ve slotted in ahead of Walsh in the draft order, but by default, he’ll start to rise up boards. As things currently stand, ESPN — who factors in team intel for the sake of ranges — has Walsh ranked 39th on their board. That would most definitely require a trade up from 52.
Would you trade up if it meant picking up an elite wing defender with a ceiling for more?
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If you want to know how the Suns can move up, be sure to check out three trade ideas I had a few weeks ago: