For the first three years of his Michigan career, Derrick Walton Jr. had trouble finding his identity. During his freshman campaign, he was the starting point guard on a team that finished 15-3 and came one shot short of the Final Four for the second consecutive season. But Walton averaged only eight points per game despite being the starting point guard, finishing the year fourth in scoring behind NBA players Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Caris LeVert.
Two of the three departed, and Walton was thrust into a more prominent role the following season with mediocre results. Michigan finished 16-16, and LeVert and Walton only played 19 and 18 games respectively. His junior year saw the injury bug bite LeVert and fellow senior Spike Albrecht, while Walton led most sophomores and juniors to the NCAA Tournament.
Walton’s real rise, however, doesn’t begin until his senior season. He finished the season with 15.5 points per game, five assists and five rebounds, and he didn’t truly hit his stride until the second half of the season. After a dismal loss to an Ohio State team in total disarray, Michigan finished the season 12-3 on the back of double figures in 14 of Walton’s final 15 games. This includes masterful performances against Indiana (25 points, 10 rebounds), Minnesota (29 points, nine assists, five rebounds) and Oklahoma State (26 points, 11 assists, five rebounds). After such a stellar close to the season, Walton hopes to keep the dream alive by playing in the NBA.
If you watched the last 15 games, Walton became such a difficult cover because of his ability to affect the game in so many positive ways. His shooting is probably the one that deserves the most accolades, simply because Walton’s can stretch the defense (42% from 3 in his senior season). His assist and rebound numbers are nothing to scoff at either, as five each per game is a pretty tremendous quantity in a 40 minute game.
Besides for offensive ability, Walton has the been through the ringer at Michigan. He’s been a role player, a guy that’s played on bad teams and one who has been able to elevate his own play and the team’s play over the course of a season. If you’re an NBA GM looking to taking a chance on a guy toward the end of the second round whose played in 127 college basketball games, why not go with Walton?
As much fun as it was to root for Walton at Michigan, he never seemed to develop an elite skill. Guys who get drafted and have long careers in the NBA seem to be known for at least one or two things in college that they do exceptionally well, and while Walton is an above average shooter and passer, he’s not quite elite. That could be the difference between hearing his name called on Thursday night and not.
Additionally, another knock on Walton is his size. He stood 5’11” at the NBA combine without shoes, and smaller point guards generally have a tough time in the NBA going against elite big men. Will Walton be able to use his craftiness in the lane against great defensive players, or will power forwards and centers be able to completely neutralize once he checks into the game?
For Walton to succeed in the NBA, he’d be suited extremely well sitting behind a team with a veteran point guard for a year before taking the reins over. If he’s put on a bad team where he’s forced to contribute major minutes early, it could totally derail his career and not allow him added development. At this point, any team in need of a second or third point guard would be a great starting spot for Walton.
At this point, I’d expect Walton to go undrafted. He isn’t big or strong enough at this point where he’d make an immediate impact on a roster, but I could see him making a summer league and eventually G-League roster. He’ll probably have a chance or two in his first season to earn a 10-day contract, and he could prove to be extremely worthwhile to an NBA team down the line.