The Colorado Buffaloes only landed Dallas Walton because of his health concerns. It’s hard to find mobile 7-footers with a shooting touch; it’s even harder to recruit them, even if they grow up 30 minutes from campus. Walton flew under the radar because he tore his ACL twice in high school, then committed to CU before he blew up his senior year.
Walton’s first year on campus was a redshirt season. He spent the year improving his strength and conditioning so that he could improve his durability. Then in his redshirt freshman season, he became one of three freshman starters, along with McKinley Wright and Tyler Bey. His size was his calling card, as he was called on to defend Deandre Ayton and Thomas Welsh in close wins.
Walton was the presumed starter for 2018-19, but he tore his ACL just before the start of the season. The Buffs had to start Lucas Siewert at center, who is useful as a floor spacer, but he doesn’t have the defensive presence as Walton. Colorado survived in the interior because of Tyler Bey’s athleticism and Evan Battey’s girth, but Walton is the key is going from good to great on that end.
There is an argument about who should start between Battey and Walton at center. It will probably depend on the matchup. The Pac-12 doesn’t have many good big men anymore, so there’s no Aytons or Walshs for Walton to shine against. There was also a huge increase in zone defense across the Pac-12, so much so that the Buffs will face a zone on almost half of their possessions. All these signs point to Battey because his playmaking and high post acumen makes him the ideal zone buster. And yet I would still start Walton.
Walton is a good starter, but he doesn’t have to play the majority of minutes. Even as a starter, he only played about 18 minutes per game in 2017-18, which is how much I would play him in 2019-20. He would be a force at the rim against the opposition’s starters, set a tone defensively, then check out at the first media timeout. This would let Battey come off the bench, where he can then play 25 minutes per game with both the first and second units. Battey can bust zones for the starter and also be the offensive hub of the second unit; having him as sixth man would stagger his minutes so he could do both.
I have no idea how much Walton has developed in the past year and a half. All I know is that he has bulked up and is a thick 235-lbs. His jumper has always been pretty, but if he’s more confident shooting threes, I would be even more comfortable having him start. He could be a semi-threatening screener as someone who is equally skilled at rolling to the rim as he is popping out to the three; then in a supporting role, he could just stand somewhere to be useful, like the top of the arc (like Siewert does) or in the dunker spot on the baseline (like Andre Roberson would).
He doesn’t have to be a consistent scorer — especially not if D’Shawn Schwartz makes the leap, as he should — he just needs to be a threat. If he has improved in that aspect, his offense is more playable and the Buffs can use more defense-first lineups. Tad Boyle’s wet dream is to play all of Walton, Battey, Bey, Schwartz and Wright just suffocate the opposing offense with all that length.
Regardless of whether or not Walton stars, he’s ultimately going to be a role player on a very deep Colorado team. If he’s the same player as he was as a freshman, the Buffs will have a solid backup big who can be trusted in certain matchups. If he’s improved his game during the past year and a half, he can be a high-level defensive specialist who can’t be ignored on offense. This is all health permitting, of course.