What Are Jazz Getting In Walker Kessler?

Jul 1, 2022, 6:39 PM
Utah Jazz rookie center Walker Kessler (Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images)
(Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – As Utah Jazz fans say goodbye to All-Star Rudy Gobert, they’ll be excited to get to know their new defensive specialist Walker Kessler.

Kessler was one of five players traded to Utah by the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday, and, depending on when the trade is made official, the rookie big man could make his NBA debut with the Jazz during the Summer League.

Here’s what Jazz fans can expect from their newest rookie big man.

Walker Kessler: Utah Jazz Rookie

First, Kessler was one of the top recruits in the country coming out of high school and committed to the University of North Carolina in the summer of 2020. After seeing limited minutes with the Tar Heels as a freshman, Kessler transferred to Auburn and quickly blossomed in Bruce Pearl’s system.

Kessler averaged 11.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, and a staggering 4.6 blocks as a sophomore while shooting 60 percent from the floor in just 25 minutes per game.

At 7-foot-1, Kessler has legit NBA size for a center to go along with a 9-foot-5 standing reach.

The Auburn product is a solid athlete who runs the floor easily in transition and moves quickly nearly the hoop to rack up blocked shots both as a primary and help defender. Kessler played exceptionally large at Auburn where he blocked shots with both hands by eliminating any pathway for the ball to the hoop.

Offensively, Kessler knocked down a Gobert-esque 70 percent of his two-point field goal attempts as a sophomore thanks to his long arms, soft touch near the rim, and willingness to finish on top of the rim.

The rookie will enter the NBA with better feel as a scorer near the rim than Jazz fans have seen in recent years, though his dunking numbers won’t resemble Gobert.

Kessler shot the ball well in high school from the perimeter, but it never materialized in college, and will likely be a deciding factor on whether he will be a starter or a reserve big man during his NBA career.

Defensively he’ll have to be used in drop coverage which has fallen out of fashion in the NBA, but he simply doesn’t move his feet or hips well enough to defend on the perimeter.

Kessler will embarrass smaller players who try to beat him to the rim, but will likely get exposed by players with an ability to shoot off the dribble beyond the three-point line.

His rebounding numbers at Auburn were solid but were largely due to his enormous size compared to the competition. Kessler’s work on the glass had less to do with his ability to sniff out the ball and box out other players than it did his superior frame.

Ultimately, Kessler’s overwhelming production as a shot-blocker and his true seven-foot frame make him a relatively safe bet to end up as a rotation-level center in the NBA. How he develops offensively, especially as a jump shooter will determine exactly how high his ceiling can be.

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