UTAH JAZZ

Walker Kessler Perfected Shot Blocking Watching Gobert

Jul 11, 2022, 2:11 PM

Utah-Jazz-Center-Walker-Kessler...

Utah Jazz center Walker Kessler (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)

(Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – It would be unfair to expect rookie Walker Kessler to fill the enormous void left empty by Rudy Gobert, but the newest Utah Jazz center didn’t pretend he was unfamiliar with the former Jazzman’s game.

Kessler was introduced by the Jazz officially on Sunday after he was acquired in the six-player, four-draft-pick blockbuster trade that sent Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

One of the most prolific shot-blockers in NCAA history, Kessler discussed his game, and how it was influenced by Gobert.

“Growing up, Rudy Gobert is one of the greatest shot blockers to ever play the game,” the fresh-faced 20-year-old said.

While Jazz fans may object that Gobert has been around long enough for any NBA player to have grown up watching him, Kessler was just 11 years old when the team traded for the future defensive superstar on draft night.

Kessler, influenced by his father, uncle, and brother who all played high-level college basketball at Georgia, became a blue-chip recruit and committed to play basketball at North Carolina.

After his freshman season with the Tarheels was marred by COVID restrictions, Kessler transferred to Auburn to be closer to home and quickly developed into the top defensive player in college basketball.

“Coach Steve is an assistant coach at Auburn,” Kessler explained, “So Coach Steve and I really just harped on being the best defender I could be and not just defending my man, but preventing a whole team from doing what they want to do.”

Kessler averaged a staggering 4.6 blocks in just over 25 minutes per game as a sophomore, breaking former Jazzman Hassan Whiteside’s block percentage rate for the new single-season record.

Standing seven feet tall with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, Kessler has the ideal frame for blocking shots, but he insisted there’s more to the science of defense than just long arms.

“I think that I approach the defensive side of the game a lot differently than a lot of other players,” Kessler said. “It’s not just about blocking shots. It’s about how you block those shots.”

His approach sounds remarkably familiar to Gobert who despite his three Defensive Player of the Year awards and six All-Defensive first-team nods only led the NBA in blocked shots once with the Jazz.

So while it may be unfair to compare Kessler to one of the greatest defensive players in NBA history, the Jazz rookie hopes that time spent studying Gobert will ease his transition to the NBA.

“Watching him, how he attacks the ball and his timing, it’s not just about his size and length, but there’s a lot of mental components to his shot-blocking ability,” Kessler said. “So I’ve definitely been watching him and [I’m] excited to be in a place where I could emulate that potentially.”

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Walker Kessler Perfected Shot Blocking Watching Gobert