Can Walker Kessler Find Minutes In Team USA’s FIBA Rotation?
Aug 8, 2023, 2:36 PM
SALT LAKE CITY – Utah Jazz fans may have been disappointed to see Walker Kessler record only five minutes in his FIBA World Cup debut Monday night.
Team USA thrashed Puerto Rico 117-74 in their first exhibition game, but despite the lopsided victory, Kessler saw only spot minutes late in the fourth quarter when the contest was out of hand.
Will Kessler be able to carve out a larger role when tournament play begins?
Finding minutes may be difficult for the second-year Jazzman.
Kessler Sits In Deep FIBA Frontcourt
Starting in front of Kessler at center is Memphis Grizzlies All-Star and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. who had a strong debut Monday, scoring 12 points, grabbing seven rebounds, and blocking two shots in just 17 minutes on the floor.
Milwaukee Bucks veteran Bobby Portis filled the primary backup role scoring 11 points, grabbing three rebounds, and adding a block, a steal, and an assist in 10 minutes off the bench.
But where Kessler may have found minutes as the third-string center, Team USA head coach Steve Kerr opted to play last year’s Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero in a larger frontcourt role, providing the roster with more offensive versatility.
— KSL Sports (@kslsports) August 8, 2023
In an article from Tim Bontemps of ESPN, Kerr explained Banchero’s role on the team.
“He’s going to play some five,” Kerr said of the Orlando Magic big man. “One of the things we really found in the Tokyo Olympics was having a five who can push the ball in transition and create plays is very difficult for FIBA teams to handle.”
Banchero recorded 16 minutes in his Team USA debut scoring seven points, grabbing one rebound, and handing out one assist in 16 minutes from the floor.
“He can play some four, as he showed,” Kerr said of Banchero, “but he’ll play plenty of five, as well.”
Where does that leave Kessler?
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) August 8, 2023
While Monday’s exhibition may have highlighted Banchero’s ability to play center in a small ball lineup, it’s worth noting that Puerto Rico’s overall lack of size may have made it more difficult to get Kessler on the floor.
Goerge Conditt IV was Puerto Rico’s only seven-footer on the roster, making them one of the smaller frontcourts in the FIBA Tournament.
If Team USA runs into more established big men like Karl-Anthony Towns, Jonas Valanciunas, Nikola Vucevic, Jock Landale, Daniel Theis, Goga Bitadze, and Rudy Gobert, Kessler’s size may be at a premium over the small ball versatility provided by Banchero.
Additionally, if Kerr finds the roster needing more shot blocking and rebounding than offensive versatility, Kessler could jump both Banchro and Portis in the rotation.
Jazz fans will get a second look at Kessler on Team USA on Saturday when they face Luka Doncic and Slovenia in Malaga, before facing Spain on Sunday.
Team USA will conclude exhibition play with games against Greece and Germany in Abu Dhabi beginning on August 18.
Ben Anderson is the Utah Jazz insider for KSL Sports and the co-host of Jake and Ben from 10-12p with Jake Scott on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. Find Ben on Twitter at @BensHoops or on Instagram @BensHoops.
Utah Jazz Scoreboard
Utah Jazz Team Leaders
Utah Jazz Standings