Projecting Walker Kessler’s potential of what his ceiling might be for the Utah Jazz.
Last offseason, Utah Jazz CEO Danny Ainge and GM Justin Zanik made the franchise-altering decision to trade Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. In return, the Jazz received a plethora of draft capital, and today’s focus, Walker Kessler.
Utah Jazz coach Will Hardy’s first designed play out of the All-star break was for Walker Kessler, not a pick-and-roll lob, but a corner three-pointer for the 21-year-old. The big man set his feet and canned the shot, rewarding Hardy for the confidence to call his number. The 22nd overall pick of the 2022 NBA Draft is now in the starting lineup for the Jazz and piecing together an outstanding rookie season.
How high is the ceiling of Kessler?
Walker Kessler could average 15 points, 10 rebounds, and two blocks per game in the NBA
Yes, those are high numbers to average per game, but Walker has the potential to do so. In his final college season at Auburn, the big man averaged 4.6 blocks per game. He also recorded 50 attempts from the three, only converting 10, but showing a willingness to shoot the rock.
Efficiency has always been an attribute of Walkers, converting 70 percent of his two-point attempts at Auburn. In the NBA, efficiency is usually the last attribute of a young player to add to his repertoire. Not in Kessler’s case, averaging 71 percent from the field in his first NBA season.
Kessler has not had many plays run for him but capitalizes on offensive rebounds and put-backs for most of his scoring. Walker’s role as a backup center to begin the season has moved to an untouchable player at this year’s trade deadline. The rookie has excelled in about every scenario Will Hardy has placed him in.
In 21.8 minutes per game, Kessler averages 2.2 blocks per game, ranking fifth in the NBA. Walker is proving to be one of the bigger steals of last year’s draft game by game.
Next steps in Kessler’s development
Staying out of foul trouble on the defensive end will be the most vital skill for Kessler to develop. In 2022, he commits 2.3 fouls per game in just 21.8 minutes played. Walker tends to jump at pump fakes or be too aggressive in the paint.
Standing at 7-foot-1, Walker needs to stay on his feet to keep control of defenders. Smaller guards driving in the lane tend to get Kessler to bite on pump fakes, creating a higher percentage of looks from close range.
Another skill on the defensive end to develop is extending his defense out of the paint. If Kessler could switch to different matchups, it would create a different dynamic for Utah’s defense. In recent years, opposing teams drew Rudy Gobert to the perimeter due to his inability to guard outside the paint.
Offensively, the sky is the limit for Walker. His jump shot looks somewhat natural. If he could develop into a 30 percent three-point shooter, that would make him an All-star caliber player. He owns natural skill in the paint. Taking his game to the three-point line would make him a tough matchup.
Walker is closing in on Paolo Banchero for Rookie of the Year honors. With just 22 games remaining for the Utah Jazz, it may not be enough for Walker to catch up. Banchero has hit a rookie wall lately, possibly giving Kessler the upper hand down the stretch.
The NBA’s Rookie of the Year race is likely a two-player race this season, with 22 games left to determine the winner. And Walker Kessler has a real shot to win the award; that’s not something many could’ve predicted before the season.