Walker Kessler was named the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year at Auburn, and his defensive impact has undoubtedly translated well to the NBA level. Kessler was the No. 22 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. He has proven to be a steal as someone who already impacts winning, mainly because of his rebounding and rim-protecting ability.
Top 25 NBA Players Under 25: No. 17 – Walker Kessler
Kessler was involved in the blockbuster Rudy Gobert trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Utah received such a haul in exchange for Gobert that Kessler wasn’t even the focal point of the trade at the time. However, last season, Kessler was arguably better than Gobert by himself. Kessler averaged 9.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 0.9 assists, and 2.3 blocks per game in only 23 minutes. He had an incredibly efficient 72/33/52 shooting splits during the season. His impressive statistics and impact in Utah resulted in receiving an NBA All-Rookie First-Team appearance.
Aspects Kessler Can Improve
There are a few aspects of Walker’s game that he can still improve to boost his ranking. The 7-foot, 245-pound center is already one of the league’s elite rim-protectors. The Jazz center’s next defensive step will be becoming a bit more versatile and a modern-day NBA center. Suppose Kessler can improve his agility and hold his own on switches out on the perimeter in pick-and-roll situations. In that case, there’s a realistic scenario where he makes an NBA All-Defensive Team appearance at some point in his career.
Kessler’s All-Star-level potential is limited from an offensive standpoint. He’s not a go-to scorer or someone you can orchestrate your offensive system around. Kessler is more of a player you don’t design many plays for. He often uses his size and ability to anticipate plays to put himself in the proper position. If Kessler can develop more of a post-up game and someone you can run your offense through as a second or third go-to scorer, then he has All-Star level potential.
Another question to consider with Kessler is that he only played 23 minutes last season. While he was highly efficient on the court, Kessler’s efficiency could decrease as his role expands next season. Another aspect of becoming more of a modern-day center for Kessler to take the next step is stretching the floor and becoming a more reliable free-throw shooter. If Kessler can add more versatility to his game and become a more reliable scorer, he could become an All-Star in the near future.
Last Word on Kessler
The Jazz got a steal in their trade for Kessler. He has helped catalyze their rebuilding process following the departures of Donovan Mitchell and Gobert. Not to mention, Kessler’s style of play as a traditional, rim-protecting center complements the Jazz core of Lauri Markkanen, Jordan Clarkson, and others, who are all capable floor spacers and shot-creators.
The 22-year-old center comes in at No. 17 on the rankings entering the 2023-24 NBA season. Kessler also has plenty of room to grow if he can improve his versatility. The Jazz have found their foundational center in Kessler.