Walker Kessler is one of the biggest success stories of the transfer portal. After a decent year at North Carolina, he left for Auburn and turned into one of the most dominant big men in the country. Averaging 4.6 blocks per game is an insane number at any level, let alone in the cutthroat world of SEC basketball.
Although Kessler will need to round out aspects of his game on the offensive end, he’s already a stud defensively. A solid rim protector can make a world of a difference for an NBA roster. At the very least, Kessler will become a solid backup defensive center. But his ceiling is way higher than that.
The Brooklyn Nets have the 23rd pick in the 2022 NBA Draft via the Philadelphia 76ers. They recouped a first-rounder lost to Houston (No. 17) in the first James Harden blockbuster deal by trading Harden to the Sixers and picking up pick No. 23.
7’1”, 250, C, Auburn (2001)
Strengths: Rim Protection
Centers aren’t usually threats to go for triple-doubles in the NBA, let alone at the college level. Kessler did it twice during his lone season at Auburn, once against LSU and later against Texas A&M. A typical triple-double consists of double-digit points, rebounds, and assists. Kessler did it with double-digit blocks.
We don’t usually think about which hand shot-blockers use, but it’s vital to a big man’s game. Being able to block shots with either hand is key at the NBA level when so many guys can finish in a variety of ways.
“He’s so gifted with his off-hand blocking shots,” Auburn’s Ian Borders explained on ESNY’s Knicks State of Mind Podcast. “More than 50% of his blocks came with his left hand, which when you think about it, is kind of insane. People were trying to dodge his right hand by either going around or going over and he was coming with the other hand. And his wingspan, he’s like 7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan.”
As long as Kessler can be physical without fouling, he will have a role in the NBA.
For Kessler to become a legitimate starting center, he needs to add more to his offensive game. He is a strong finisher inside off of lobs and dump-offs, but there are a lot of NBA centers who can do that. He needs to improve his shooting to truly stand out on that end of the floor.
Although he showed flashes of touch from the outside, he needs to be better in that area. His 20.0% three-point shooting and 59.% free-throw shooting will need to improve at the next level. Luckily for Kessler, his smooth delivery and crazy length will give him an advantage at the next level. Developing a pick-and-pop counter to his pick-and-roll game is going to be the difference between whether or not he is a decent backup or an impact player.
From The Expert: Auburn Video Coordinator Ian Borders
“He’s got a great stroke and he’s got really nice form and everything about it,” Borders said of Kessler’s shot. “In practice, he shoots upper 40’s on open shots. Free-throw-wise, he’s excellent. He’s an excellent free-throw shooter, but there were certain moments where the moment may have been a little too big for him and he would miss those. Just having that confidence moving forward if he has the confidence and mental toughness that I know he has in him, he’s going to be a pro for a very long time. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s a big jump, especially for bigs going from the college to the pros.”
Fit With the Nets
The Nets need to improve the defense next season. Andre Drummond’s future is up in the air as he hits free agency and the jury is still out on Day’Ron Sharpe after his rookie year. Nic Claxton figures to be a major part of the rotation because of his, for lack of a better term, “switchiness” as a big.
But Kessler brings the rim protection that the Nets don’t have on this roster. He would be the only guy on the roster who can be a major deterrent at the rim. It might not happen right away for Kessler, but no pick at No. 23 is going to be perfect. His upside defensively and potential as a shooter should put him in the mix for the Nets in the first round.