UTAH’S STAR ROOKIE EARNS NBA ALL-ROOKIE FIRST TEAM HONORS
Jazz nation, let’s say it one more time, shall we? The future is bright for the Utah Jazz. We have discussed this, talked about it, speculated on it, but now we have concrete evidence outside of statistics. It comes in the form of accolades and rewards. Remember arguing with opposing fans about Rudy Gobert’s impact as a defender? It became easier winning those arguments when he added a “Defensive Player of the Year’ to his resume. Sometimes the hardware can make the difference. Physical, unarguable proof that more people in the world think someone is good or valuable at something. Although I’m not sure the size of the trophy, Walker Kessler now owns accolades himself that Jazz Nation can use to signify the promising plans that lie ahead with this young core.
Walker Kessler, the 22nd overall pick out of Auburn, proved he was taken at least 17 spots too late as he appeared next to some of the brightest young names in the Association for the All-Rookie 1st team honors. Kessler’s name appeared next to future Magic star, Paolo Banchero, Oklahoma City’s Jalen Williams, Indiana’s Bennedict Mathurin, and Kings Forward Keegan Murray. To be on the All-Rookie 1st team, you would assume these were the top 5 most impactful rookies. It would be easy to assume that those top 5 were likely top 5 draft selections. That is most certainly not the case however. Banchero, of course, was the 1st overall pick and Rookie of the Year, so he’s lived up to expectations thus far. Keegan Murray went 4th to Sacramento and was a pivotal piece to a 4th seed Kings team who went 7 games in the first round with the defending champion out in Golden State. Outside of this, Bennedict Mathurin was close at the sixth overall pick, but moved his stock up during the season. For Jalen Williams he was taken 12th, behind guys like Johnny Davis, Ousmane Dieng and Dyson Daniels. He has certainly overachieved with his 14 PPG and 52 percent Field Goal percentage. Williams helped accelerate the Thunder’s rebuild even without 2nd overall pick Chet Holmgren stepping on the floor a single time.
Now for the big man, our very own Walker Kessler. Kessler is the biggest underdog of them all. Outside of being the latest draft pick on the list, he was immediately tested when he stepped into the pros. Before he could even visit the Mall of America let alone don a Wolves jersey, Kessler was shipped as a complimentary piece in the stunning Rudy Gobert trade. He was seen as a chip, a throw-in, a rookie with untapped abilities who may or may not pan out. Kessler certainly did pan out, taking the starting role permanently for the Jazz halfway through his debut season at game 41. He would average 9.2 PPG, 9.4 Rebounds, 2.3 Blocks and a 72 percent Field Goal percentage to boot. Kessler dominated the paint and wowed fans with his basketball IQ in terms of timing big blocks. Kessler had a major desire to learn and seemed to grow game by game. It made him a favorite amongst fans, teammates and coaches. His 20 double-double performances would top all other rookies. His 173 blocks would land him top 5 in the entire association at 4th alongside players like Brook Lopez and defensive player of the year, Jaren Jackson Jr. To say he overachieved is an understatement. He caught the basketball world off guard and seems to be the defensive anchor of this team for years to come. We also cannot fail to mention his smooth touch around the rim itself and mid-range potential to be reached on the offensive side of the ball. No one would blame you if you felt despair the day Utah began their rebuild by shipping away Rudy Gobert, but we would blame you if you still felt that despair. Kessler came in and filled a hole few players could have, as a rookie. All-NBA 1st team is well deserved, and honestly expected for the big man who will look to continue to grow as the Jazz themselves do.
According to RealGM other Utah Jazz players to earn All-Rookie 1st team honors consist of Darrell Griffith, Thurl Bailey, Karl Malone, Andrei Kirilenko, Deron Williams, Trey Burke, and Donovan Mitchell. Kessler becomes the 8th Jazz man to take home the honors in what for the most part (looking at you Trey Burke) is a very impressive list. Kessler’s achievement comes in the same year as teammate Lauri Markkanen’s Most Improved player award, who was the first Jazz man to win such an honor. This is just in case you needed another sure sign that its all coming together for the rebuilding Jazz.