UTAH’S YOUNG CORNERSTONE LIKELY DONE FOR SEASON
By Rustyn Burnside, ESPN 97.7
With four games remaining on Utah’s docket, the Jazz seem as if they will have to fill a massive hole at the 5 spot. Tim MacMahon of ESPN reported on Monday that the rookie drafted out of Auburn would be placed in concussion protocol, “likely signaling the end of his rookie season.” This stems from an injury sustained in the 111-110 loss at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday after he was hand delivered a flying elbow to the face. If this is truly the end of the season for the man lovingly dubbed “The Sheriff” it’s been a hell of a ride and Jazz fans are giddy with excitement thinking of what’s on the Horizon. Walker Kessler went from an afterthought thrown into the Minnesota trade for Rudy Gobert, to the best part about it. The 22nd overall pick was projected as a late first rounder with ideal size who moved well. He was tagged for elite shot blocking and for being a disruptor. They figured that would translate to the pros and it certainly did. They faulted him for poor jump shooting percentages and knack of having the ball knocked from his hands. His passing needed a bit of work as well, that outside, Eric Yearian of NBADraft.net claimed that if Kessler could develop some offensive finesse, he would be the “steal of the draft.” Minnesota should have listened to Eric, but us Jazz fans are thankful they didn’t.
Walker Kessler will finish the season averaging 9.2 Points a contest with 8.4 rebounds a game. Add in 2.3 Blocks a game and a 72 percent shooting clip from the field, you got yourself a bona fide cornerstone to build with. Remember, Kessler didn’t begin the year as a starter or with any type of major expectations. His first start came 27 games into the season and that was simply due to team injuries. Kessler became an official starter in the Donovan Mitchell homecoming game, that Utah won by two on their home floor. That was game 41 of the season. Nearly halfway through the year Kessler became a full-time starter and never looked back. James Hansen of SLC Dunk illustrates Walkers Kessler’s stats from that time frame on, starting with Game 44. Hansen shares that Kessler had “averages of 11.9 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks with a field goal percentage of 71 percent.” Kessler only became more impactful as a full-time starter. His minutes, usage, role and responsibilities went up dramatically as the season wore on, and he continued to put up major numbers while only shooting one percent worse than his season average.
All-Rookie should be a lock for the big man, and he being an essential part of Utah’s future is a guarantee. Utah’s core three, or the untouchables for the rebuilding Jazz have all proved their worth. Andy Bailey showed the good fans on Twitter that the trio of Lauri Markkanen, Walker Kessler, and Ochai Agbaji account for the jazz being +9.6 points per 100 possessions when they share the floor this year. He admits it’s a small sample size, but that it illustrates Danny Ainge and company hitting “multiple home runs at the outset of this rebuild.” Add the growth of Talen Horton-Tucker and their buttload of draft picks, the Jazz rebuild couldn’t have started off better.
If you need a few more stats in favor of how great Walker Kessler was in year one, David J Smith has got you covered. David points out that Walker was #1 in NBA rankings (not rookie rankings, overall rankings) in the following categories: FG percentage, effective Field Goal percentage and 2 pointers field goal percentage. He contested the 5th most shots In the NBA this year and was 4th in blocks. The only thing Walker or fans can be disappointed in is how close he was to becoming the leagues leader in field goal percentage. He may lead it now, but cannot take home the honors according to KSL’s Ben Anderson. He is two field goals short as a player has to make at least 300 shots to take home the award. Kessler only has 298. Anderson says he would have been the 4th rookie to accomplish that and the first since 1964. To have the highest field goal percentage all time for a rookie would have been sweet as well, but honestly when you consider the current leader is Memphis Forward Brandon Clarke, it isn’t a career make or break scenario. I have a feeling Walker Kessler will be just fine regardless.