After trading the No. 19 pick – which became Wake Forest wing Jake LaRavia – to the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 22 and No. 29 selections, the Minnesota Timberwolves selected Auburn sophomore C Walker Kessler No. 22 overall.
Kessler averaged 11.4 points on 60.8 / 20.0 / 59.6 shooting splits, 8.1 rebounds, 0.9 assists, only 2.6 fouls over 25.6 minutes per game and used his 7-4 wingspan to become a terror on the defensive end for opposing offenses starting next to No. 3 overall pick Jabari Smith Jr.
The 7-1, 245-pound center is known as an elite shot blocker, excels as the big in drop coverage, and rebounds very well. Kessler averaged 4.6 blocks and 1.1 steals per game for Bruce Pearl’s Tigers, which earned him the Naismith National Defensive Player of the Year award after the season. His 19% block rate is historically great.
Kessler has some appeal on the offensive end as well. His primary role on that end was as a rim runner in pick-and-roll actions. The North Carolina transfer shot 28/30 (93%) on shots on rolls, including 27/28 (96%) at the rim. Overall, he connected on 74% of his 188 shots at the rim and threw down 23 alley-oops.
The soon-to-be 21-year-old has great hands for a big of his size and is capable of corralling tough bounce passes in traffic before finishing through and above contact. The downside he brings as a roller is that he doesn’t explode out of screens and put pressure on the rim as an high-level athlete; he is able to pressure the rim out of sheer size. I’m not sure how well that will translate to the NBA level, but time will tell.
Kessler has shown a willingness to shoot some 3s out on the perimeter, but defenses won’t respect his shot, as he connected on just 20% of his 3s and shot only 59.6% from the free throw line in his sophomore season at Auburn. He will need to improve operating in space on the perimeter, especially in hand-off actions.
Here’s what our Aidan Berg said about Kessler in our Big Board piece.
“Historic rim protection in college is the appeal with Kessler. His 19.05 block percentage is easily the best among all Division I players since Sports Reference started tracking the stat in 2009-10, and he did so in a Power Five conference. Great college players were completely dissuaded from attacking the basket just by Kessler’s presence. It’s fair to wonder, however, what his offensive role will be in the NBA and how he will fare defending the perimeter. ”