Over the next 2 and a half weeks, GBB will be profiling various players the Memphis Grizzlies may target in the 2022 draft. We’ll primarily look at who they may pick with the 22th and 29th pick, or with a pick from a possible trade up in the draft.
Walker Kessler, Center, Auburn University
- 7’1”, 7’4” wingspan, 254 pounds, 20 years old, from Newnan, GA
- Last season with Auburn: In 34 Games (25.6 minutes per game) — 11.4 points on 60.8% shooting (20.0% from 3, 59.6% from the free throw line), 8.1 rebounds, 4.6 blocks, 1.1 steals, 0.9 assists
- Collegiate career (2 seasons — 1 with Auburn, 1 with North Carolina): In 63 Games (17.9 minutes per game) — 8.2 points on 60.1% shooting (20.4% from 3, 57.7% from the free throw line), 5.8 rebounds, 2.9 blocks, 0.8, 0.6 assists
- 3 STATS OF STRENGTH (per Tankathon): Box Plus/Minus (14.1), Defensive Box Plus/Minus (8.0), 2-point field goal percentage (70.2%)
- 3 STATS TO IMPROVE (per Tankathon): Free Throw Attempt Rate (33.2), Free Throw Percentage (59.6%), Projected NBA 3-point range (30.5%)
- AWARDS AND ACCOLADES: 2021-22 All-SEC First Team, 2021-22 NABC Defensive Player of the Year, 2021-22 SEC All-Defense, 2021-22 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, 2021-22 Wooden Award — National Ballot
- CURRENT BIG BOARD PLACEMENT: 18 (Tankathon), 27 (The Ringer), 26 (ESPN), 39 (CBS Sports), 15 (The Athletic), 26 (Bleacher Report)
The traditional center route can be a double-edged sword. While their strengths can be beneficial to regular season success, their flaws could diminish their impact in the postseason.
The Grizzlies have experienced this with Jonas Valanciunas and Steven Adams. Both of them are great for the regular season with their rebounding and screen. When teams get to mismatch-hunting in the postseason, they were often overmatched — though credit to Adams for his performance agains the Golden State Warriors.
There may not be a big man in this draft that embodies this paradox more than Auburn’s Walker Kessler.
Kessler was the most imposing shot-blocker in college basketball, swatting away shots at a historic clip. However, his shortcomings played him off the floor. If that’s happening at the college level, it’s fair to be skeptical about his NBA outlook.
Areas of Strength
Well, everyone knows Walker Kessler’s main strength: blocking shots. He owns the highest block percentage in NCAA history at 17.16 percent. It sounds so simple, but he’s great at just being absolutely ginormous. When he demonstrates good verticality, at 7’1” with a 7’4” wingspan, he’s going to alter shots. That skill should bode well for him, especially in drop coverage.
Walker Kessler recorded 8 (!!) blocks last night against Alabama.— Derek Murray (@DMurrayHoops) February 2, 2022
He ranks #1 in BLK% (19.3) and #2 in BPG (4.2). pic.twitter.com/qxGfq4OSYM
His switch-ability is going to be something to monitor at the next level — more on that momentarily. However, he does possess moments of good mobility. He has great instincts on help defense and recovery to protect the rim, and he has some flashes of staying with perimeter players on switches.
Really nice block on a peel switch from Walker Kessler— Mark Schindler (@MG_Schindler) March 21, 2022
He's got pretty solid mobility for his size, but his ability to use his length to crowd shooters/ball-handlers is always impressive when he has flashes on the perimeter pic.twitter.com/Qdh3F5MIy7
Early on, Kessler’s offensive calling card will be diving in the pick-and-roll and scoring off dump-off’s from the dunker’s spot. This past season, he scored 1.213 points per possession in 75 pick-and-roll possessions (79th percentile) and 1.456 PPP in 79 possessions as a cutter (89th percentile), per Synergy Sports. His size will be an asset for him offensively, as he looks to impact that side of the floor from rolling to the rim.
Walker Kessler was a top 25 recruit out of high school. Simply wasn’t the same player at North Carolina. Transfers to Auburn and re-discovers himself by playing big out of PNR, blocking shots, and believing in his 3PT shot again. pic.twitter.com/CXFjvb4BSu— Matt Pennie (@matt_pennie) January 30, 2022
Kessler is a part of the Brandon Clarke club of college players with more blocks (155) than missed shots (105). Rim protection and offensive efficiency will help him get on the floor early in his career.
Areas of Improvement
While Kessler’s defense is his calling card, his defense in space is a work in progress. He had moments last season, primarily in the NCAA tournament when he played 13 minutes in an elimination game, where he got played off the floor due to being hunted in the pick-and-roll. If that stuff is happening to him against Miami, what’s going to happening the league? Though he has had evidence of defensive excellence, even out in space, that last game will leave a bad taste in evaluators’ mouths — wondering if he can maintain with NBA athleticism.
Kessler is going to be a play finisher rather than shot creator. That’s okay, for sure. However, one thing to monitor is his outside shot. Kessler shot 20% from 3 this season on 1.5 attempts per game. Improving the outside shot is going to be important for his development — rim protectors that can space the floor are valuable. However, he needs to tweak his mechanics, as it leads to bad bricks. And if the outside shot isn’t there, he may need to cut it out of his game entirely.
Kessler has the tools to be a solid role player at the next level, but these skills might have him closer to his floor rather than his upside.
Fit with the Grizzlies
Being straight up, I wouldn’t want Kessler with the 22nd pick. Though it wouldn’t be my preferred pick, I would be okay with him at 29th as a low-cost option to develop into a prominent center role.
If Jaren Jackson Jr. is meant to be a starting-4 long-term, they could always look to develop Steven Adams’ eventual successor. Kessler could be an option for this role, and in Adams, he’d have the perfect mentor.
Jackson and Kessler would be a terrifying defensive duo. Kessler would be protecting the rim in drop coverage, while Jackson gets to serve as a free-safety defender. There would be a lot of block parties on Beale Street.
While that possibility is tantalizing, his flaws might limit him in the postseason. With first-round picks, wouldn’t it be better to develop a prospect equipped to eventually be slotted for playoff rotation minutes? Given how Taylor Jenkins structures his rotations, that might be a better choice.
Nonetheless, Walker Kessler is coming off a historic defensive season. If he gets in a defensive scheme that plays to his strengths, he should be an impactful rim presence at the next level — one that’ll help teams win enough regular-season games to make the postseason.