Walker Kessler commits to Auburn

North Carolina transfer Walker Kessler committed to Auburn April 11 over interest from Gonzaga, North Carolina and other top programs.

As a high school recruit, Kessler was considered an Auburn lean until committing to North Carolina during a visit. Kessler is also an UGA legacy.

Kessler averaged 4.4 points and 3.2 rebounds, 0.9 blocks and 0.5 steals in 8.8. minutes per game as a freshman at North Carolina last season. He shot 57.8 percent from the field and 25 percent from three, but he only shot four threes.

His numbers improved down the stretch. In a game against Notre Dame, Kessler logged 16 points, 12 rebounds and 8 blocks in 21 minutes. The eight blocks set an ACC Tournament single game record.

Over the last 10 games of the season, Kessler averaged 8.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. In the first seven of those 10 games, Kessler averaged 10.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, 1.1 steals and 1.0 assists per game in just 14 minutes per game.

As a senior in high school, Kessler was named the 2020 Gatorade High School Player of the Year and Mr. Basketball in the state of Georgia, won the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Georgia Player of the Year award and was named to the 2020 McDonald’s All-American Game and Nike Hoop Summit.

Kessler’s high school recruiting ranking makes him the second highest ranked player to play for Auburn, trailing Jabari Smith.

Player notes:

Kessler is a good fit for Auburn’s system and not just a talented player. He’s excellent running the court in transition and using his frame to set screens, seal off defenders and box out.

Takes off after contesting a shot and uses his body to protect the pass and create an easy path to the basket.

Despite being an interesting offensive prospect, some of Kessler’s best play comes on defense. He is an elite rim protector and a left handed shot blocker, who is quick enough on his feet to show some promise defending in areas that aren’t directly under the basket.

Kessler fills gaps and knows where to be on fast breaks, can hit open pick and pop threes and other shots and is a good rebounder, making him a good fit for what Auburn likes in a big man on offense.

He can make open threes and jump shots, but they are easy to defend when he’s close enough for a defender to close out on him. Kessler has a slower shot, possibly due to how long his arms are. However, the 7-0 big man has some great post and midrange moves that help him here. One is Kessler’s turn around fade away. It’s not as quick and potent as some of the modern NBA bigs, but Kessler protects the ball well on turnaround shots and gives himself time to wind up.

A look at his shot, which is efficient when he has time/room to shoot.
Kessler draws a big crowd for this post up but gets away from them with a spin and repositions for a dunk.
Kessler avoids another crowd and shows off a little hook shot after turning into the lane. He had 20 points on 9/10 shooting in this game.

Kessler is great at carving out room for himself in posts ups and under the basket in general. This helps him with offensive rebounds and being on the receiving end of wraparound and dump off passes.

The seal would be good for a box out, but the rebound falls to the other side and Kessler’s position gives him an easy two points.
Kessler sets a screen and then gets active on the glass, eventually securing a rebound and turning it into a post possession.

Kessler’s offensive rebound percentage would have led the country if he had enough minutes to qualify, according to KenPom.

On defense, Kessler’s long arms (in addition to being a left handed shot blocker) make him an elite rim protector at times. His block percentage would have been top 20 if he’d qualified.

This was evident in Kessler’s 8-block game against Notre Dame, that would have been a triple-double if a teammate’s foul and a questionable goal tend didn’t erase two blocks for Kessler.

Kessler got lost at times on pick and rolls and in defending mismatches, but he also showed potential in both areas.

Kessler and his teammate don’t communicate well on this play and give up an easy basket.
Here Kessler switches onto the ball handler, defends his drive and then picks up a couple of blocks playing help defense. He also does a good job of taking off and being involved for a transition opportunity.

The big man has solid instincts and understanding of defense, based on the good plays. It’ll be interesting to see if Kessler gravitates to one side of the spectrum with more playing time.

Kessler reads the drive and picks up a block playing help defense that’s called a goal tend.

At UNC, Kessler averaged 2.4 points per game in 6.4 minutes per game during his first 19 games. In his next seven games, Kessler averaged 10.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, 1.1 steals and 1.0 assists per game in just 14 minutes per game.

However, Kessler finished the season averaging 2.7 points in 11.3 minutes per game over UNC’s last three games. The varying minutes and roles make Kessler’s varying production reasonable.

At Auburn, I look for Kessler to make physical improvements to help his explosion and general play. Adding a quicker shooting motion and other attributes will also help Kessler’s pro potential, but they don’t seem necessary for him to be a good college player.

Kessler seems like an easy choice for starting center (with Jabari Smith at forward), due to his size and potential.

For rotations, I think Auburn adding another guard to the mix or adding JT Thor back would change a lot, so I’ll use ?? for potential additions.

Where I think we’re at now:
Wendell Green/Zep Jasper/Trey Alexander 
Zep Jasper/Trey Alexander/Allen Flanigan 
Allen Flanigan/Devan Cambridge/Chris Moore 
Jabari Smith/Jaylin Williams/
Walker Kessler/Dylan Cardwell/Jaylin Williams/Babatunde Akingbola

If a shooting guard/off-ball guard is signed:
Wendell Green Jr/Zep Jasper/??
??/Trey Alexander/Zep Jasper
Allen Flanigan/Devan Cambridge/?? 
Jabari Smith/Jaylin Williams
Walker Kessler/Dylan Cardwell/Jaylin Williams 

If a point guard is signed:
??/Wendell Green/Zep Jasper
Zep Jasper/Trey Alexander/Wendell Green
Allen Flanigan/Devan Cambridge/Chris Moore
Jabari Smith/Jaylin Williams 
Walker Kessler/Dylan Cardwell/Jaylin Williams 

If Thor returns… is where things get cloudy. Will Auburn choose to run a platoon style rotation, even if it’s just for the front court, and let two groups of Dylan Cardwell/Jabari Smith/JT Thor/Walker Kessler/Jaylin Williams rotate or will they try to move Thor to the wing? I think the length and athleticism Auburn would have would be too much to not put on the court at times—even if it means running some special zones—but I think seeing just two of Thor/Smith/Kessler at once would be most likely.

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