Raptors Draft: Walker Kessler is the player Toronto needs

AUBURN, ALABAMA - FEBRUARY 01: Walker Kessler #13 of the Auburn Tigers (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
AUBURN, ALABAMA - FEBRUARY 01: Walker Kessler #13 of the Auburn Tigers (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images) /

In every NBA Draft cycle, there comes along someone who is so gifted you feel sure they’ll shine at the NBA level. There’s always one player who is so different or unique that they will catch your eye. In the case of Walker Kessler, the Auburn big has emerged as the ideal Toronto Raptors draft candidate.

The 7-1 size is the first thing you notice watching him in-game, as well as his mobility at that size. Most basketball giants that big seem to labor out there on the floor. In the case of Kessler, he looks exceptionally natural as he floats around the court.

Transferring from North Carolina last summer, Kessler saw a leap in both minutes and production with the Tigers this year. As part of the star-studded frontcourt alongside potential top pick Jabari Smith, Kessler’s statistical claim to fame was his average of 4.6 blocks a game this season.

As a rim protector, Kessler isn’t the typical giant super-athlete you might expect. He doesn’t have quite the verticality elite bigs like Jarrett Allen do. In this way, Kessler’s defensive impact was more predicated upon his timing around the rim, and his exceptional footwork on both ends.

Remember how Marc Gasol guarded Joel Embiid in the 2019 playoffs? That’s similar to how Kessler protects the basket.

Walker Kessler could be a fit with the Toronto Raptors.

This IQ and knack for putting himself in the right place at the right time also translate to the offensive end. An efficient 60% from the field in his sophomore season, Kessler takes most of his shots on the roll and around the rim. He loves to dunk the ball, and his hands and agility at his size make it easy for him to catch and finish on the pick and roll.

His shooting does need some work. He showed some promise in developing a 3-point shot this season, but he has a long road ahead in that department. He’s already shown improvement from the free-throw line, increasing his percentage to around 60%.

While his shooting leaves a lot to be desired, it’s not like Kessler is chucking up long balls all day. He’s an intelligent player who knows his role and doesn’t take a lot of shots he can’t make.

Comparisons to Jakob Poeltl have been thrown around, and while the archetype of a shot-blocking rim runner fits both men, their games are quite different in reality. Poeltl carries most of his weight in his lower body, while Kessler’s small torso and long limbs allow him to keep that same size without sacrificing as much mobility.

The next steps for Kessler’s development will be becoming more consistent from the foul line and developing his offensive game.

How would Walker Kessler fit with the Toronto Raptors?

At the very least, Kessler would provide the size, shot-blocking, and rebounding the Raptors so desperately needed last season. He is a real seven-footer to match the biggest, baddest guys in the league physically.

The increased space and better point guard play in the NBA will get him easy looks on the inside. This will make it easier for a limited offensive rim-runner to thrive with a professional team. Think about Scottie Barnes finding Kessler under the rim with a look-away pass or he and Fred VanVleet running high-screen actions.

Kessler is projected to be drafted in the late first round, so the Raptors may have to trade up or get a little lucky on draft night. Kessler isn’t so highly touted that moving to acquire him would take too hefty of a sum. He’s in Toronto’s range, if a bit on the high end.

In drafts past, NBA general managers have become too concerned with team requirements and passed up on superior players to take the man who’ll fit their team’s needs. In the case of Kessler, however, the Raptors would be drafting both an extremely talented player and someone who can plug the holes in Toronto’s roster.

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