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Rookie Walker Kessler reaches 100 blocks, helps Jazz forget Rudy Gobert

Yardbarker logo Yardbarker 2/2/2023 Sean Keane, Yardbarker
Utah Jazz center Walker Kessler. © Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports Utah Jazz center Walker Kessler.

When the Jazz traded Rudy Gobert, they hoped Walker Kessler could replace Gobert's shot-blocking some day. That day came quicker than they thought.

The 21-year-old Kessler was the Defensive Player of the Year last year at Auburn, when he was second in the NCAA in blocks per game. He hasn't slowed down in the pros, ranking 4th in the NBA with 2.0 blocks per game, and tied with Myles Turner for fourth in total blocks with 102.

That's 42 more than Gobert, who has had an injury-plagued first season in Minnesota. But he's played only six fewer games than Kessler. The "Stifle Tower" is sending away only 1.3 shots per game. The advanced numbers also like Kessler better this season, as he has a sizable lead in defensive box plus/minus, 1.4 to 0.5, and in total box plus/minus, 2.4 to 0.6.

Gobert has been banged-up, and isn't playing to his usual standard. But he's also 30 years old, and he's more likely to get worse than get better over the course of the two years and more than $84 million remaining on his contract. Meanwhile, Kessler's contract is four years and $13.4 million, with the Jazz able to extend him after three years.

But comparing Gobert to Kessler ignores than Minnesota also included four other players, four first-round picks, and a pick swap to get the three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

Minnesota was always going to eventually feel the sting of the blockbuster trade. No matter how well Gobert played, losing the pick in 2029, when Gobert is 38, would lead to pangs of regret. Kessler's rapid development means the regret may be arriving ahead of schedule.

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