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Please give Walker Kessler more minutes

The young center has been a dominant force for the Jazz but finds himself stuck behind John Collins in the rotation.

Utah Jazz v Houston Rockets Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Over the past two games, the Utah Jazz have been trailing a good team by double-digits in the second half. In the first of these two games, coach Will Hardy stuck with a particular lineup for an extended period to close the game. That lineup included John Collins at the center, which left Walker Kessler on the bench. In the following game, in a similar situation, Hardy chose instead to use a different lineup for the entire fourth quarter. That lineup featured Kessler at the center position.

The Jazz never made a comeback in the first game. They won the fourth quarter of the second game 40-13.

SLC Dunk readers may know my strong feelings against Collins starting over Kessler. I have written many articles and tweets on the topic that highlight the stark difference in how the Jazz play with Kessler vs Collins. However, none of the stats, arguments, or data I have shared could prove that point as plainly as the last two Utah Jazz games have.

Simply put, good things happen for the Jazz when Walker Kessler plays. Despite this, Kessler's minutes are not guaranteed. He's averaging 23.2 minutes per game, which ranks seventh on the team.

While Collins' negative impact is a factor in why I feel so strongly about this, I want to focus on Kessler's positive impact.

Defense

Walker Kessler ranks fourth in the NBA in total blocks and third in blocks per game. Those numbers would be impressive for someone starting and playing 32 minutes per game, so they're even more impressive for Kessler, who is coming off the bench and playing 23 minutes. Walker Kessler is currently leading the league with a 10.3% block percentage. Only three players in NBA history have ever had a block percentage over 10%. On top of that, Kessler has an absurd 51.09% block rate on his contests, which is second in the league among bigs.

Rim protection is more than just blocks. Some NBA bigs, especially younger bigs, tend to block many shots without being great rim protectors. Kessler, however, has proven to be an elite rim protector even when not blocking shots. As the nearest defender, Kessler allows players to shoot only 56.6% on shots within 5 feet of the basket, which is second-best in the NBA. He leads the NBA in Rim DFG% vs Expected, with a -18.3% according to The BBall Index. That means that players shoot a whopping 18.3% worse on shots at the rim that Kessler defends than statistics would expect them to.

Kessler's elite rim defense is the backbone of the Utah Jazz's overall defense. When Kessler is on the court, Jazz opponents' effective field goal percentage drops by 4.4%, and they score eight fewer points per 100 possessions. Opponents shoot 10.6% worse on attempts at the rim when Walker Kessler is on the court. That difference is in the 99th percentile league-wide. Kessler also leads all bigs in rim points saved, with 2.74 per 75 possessions.

Kessler is more than just a shot-blocker. He's a full-on, elite, terrifying rim protector.

Overall Impact

Here are Walker Kessler's ranks among Jazz rotation players in impact stats.

  • Net Rating: 3rd
  • LEBRON: 3rd
  • EPM: 4th
  • On/Off differential: 4th
  • BPM: 4th
  • VORP:4th

No matter how you slice it, Kessler is one of Utah's best and most important players. If he had been getting starter minutes all season, many of these numbers would be even better. All of this has been done during a season that could be considered a disappointment for Kessler. Imagine what he could do with guaranteed minutes and the added confidence from starting.

stats via nba.com, basketball-reference.com, cleaningtheglass.com, stathead.com, and bball-index.com