Knicks testing the waters on rim protecting Jazz center

Dec 13, 2023; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Jazz center Walker Kessler (24) dunks the ball against the New York Knicks during the third quarter at Delta Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks now have a need for a center after featured big man Isaiah Hartenstein left the franchise for the Oklahoma City Thunder in free agency on Monday. The Utah Jazz may have their guy stashed away on their roster.

Michael Scotto of HoopsHype reported that the Jazz are open to inclining their ears to trade offers for center Walker Kessler, saying this in part (h/t Bleacher Report’s Zach Bachar):

“The Knicks have also made inquiries on the trade market, showing interest in Jazz center Walker Kessler, league sources told HoopsHype, along with Hornets center Nick Richards, as previously reported by HoopsHype,” Scotto reiterated.

“There’s a belief from rival executives that Utah would listen to trade calls for Kessler, whereas last year, the sense was he was not for sale.”

Jazz C Walker Kessler makes sense for the Knicks to try and acquire

NBA: Utah Jazz at Sacramento Kings, knicks, walker kessler
Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

In a perfect world, Kessler would be an ideal fit on the Knicks’ roster. The Auburn product stands at 7-0 and weighs in at 245 pounds. He’s imposed his size advantage on other teams by sending back 2.3 blocks in his 2022-23 rookie campaign and 2.4 rejections last season for the Jazz.

Kessler is also an efficient interior scorer, making good on 69 percent of his field goal attempts in his young career behind 8.7 points per contest. The Knicks will greatly miss Hartenstein’s activity on the glass, particularly on the offensive end, his playmaking capabilities, and rim-running off of screen-and-rolls.

Can Kessler approximate the value that Isaiah Hartenstein left behind for the Knicks?

Walker Kessler, Knicks
Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

The 22-year-old Kessler posted a 12.3 percent offensive rebounding percentage in 2023-24, which did not fall short of Hartenstein’s 14.4 percent metric. Kessler actually exceeded that percentage from Hartenstein in 2022-23 with a 14.9 percent OREB percentage.

The Georgia native does not quite live up to Hartenstein as the latter finished the year averaging 0.94 points per possession in pick-and-roll opportunities when the lights shone brightest during the 2024 postseason, which was one of the better markers among all playoff performers last time out. That’s not to say that Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau can’t turn that around for Kessler the way he did for Hartenstein in a potential pairing.

Kessler is under contract until 2026-27. He’s set to make $2.96 million in 2024-25 followed by $4.87 million in 2025-26 and $7.06 million on the final year of his deal, which will be a qualifying offer. He comes in cheaper than Precious Achiuwa for two of those three seasons. Achiuwa was allowed to enter unrestricted free agency this summer after the Knicks held back on accepting his $6.3 million qualifying offer for next season, further stressing their need for a man in the middle of their ranks. New York could move a couple of the players they have signed for the promising five man.

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