Walker Kessler

Jazz Notes: Sexton, Conley, NAW, Bolmaro, Strong Start

Jazz point guard Mike Conley has taken new teammate Collin Sexton under his wing and is helping him see the game in a new way, according to Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune. With 16-year veteran Conley held out of the second game of a back-to-back set, Sexton received his first start of the 2022/23 season in Saturday’s win over Memphis, recording 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting and four assists in nearly 32 minutes.

We’ll walk through, and he’ll be like, ‘Alright, what are you doing in this situation?’ And I’ll let him know, and then he’ll be like, ‘Well, in this situation, I think you should do this. Just try it,’” Sexton explained. “During the game, he’ll be like, ‘OK, you got to the basket — now let’s see if you can pitch [the ball] behind two or three times.’ And I’ll do it. And then he’s like, ‘Alright, now the next time, try to see if you can get all the way there [to the rim].’ It’s opening my mind to multiple ways of playing, and also multiple ways of seeing the game, too. I know he sees it from a different angle than I do.”

As Walden writes, the Jazz have been cautious not to overextend Sexton after he only played 11 games last season with a torn meniscus, which required surgery. He’s technically not on a minutes restriction, but that’s partly why he’s only averaging 19.0 MPG.

Sexton is eager to prove his worth after inking a four-year, $71MM deal as part of the Donovan Mitchell sign-and-trade with Cleveland, but he recognizes he’ll have more opportunities as the season goes on, per Walden.

Just giving [it all in] the time that I’m out there and just making an impact. And I might play four-minute spurts, so in those four minutes, giving it all I can, whether it’s pressuring the ball or pushing the ball and changing the pace of the game, whether it’s on the defensive side or offensive side,” Sexton said. “Just trying to use the little time that I’m given just to make sure that they know I’m out there, you know what I mean? Because I know once the season continues to go, more minutes, more time [will come].

Here’s more on the Jazz:

  • Little-used guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker got an opportunity for extended run with Conley sidelined against the Grizzlies, and he showed that he can be a positive player when given the opportunity, writes Sarah Todd of The Desert News. Alexander-Walker played solid defense against Desmond Bane and Hardy was pleased with his effort, as Todd relays. “He came in with such a fire,” head coach Will Hardy said of Alexander-Walker. “He really got into the ball with Desmond Bane and I think he got two steals on the ball, just taking the dribble. He has really good instincts and really long arms and he did a good job of just trying to speed up their ball handlers, which I thought was great…It’s a difficult situation. He hasn’t played that much and he got thrown into a big game with Mike out, and I thought he handled himself great.”
  • Second-year guard Leandro Bolmaro, who recently had his third-year option declined by Utah, has entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols and is out for Monday’s game against Memphis, tweets Tony Jones of The Athletic. Rudy Gay and Simone Fontecchio are still in the protocols. Rookie center Walker Kessler (non-COVID illness) has also been ruled out for the contest, according to Jones (Twitter link).
  • How have the Jazz gotten off to a 5-2 start? Tony Jones tackles that topic for The Athletic, concluding that the team’s depth, offensive pressure, floor spacing, and key adjustments from head coach Will Hardy have been instrumental to the surprising seven-game stretch.

Western Notes: Nowell, KAT, Dinwiddie, Jazz

Timberwolves guard Jaylen Nowell is hoping to take advantage of a more consistent role in 2022/23 after the Rudy Gobert trade created the potential for additional playing time off the bench, according to Chris Hine of The Star Tribune.

With the trade that happened, it definitely opened up a lot of opportunity for me,” Nowell said. “It’s my job to make sure I don’t take that for granted, I continue to get better as a player, and whenever I get on that court just be the best version of myself.”

Nowell, 23, averaged 8.5 PPG, 2.0 RPG and 2.1 APG on .475/.394/.783 shooting in 62 games (15.7 MPG) in ’21/22. He’s entering the final season of his non-guaranteed contract, which will pay him $1,930,681. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent in 2023, but he says he’s not focused on that.

I definitely just try to keep that to the side,” Nowell said, per Hine. “Because I think if I’m focusing on that, I’m not doing my part as a teammate. So, you know, obviously it’s coming up. It’s just part of this business, but at the end of the day I’m focused on this year and how good we can be this year. I just want to be the best teammate and be the best player I can be so we can all succeed.”

Here are a few more notes from the Western Conference:

  • Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch is hopeful Karl-Anthony Towns will be able to start “low-level” basketball activities early next week after missing training camp practices with a non-COVID illness, Hine relays in the same story. The three-time All-Star will slide down to power forward this season with Gobert’s addition, though he’ll almost certainly play some center when Gobert rests. Minnesota will feature one of the biggest starting lineups in the NBA in ’22/23.
  • Spencer Dinwiddie says he’s no longer worried about his ACL injury, which he suffered in late December 2020, per Dwain Price of Mavs.com. “It’s a normal offseason, full training mode, not worried about swelling or taking a break, or two days on and one day off,” Dinwiddie said. “It’s let’s get to it.” After starting seven of his 23 games with the Mavericks last season, the 29-year-old will replace Jalen Brunson as a full-time starter in ’22/23, Price notes. “I don’t really see myself filling Jalen’s role per se,” Dinwiddie said. “There were a lot of games (last season) I finished games, there were games I played without Luka (Doncic) and without JB, and where I started games as well. But in terms of the mentality, green means go. Go make plays and try to win the game.”
  • Fourth-year guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker and a trio of rookies — Ochai Agbaji, Walker Kessler and Simone Fontecchio — are impressing the Jazz during training camp, writes Sarah Todd of The Desert News. “Nickeil is a very, very skilled, diverse offensive player,” head coach Will Hardy said. “He has good size, is a very good passer, he can put the ball in the basket. When he’s open and he shoots, I think it’s going in. He’s just really shown a confidence throughout open gym and training camp that I think has been really, really great for our group. His presence when he has the ball, sort of settles everybody down and he has been awesome.”

Jazz Notes: Sexton, Kessler, Azubuike, Conley, Clarkson, Zeller, Lee

New Jazz guard Collin Sexton has been fully cleared following last year’s knee injury that sidelined him for all but 11 games, per Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune (Twitter link). Newly acquired rookie big man Walker Kessler has also received clearance from his toe injury, Walden adds.

While Sexton and Kessler should be good to go for training camp, former Jazz first-rounder Udoka Azubuike isn’t quite there yet. According to Walden, Azubuike continues to progress from the ankle surgery that ended his 2021/22 season early, but has yet to be cleared for 5-on-5 work.

Here are a few more updates on the Jazz:

  • Following an offseason fire sale in Utah, Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson look like obvious candidates to be traded at some point in the coming weeks or months. But general manager Justin Zanik said today that there has been “nothing but total buy-in from those guys,” so it doesn’t sound as if either Conley or Clarkson is pushing to be dealt (Twitter link via Walden).
  • Conley told reporters today that he’s “10 toes in” with the Jazz, even as he acknowledged the possibility of a trade. He’s conflicted about the idea of being moved, since he could end up with a contending team but would likely have to finish the season away from his family (Twitter links via Walden and Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune).
  • After undergoing eight surgeries in nine years, Cody Zeller wants to show in Utah that he’s finally healthy, telling reporters today that he believes he can bring value to a young roster as an experienced veteran (Twitter link via Walden). The Jazz have a roster logjam to clear in the next few weeks, but Zeller should have a shot at a 15-man roster spot due to the team’s lack of veteran frontcourt depth.
  • Tony Jones of The Athletic sounds unconvinced that Saben Lee is part of the Jazz’s plans going forward, tweeting that he believes the newly acquired guard will need to have “a hell of a camp” in order to stick.

Jazz Notes: Mitchell, Gobert, Free Agents, Kessler

Jazz general manager Justin Zanik didn’t label Donovan Mitchell as “untouchable,” but he made it clear that moving Mitchell isn’t part of the team’s current plans, tweets Tim MacMahon of ESPN. In the wake of the Rudy Gobert trade, there has been speculation that Utah might seek to unload Mitchell and launch a full-scale rebuild, but Zanik said the organization still considers Mitchell to be a vital part of its future.

“Change is inevitable in the NBA,” Zanik responded when asked about Mitchell. “I’m not trying to be cryptic or anything else, but Donovan is on our roster and he’s a very, very important part of what we’re trying to do. Things evolve in the NBA, so I couldn’t sit here and say anybody is (untouchable). We’re trying to build a championship team, but there’s no intent there (to trade Mitchell), at all.”

Zanik added that management has been in touch with Mitchell and he “has been supportive” of the team’s offseason moves, according to Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune (Twitter link). Mitchell may see more time as the primary ball-handler during the upcoming season, and CEO Danny Ainge believes he’s capable of becoming a full-time point guard (Twitter link).

There’s more on the Jazz:

  • Zanik also said the team is “in the middle of” reforming its roster and indicated that more moves are coming, Walden tweets. Addressing the Gobert trade, Zanik said the Jazz loved having Gobert to anchor their defense, but decided the offer from Minnesota was “in the best interest of the organization.”
  • The team is still considering re-signing free agents Eric Paschall, Trent Forrest and Juancho Hernangomez, Walden adds (Twitter link). “By no means have we closed the book on any of those guys,” Zanik said.
  • First-round pick Walker Kessler is dealing with a minor toe injury that he suffered during pre-draft workouts and won’t play any more in Summer League, Walden tweets. Kessler has received clearance from the team’s medical staff, but will focus on conditioning.
  • Jared Butler and Bruno Caboclo were Jazz “standouts” at the Salt Lake City Summer League, per Trent Wood of The Deseret News.

Walker Kessler Signs Rookie Deal With Jazz

The Jazz have officially signed 7’1″ rookie center Walker Kessler to his rookie scale contract, the team announced in a press release. Kessler is the last 2022 first-rounder to ink his deal.

The 20-year-old has yet to play in an NBA game, but is already well-traveled within the league. He was initially selected by the Grizzlies with the No. 22 pick in the 2022 draft out of Auburn, before being traded to the Timberwolves in a draft-night deal. Kessler was later sent to Utah as part of Minnesota’s blockbuster deal for three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.

Kessler averaged 11.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 4.6 BPG, and 1.1 SPG across 34 games during his second and final college season with the Tigers. He also nailed 60.8% of his field goal attempts. He had spent the 2020/21 season with North Carolina in a more limited role, averaging just 8.8 MPG, before transferring to Auburn. Kessler was named the 2021/22 SEC and NABC Defensive Player of the Year. The big man was also an All-SEC First Team, All-SEC Defensive Team, and AP All-American Third Team selection.

The deal will pay $2,696,400 for the 2022/23 season, and will be worth $13.4MM should Utah pick up both its team options for the center’s third and fourth NBA seasons.

Jazz Trade Rudy Gobert To Timberwolves

JULY 6: Gobert has officially been traded from Utah to Minnesota, the Timberwolves confirmed today in a press release.


JULY 1: The Jazz are trading three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert to the Timberwolves, sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link).

According to Wojnarowski (all Twitter links), the Jazz will receive Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Leandro Bolmaro, 2022 first-round pick Walker Kessler, and four future first-rounders in the deal.

Minnesota will send Utah unprotected first-round picks in 2023, 2025, and 2027, along with a top-five protected 2029 first-round pick and the right to swap first-rounders in 2026, reports Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic (Twitter link).

A major shake-up had been expected in Utah this spring and Gobert has been mentioned in trade rumors since the Jazz were eliminated from the postseason. On top of that, the Wolves were rumored to be in the market for a rim-protecting center to play alongside Karl-Anthony Towns, and had been linked to Gobert.

Still, the fact that the two division rivals were able to agree to terms on this blockbuster deal comes as a major surprise. It represents a huge home-run swing by new Timberwolves president of basketball operations Tim Connelly and incoming owners Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez, and is the first significant roster move made by Jazz CEO Danny Ainge.

The move will cost the Timberwolves a good amount of their depth, but will create a loaded starting five. Towns and Gobert figure to be joined by point guard D’Angelo Russell, rising star Anthony Edwards, and one of Kyle Anderson, Taurean Prince, or Jaden McDaniels.

The Wolves will have Gobert under contract for several years — he’s owed a guaranteed $123MM over the next three seasons and has a $46.7MM player option for 2025/26.

Minnesota currently projects to be about $9.5MM below this season’s luxury tax line, with 11 players on their books, tweets ESPN’s Bobby Marks.

Meanwhile, of the players headed to Utah in this trade, only Kessler will have guaranteed money on his contract beyond 2022/23. Beverley is on an expiring contract, while Beasley, Vanderbilt, and Bolmaro all have team options for ’23/24.

The Jazz are currently $11MM below this year’s tax line for 13 players and should have significant cap flexibility in future seasons, says Marks.

Having also acquired a first-round pick from Brooklyn this week in exchange for Royce O’Neale, the Jazz are now loaded with draft assets and plan to retool their roster around Donovan Mitchell going forward, per Wojnarowski (Twitter link). Tony Jones of The Athletic confirms (via Twitter) that the team has no plans to trade Mitchell.

There could be an opportunity for the Jazz to turn around and immediately flip some of the picks they’ve accumulated for an impact player who will complement Mitchell.

For instance, John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 reports (via Twitter) that Utah has some interest in exploring a sign-and-trade deal for Suns restricted free agent center Deandre Ayton, and Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer confirms (via Twitter) that the Wolves, Jazz, and Suns had discussed some three-team scenarios.

After seeing multiple unprotected first-round picks change hands this week in deals involving Gobert and Dejounte Murray, it’s safe to say the Nets’ asking price for Kevin Durant will be astronomical. Brooklyn is said to be seeking a “historical haul” for the former MVP.

Northwest Notes: Green, Hart, Timberwolves Draft, Jazz Targets

JaMychal Green was officially traded to the Thunder by the Nuggets on Thursday, but it’s unlikely the forward will ever suit up for Oklahoma City. General manager Sam Presti says they’ll look to trade Green, Brandon Rahbar of the Daily Thunder tweets. Green, 32, is at the stage of his career where he provides greater value to a contender than a rebuilding team. He’s on an $8.2MM expiring contract for 2022/23.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Josh Hart had his $12.96MM contract guaranteed by the Trail Blazers over the weekend. However, it shouldn’t have major implications on Portland’s offseason moves, Bobby Marks of ESPN tweets. The Blazers now have $105MM in guaranteed contracts but they’re over the cap because of the free agent holds on Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkic. They still could have the flexibility to re-sign those two free agents and use the full $10.5MM mid-level exception to pursue outside targets.
  • The Timberwolves prioritized rebounding in the draft and addressed that by making moves to select Auburn’s Walker Kessler, Chris Hine of the Star Tribune writes. Kessler was the Naismith National Defensive Player of the Year. They also wound up with Duke wing Wendell Moore late in the first round and Memphis wing Josh Minott and Italian guard Matteo Spagnolo in the second round. President of basketball operations Tim Connelly isn’t expecting too much out of those rookies. “We don’t want to put too much expectations on their ability to contribute right away,” he told The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski. “When you have a team that had as much success as we did, it’s hard to put that on your shoulders.”
  • What might the Jazz do with their taxpayer mid-level exception in free agency? Eric Walden of the Salt Lake Tribune lists 25 potential free agent targets — breaking them down into wings, guards and bigs.

Grizzlies Acquire No. 19 Pick Jake LaRavia From Wolves

JUNE 24: The trade is complete, the Grizzlies and Timberwolves announced in a pair of press releases. Officially, LaRavia’s draft rights head to Memphis along with a 2023 second-round pick in exchange for the draft rights to No. 22 pick Walker Kessler and No. 29 pick TyTy Washington.

It’s unclear if that ’23 second-rounder is Minnesota’s own or the Knicks’ second-round pick that the Wolves acquired earlier in the draft.

The Wolves are flipping Washington to the Rockets in a separate trade.


JUNE 23: The Grizzlies have agreed to acquire the No. 19 pick from the Timberwolves and will select Wake Forest forward Jake LaRavia, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic (via Twitter). In exchange, Minnesota will receive the No. 22 and No. 29 selections in tonight’s draft, with the Grizzlies also gaining a second-round pick, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter links).

It’s apparently a 2023 second-rounder, Chris Hine of the Star Tribune tweets.

LaRavia, who spent two seasons at Indiana State, moved up draft boards in recent weeks after averaging 14.6 PPG, 6.6 RPG and 3.7 APG for the Demon Deacons last season. With Kyle Anderson entering free agency, LaRavia could compete for a rotation spot in his rookie campaign.

He improved his stock during workouts, as he was originally projected as a borderline first-rounder.

Parlaying two first-rounders for the No. 19 selection doesn’t seem like great value, as Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian notes, but Grizzlies executive Zach Kleiman is unfazed by perceptions as long as he gets the player he wants. Kleiman has traded up for every pick on his watch with the exception of Ja Morant, Herrington adds (Twitter links).

Draft Notes: Mocks, Big Men, O’Neal, Jovic, Kessler

Both John Hollinger of The Athletic and Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report recently released their final mock drafts ahead of tomorrow’s 2022 NBA draft. The divergence between the two starts at the top, with Hollinger projecting Chet Holmgren to go No. 1 overall to the Magic, while Wasserman takes the more common approach with Jabari Smith going to Orlando.

Hollinger notes that Orlando’s front office has shown an affinity for length in the past, and believes Holmgren’s tantalizing rim protection skills might be too enticing to pass up. Wasserman, on the other hand, says Holmgren’s thin frame and “slower delivery when creating” make some talent evaluators slightly nervous, and Smith’s age (he’s a year younger than Holmgren) and maturity make him a safer choice, plus Smith is considered to have as much upside as anyone in the draft.

There’s considerable overlap in several spots between the two mock drafts, but perhaps not in areas one might expect. For example, both mocks have Jaden Ivey going No. 4 to Sacramento, even though the guard hasn’t worked out for or been in contact Kings, and wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about the prospect of joining the team in a media session earlier this week.

As Wasserman observes, the Kings didn’t work out Davion Mitchell or Tyrese Haliburton prior to drafting them with their two most recent lottery picks, so if Ivey is the top prospect on their board, don’t be surprised if he’s selected (Haliburton was traded to Indiana in February for Domantas Sabonis).

Both Hollinger and Wasserman have Wendell Moore Jr. going No. 22 to Memphis, which is interesting because he’s ranked No. 33 on ESPN’s big board, so that’s a pretty sizeable jump up. Hollinger also hears the Grizzlies are fans of Dalen Terry, who is No. 24 on ESPN’s board. Memphis is reportedly interested in moving up in the draft, as it controls the Nos. 29 and 47 picks in addition to No. 22.

Here are a few more draft-related notes:

  • David Aldridge of The Athletic queried college coaches, scouts and NBA executives to get their anonymous opinions on the top-rated big men in the draft, including Holmgren, whom one Western Conference executive described as a “mystery.” “You just don’t know how he and the body are going to react to the next level of stress,” the exec said. “… His skill level is awesome, but who does he guard at the next level? What does he play? Hardest-working freshman ever at Gonzaga. Work ethic and intangibles are way better than what showed up on the court.”
  • Shareef O’Neal, the son of Hall-of-Famer Shaquille O’Neal, said his father was against him leaving school early. “We kind of bump heads about this process,” Shareef said, per Kyle Goon of The Southern California Newsgroup. “He wanted me to stay in school. I wanted to better myself through this. He knows I’m working out with teams. But I’m not gonna lie, we ain’t talked about this.” Shareef isn’t ranked on ESPN’s board, so he’s considered likely to go undrafted.
  • Nikola Jovic and Walker Kessler have become the 23rd and 24th prospects to receive green room invitations, sources tell Jonathan Givony of ESPN (Twitter links). Jovic is ranked No. 27 on ESPN’s board, while Kessler is No. 23.

Givony’s Latest: Sharpe, Magic, Kings, Duarte, Suns, Knicks, More

Kentucky’s Shaedon Sharpe, perhaps the biggest enigma of the 2022 NBA draft, is the subject of several rumors in Jonathan Givony’s latest mock draft at ESPN.com (Insider link).

Givony has Sharpe coming off the board at No. 7 to Portland, writing that Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard is believed to be a fan of the young guard, despite the fact that Sharpe is 12 years younger than Lillard and is on a “completely different timetable.”

A pair of teams picking later in the lottery may also have their sights set on Sharpe. The Thunder, who hold the No. 12 pick, continue to pursue trade-up opportunities, according to Givony, who says Sharpe and Jaden Ivey are among the players Oklahoma City appears to be targeting.

Meanwhile, Sharpe is also said to intrigue the Hornets if they trade up from No. 13, Givony writes, noting that the Kentucky guard surprised other teams when he opted to work out for Charlotte.

Here are a few more of the most interesting tidbits from Givony’s newest mock:

  • Virtually every NBA team expects the Magic to select Jabari Smith first overall and would be surprised if they go in a different direction.
  • The Kings are considered more likely to stand pat than to trade the No. 4 pick, but they’ve had discussions with almost every team behind them in the lottery and even some outside of the lottery, per Givony. Pacers wing Chris Duarte is among the possible trade targets the Kings have done their homework on, Givony adds.
  • Surprisingly, Givony has heard the Suns are among the clubs exploring trade scenarios involving the Pelicans‘ No. 8 pick. Givony suggests Phoenix could potentially include a player like Cameron Johnson in its offer to help create more long-term cap flexibility to retain Deandre Ayton.
  • There’s a widespread belief that the Knicks won’t end up picking at No. 11, Givony reports. they’re “aggressively” exploring scenarios in which they trade back or trade out of the first round.
  • Rival teams believe the Cavaliers are high on Ousmane Dieng, though he could be off the board by No. 14, says Givony.
  • Echoing multiple recent reports, Givony identifies Hawks big man John Collins as a major draft-day trade candidate. Givony goes a step further, suggesting that Collins could even be packaged with Kevin Huerter in a deal involving the Kings‘ No. 4 overall pick.
  • The Bucks (No. 24) are eyeing older prospects who could help them win right away, such as Andrew Nembhard, Jake LaRavia, Christian Braun and Ismael Kamagate, according to Givony, who has heard from rival teams that Milwaukee has also conveyed some interest in trading up into the teens, possibly for a big man like Mark Williams and Walker Kessler.