Breaking down Utah Jazz’s two middle options to replace Rudy Gobert

Trading Rudy Gobert left more than a few holes in the Utah Jazz roster. His departure left the starting center role extremely young and skinny.

Gobert is a defense in his own right and a transcendent defensive center, so trying to fill his shoes isn’t fair to the core centers on the Jazz roster now. We still don’t know what the roster will look like at the start of the season with trade rumors still swirling, but for now Udoka Azubuike and new 2022 draft pick Walker Kessler (#22 overall) are the depth at this position.

For eight years, the Utah Jazz, both offensively and defensively, built around Gobert’s strengths as a player. This new roster will have to rebuild its identity and its defensive schemes.

Whether new head coach Will Hardy chooses to go small or not, the Jazz will still have to position themselves defensively night to night against the league’s Goberts, Nikola Jokics and Joel Embiids. It will be interesting to see who will take on this role.

Azubuike showed he wasn’t quite ready for the NBA in year two, but will be tested in his third season.

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A quiet part of the asset buildup acquired in the blockbuster trade that sent Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves is the aforementioned Kessler. The towering 7-foot-1 center matches Gobert’s height and defensive prowess, or at least that was his forte in college play.

Walker was drafted to Auburn and won SEC Defensive Player of the Year with a career average of 11.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per game. Auburn basketball head coach Bruce Pearl praises Kessler for his talent and size:

“(His size) is an important part of the equation. It’s a different huge. He is 7 foot 1 inch and little big. It has another tier length,” Bruce Pearl said via Auburn Daily. “Think about blocking a shot and literally think about the inches between getting it, deflecting it and getting close to it. So that size and that length matters.”

That length and height will help Walker’s transition into NBA play, but whether the defensive versatility and athleticism translates remains to be seen. Kessler could be the next Gobert if it all works out or he could become useless like so many 7-foot centers in the NBA today.

We’ll see how the squad and roster moves play out in the coming months, but either Kessler or Azubuike will likely play a part in the new season’s rotation.


Follow Andre on Twitter @ArembaczNBA.

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