Film Room: Walker Kessler might just be the best defensive weapon in the country
“Boy, if there's a better defender, shot blocker or rim protector in the country, I haven't seen him."
C Walker Kessler (Jacob Taylor/Auburn Athletics)
Bruce Pearl laid it out pretty simply last Wednesday night.
He just watched his Auburn team beat a previously undefeated LSU by 15 points in a statement of an SEC opener. The victory was highlighted by Walker Kessler, who turned in the second triple-double in program history — 16 points, 10 rebounds and 11 blocks.
Kessler’s offensive production was significant, but the biggest impact came on defense. His 11 blocks set an Auburn Arena record, and his overall defensive play went a long way in a game in which Will Wade’s LSU offense was held to just 55 points and less than 30% shooting.
“Boy, if there's a better defender, shot blocker or rim protector in the country, I haven't seen him,” Pearl said.
It’s well-established at this point that Kessler is college basketball’s top shot blocker. According to KenPom, he is currently No. 1 nationally in block percentage at 20.7%. That means he is blocking one out of every five 2-point field goal attempts when he is on the floor.
While that percentage for an entire season is absurd, the LSU game itself went to a different level for Kessler. His block percentage against the Bayou Bengals was 44.6% — meaning he blocked nearly every other 2-point field goal attempt.
LSU ranked well inside the top 100 in 2-point field goal percentage nationally. It shot just 35.3% on 2-point shot attempts against Auburn, and that number was even lower when Kessler was on the floor.
(Here’s a supercut of all 11 of Kessler’s blocks vs. LSU. For this Film Room, we’ll reference them all individually later.)
After taking a step backwards in that department last season, Pearl revamped his defense — specifically in the backcourt — through the transfer portal.
K.D. Johnson was the SEC’s top performer in steal percentage as a true freshman. Zep Jasper had a multi-year reputation as one of the best on-ball defenders in mid-major basketball. And while Wendell Green Jr. wasn’t known for his defense heading into the season, he’s posted some of the best on-off defensive numbers on the roster through the first two months.
In the frontcourt, true freshman phenom Jabari Smith has showed a versatile defensive profile that goes beyond his years. He’s spent plenty of time next to Devan Cambridge, who took his defense to new heights after an offseason of focused work. Now noted on-ball defensive ace Allen Flanigan is back.
All of those pieces, plus others in the Tigers’ rotation, have come together to create a defense that currently sits in the top 10 nationally in opponent-adjusted efficiency, per KenPom.
But, as Pearl said after the LSU win, it begins and ends with Kessler.