Timberwolves trade down, select Auburn center Walker Kessler

The Timberwolves had two clear weaknesses bite them in key moments of their first-round playoff loss to Memphis: They weren’t big enough and they couldn’t rebound.

With his first selection as Minnesota’s president of basketball operations, Tim Connelly did his best to address those holes. After trading down three picks in the first round, the Timberwolves selected Walker Kessler of Auburn with the No. 22 pick in Thursday’s draft.

At 7-foot-1, 245 pounds, Kessler is an imposing defensive presence in the paint. He led all of Division I basketball with 155 blocked shots en route to claiming national defensive player of the year honors.

The 20-year-old averaged 11.4 points and 8.1 rebounds this season as a sophomore for the Tigers. He showed the nimbleness necessary to defend at all levels and also was a strong finisher around the rim.

Minnesota acquired the pick by trading its No. 19 pick, along with a future second-round pick, to Memphis in exchange for picks No. 22 and No. 29 in Thursday’s draft.

The selection of Kessler suggests Minnesota is serious about its willingness to play Karl-Anthony Towns at power forward, at least at times. Towns has operated in that type of role alongside certain other Wolves forwards in the past but rarely alongside a true center such as Kessler.

The pick is a pivot from the Gersson Rosas regime, in which Towns was rarely placed alongside even a legitimate power forward.

Playing Towns at power forward takes defensive pressure off the all-star forward in certain matchups and could shore up Minnesota’s rebounding issues.

At the same time, centers often come along slowly in the NBA, so Kessler’s true impact may not be felt immediately. It seems unlikely he’ll start at center as a rookie, but he does seem like a good bet to serve as the Wolves’ backup center, likely with some minutes played next to Towns.

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