Walker Kessler, 3-point shooter? Jazz center breaks down the tweaks to his form

The center has spent the summer working with a couple of coaches on adjusting the full-body mechanics of his jumper, in an effort to become more prolific and efficient from beyond the arc.

(John Locher | AP) Walker Kessler of the Utah Jazz shoots during training camp for the United States men's basketball team Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, in Las Vegas.

A few hours before of the Utah Jazz’s preseason game against the New Zealand Breakers, the players were shooting around at the Zions Bank Basketball Campus when Walker Kessler ambled over the court where Lauri Markkanen and Kelly Olynyk were about to have a 3-point competition.

He wanted in.

“I was like, ‘Hey, can I join you?’ And Kelly was like, ‘Nah, this is Lauri’s thing.’ And I was like, ‘Alright, I got it. I’ll go shoot somewhere else,’” Kessler recounted with a chagrined laugh. “I’m not invited. I’m only a second-year [player], so I guess I don’t get that privilege yet.”

That he asked, though, was telling.

It’s no secret that the young big man is keen to expand his offensive repertoire, and that spot-up shots from beyond the arc figure to be at least a slightly bigger part of his arsenal this coming season.

Kessler was, after all, only 1 of 3 from deep in the 2022-23 season — stats that shocked teammate and friend Micah Parsons, who guessed the then-rookie had fired away from deep at least a dozen times.

Whether head coach Will Hardy winds up giving him the green light that much as a sophomore remains to be seen, but Kessler is at least preparing as though the opportunity might come.

The Team USA big man and future Jazz centerpiece invested considerable time and effort refining his shooting mechanics, a multipart process which he divulged in some detail.

The most significant component, Kessler explained, involved changing his arm motion and release point. The way he shot it before, he had the “bad habit” of bringing the ball up too high, to the point that it was above or even slightly behind his head.

“Everyone’s form is different, but for me, it kind of had this catapult motion where there wasn’t a lot of arc, it was kind of a hard shot, not a lot of touch,” Kessler said.

So he and personal trainer Austin Ewing spent this offseason focused on keeping the ball more in front of his face. They also worked on transferring the forward movement of the shooting motion from his arm to his wrist.

“So it’s added a lot more touch on the shot, and once you get that baseline, it’s [just] continuing to rep it out,” Kessler said.

The other big factor has been tweaking his base.

There, he’s been primarily working with Jazz assistant Chris Jones on a few specific things: keeping his legs slightly wider, in what he jokingly refers to as “my sumo stance”; putting his right foot slightly in front of his left; trying not to have his right knee bent inward; picking up his feet rather than sliding them.

“The shot up top is important, but your base is the most important thing — at least for my shot,” Kessler said. “If I can get my feet under me and really focus on stepping and getting my legs down, usually it means that my shot’s a lot, lot better.”

His teammates have taken notice both of the tweaks to his mechanics and his newfound aggressiveness.

Though Kessler did not have any 3-point attempts in the Jazz’s preseason opener vs. the Clippers in Hawaii, he did try one in the rematch in Seattle, then two vs. the Blazers at the Delta Center, and another one Monday night against the New Zealand Breakers — which he made.

“Yeah, he’s definitely more willing now. And we’re obviously willing him and want him to shoot when he’s open, as well,” said Olynyk. “He has good form, and he has good rotation on the ball. It looks good. He’s made a bunch of them in workouts, practices, stuff like that. So it’s just about getting that game timing and feel down. But he’s gonna be open, teams are gonna leave him open, so if he wants to shoot, he can.”

Markkanen, meanwhile, who is pretty universally considered the Jazz’s best shooter, was encouraging about the effort Kessler has put in, but cautioned expecting immediate results is perhaps unwise.

Perfecting your shooting form, he said, is a long-term project.

“It’s a constant work [in progress], I think,” he said.

To his point, Markkanen noted that he shot the ball a ton as a youngster, and had a motion that he thought worked pretty well. Then he got to high school, and some tweaks were suggested. Then, in between his year at Arizona and his first season with the Chicago Bulls, yet more tweaks were made. He estimated that he’s kept his upper-body mechanics pretty static for three or four seasons now, but is constantly making slight adjustments with his legs and balance.

Sometimes it’s a matter of trial and error, and what works for someone else won’t necessarily work for him — and vice versa.

“I tried to turn my elbow in more and it felt really uncomfortable because my range of motion wasn’t allowing me to do that. So I shoot more a little [flared out] a bit, and I think Walker shoots more of an elbow in. I think it’s a comfort thing,” said Markkanen. “… Some people shoot with a narrow stance, but I prefer to have a little bit wider. But I’m glad that Walker’s putting in work every day, and I’m glad to see him make ‘em.”

Now, The Finnisher explained, it’s all about trying shots out in a game, evaluating what works and what doesn’t, and committing to making yet more changes if necessary, and resisting the temptation to revert back to old habits just because they feel more natural.

He explained that his own mechanics adjustments in high school came as a result of switching from playing on the wing, as he had mostly done growing up, to playing more inside. At the time, he tended to shoot from in front of his face, and with a single-action motion. But that simply didn’t work with the new post fadeaway that his coaches wanted him to utilize. As much as he initially disliked the changes, he recognized the need to get his release point higher.

“At first it felt really uncomfortable. And then it was kind of finding the comfort,” Markkanen said. “My thinking was, if it’s really uncomfortable [when] somebody else is trying to change your shot, when you go shoot by yourself, you’re not gonna do the new mechanics, because you’re gonna gravitate to the one that’s comfortable. And then at some point you realize, ‘Oh, I really need to tweak something.’ And I think it was kind of finding the balance with moving it higher but it still being comfortable.”

He’s definitely curious to see how it plays out with his frontcourt teammate.

“Who knows how deadly of a sniper he becomes,” Markkanen said, “but I wouldn’t see him having a problem with his 3-point shot getting blocked.”

Kessler, meanwhile, said the comfort factor is getting there.

And getting a chance to fire away in the preseason is just making it even better.

“I feel good. You know, I feel really good. I’m really confident in my shot,” he said. “It’s just a matter of seeing it going up more in a live-game scenario.”