The presence of Victor Wembanyama and Walker Kessler in Sunday evening’s match serves as evidence of the statement

SALT LAKE CITY — For most of the NBA’s existence, being a 7-footer carried with it a certain expectation of how a player would — and should — play.

Clearly, the modern league is now pretty far removed from the days of its most leviathan giants automatically engaging in back-to-the-basket offense and bumper car-style defense.

Which is not to say those two are or should be lumped in together in general. The Frenchman clearly belongs in a wholly singular categorization based upon the pure distinctiveness of his sheer dimensions and accompanying skillset.

Kessler is far closer to the archetype of a traditional center. And yet, he bears some similarity to Wemby in the respect that, by the most “well, actually” interpretation of the term possible, both are technically less “big men” than … well, tall men.

A frequent criticism of the Auburn product is that while he boasts the rim-protecting and shot-blocking acumen of a center, his game is generally devoid of overall physicality. Kessler is not really known for dislodging opponents from the low block with brute strength. Or engaging in epic rebounding battles featuring well-placed elbows or subtle hip-checks or more straightforward applications of leverage.

Indeed, his signature move thus far through two seasons — a rather graceful two-handed reverse dunk — is more emblematic of the finesse inherent in his game.

All of which begs the question: To what extent should the Jazz coaching staff try to add some rougher edges to Kessler’s natural style?

“I definitely would like for Walker to become a more physical player. … If I was going to list Walker’s priorities as a player in his improvement, that would be No. 1,” Jazz head coach Will Hardy said.

Well, that’s exceedingly clear-cut.

Which isn’t to say it hasn’t already been made a priority for him. Which, subsequently, isn’t to say you should expect to see substantial imminent gains in that department, either.

“Walker, he’s a young man, and he’s got a big frame, and so sometimes people can think that he’s not working really hard at it. He is,” Hardy said. “The age that he’s at right now, maybe the weight isn’t showing as much, but he’s working really hard to improve his body and get stronger. It was a big focus for him this summer; it’s gonna continue to be a big focus for him.

“I think we’ve seen a lot of big guys in particular that come in the league and you see their bodies really change over the first three or four years of their career, and that’s the goal with Walker,” he added.

Kessler himself noted that trainers have told him to expect that his physical peak will come at 26 or 27 years old (he won’t turn 23 until the end of July). But in the meantime, beyond the natural filling-out process, they’re hitting the weight room hard while also putting a big emphasis on caloric intake.

“That’s not an issue!” the noted Waffle House devotee said with a laugh.

What is an issue, though, is developing a consistency with it, particularly when the team is on the road and doesn’t have all the amenities and resources it does at its home facilities.

Even if Kessler is not particularly adept at dislodging his fellow on-court combatants at the moment, he is making an effort to throw his body around on the court a bit more in certain areas.

Setting screens. Boxing out. Plain old bodying guys up.

“It’s definitely been talked about,” Kessler said. “For me, (it’s) just shifting my focus to everything with a physical presence, having a mindset of just trying to take guys out, so to speak.”

For what it’s worth, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich does see some similarities in what Sunday’s two centers are encountering in the league from the standpoint of adapting to physicality.

And he believes they’re particularly susceptible to trouble on one end of the court.

“Kessler and Wembanyama are gonna be physical right now defensively; they don’t have the girth or rear end or the thighs or whatever, they can’t be (Andre) Drummond, (and so) on the offensive end is where people like that really get hurt,” Popovich said. “The league, they’ll tell you they don’t do it, but it’s a definite split between how physicality is called on the post and out on the perimeter.

“You can still pretty much beat the hell out of people on the block and get away with it in a variety of ways. And so a lot of people aren’t very interested in being post people anymore,” he added. “What’s called on the perimeter is rarely called on the block. They’ll tell you it’s not true, but they’re wrong.”

Hardy, Popovich’s one-time protege and now Jazz counterpart, was asked if there’s anything to the idea that strength training — though an intrinsic and time-honored component of player development — can actually be overdone with someone like Kessler.

Can the process of adding muscle mass actually come at the expense of the physical advantages he has right now?

Let’s just say he thinks it’ll be worth it.

“I don’t think that it’s going to take away from the things that he does well,” Hardy said. “Sometimes the conversation can be, ‘Well, if he puts on weight, he’s not going to be as mobile.’ I don’t believe that. … Walker has all the tools to get stronger and still be as mobile and athletic as he is right now.”

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