Jazz Overcome Raptors Rebounds, Kessler Dominates

Feb 1, 2023, 11:02 PM | Updated: Feb 2, 2023, 11:55 am

SALT LAKE CITY – Walker Kessler had one of his best nights as a pro as the Utah Jazz downed the Toronto Raptors 131-128.

Kessler scored 17 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, and blocked seven shots while Lauri Markkanen added 28.

Raptors guard Fred VanVleet scored 34 to lead all scorers in a losing effort.

Jazz Overcome Enormous Possession Deficit

With six Jazz players scoring in double-digits, and a 131.0 offensive rating, the Jazz had one of their best offensive performances of the season and still needed some late-game heroics to beat the struggling Raptors.

The reason Toronto was able to stay in the game was due to their overwhelming possession discrepancy as the Jazz struggled to take care of the ball or secure defensive rebounds.

The Raptors outrebounded the Jazz 25-13, and won the turnover battle 16-8, giving them a 20-possession advantage over the course of the game.

“That’s a really physical team, they attacked the glass, they forced turnovers,” Will Hardy said. “I thought in the first half, obviously way too many turnovers, way too many offensive rebounds.”

The Raptors took an eye-popping 110 field goal attempts, tied for the second most from a team in regulation this season, and attempted 27 more shots than the Jazz over the course of the game, despite shooting just four fewer free throws.

The Jazz are only the second team in the NBA this year to give up at least 25 offensive rebounds in regulation and have been plagued by the issue all season.

For the year, the Jazz are ranked 25th in defensive rebounding and 24th in turnovers, giving them a possession deficit most nights they step on the floor.

Indiana is the only other team to allow an opponent to secure at least 25 offensive rebounds in a game this season, and have surprisingly done it twice. Surprisingly, the Jazz and Pacers are a combined 2-1 this year when allowing 25 offensive boards.

Kessler’s Last 10 Games

When Kelly Olynyk injured his ankle against the Memphis Grizzlies on January 8, Walker Kessler was moved into the starting lineup. With how he’s performed since becoming a full-time starter, it doesn’t look like he’ll lose that spot anytime soon.

Wednesday’s win over the Raptors marked Kessler’s 10th game since moving into the starting lineup, and he’s capitalized on the opportunity.

During the stretch, Kessler is averaging an 11.9 point, 10.9 rebound double-double, and is blocking 2.8 shots per game.

Projected out over a full season, Kessler would be only the second player in the last decade to average those numbers, joining former Jazzman Hassan Whiteside who did it in 2015 and 2019.

The Jazz rookie would be the only player in NBA history to average those numbers while shooting better than 63 percent from the floor. Kessler, to his credit, is shooting 70 percent since moving into the starting lineup full-time.

While seeing those averages pan out over an entire season is easier said than done, it’s a remarkable accomplishment considering Kessler is a first-year player.

Throughout the league’s history, only Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, and Dikembe Mutombo have matched Kessler’s recent averages over their entire rookie season, and none of the three scored nearly as efficiently as the new Jazzman.

With his seven blocks, Kessler became the first player in the NBA this season to block seven or more shots in two separates games this season.

But beyond his blocked shots is the way the rest of the NBA has begun avoiding challenging Kessler at the rim altogether.

“It’s not just the seven blocks,” Hardy said. “We could probably find 10-15 other shots that he alters, or that guys don’t even take. He’s starting now to get a reputation around the league where guys see him and they sort of veer off and go the other way.”

In the 43 games before Kessler was entered into the starting lineup full-time, the Jazz owned the 27th-ranked defense in the NBA. Over the last 10 games, that number has climbed to 15th, a direct reflection of the rookie’s enormous impact.

Agbaji Is Who We Thought He Was

While Kessler is rightfully stealing the headlines among Jazz rookies, Ochai Agbaji has quietly strung together an incredible hot shooting streak.

Over the last 13 games since Agbaji was entered into the rotation full-time, he’s shooting a stellar 57 percent from the floor, 50 percent from three, and 85 percent from the free throw line.

Most impressively is the rookie’s long-range efficiency on a respectable 2.3 attempts per game.

Among rotation regulars, Agbaji is middle of the pack in three-point attempts per 100 possessions but is knocking them down at the second-best rate on the team, trailing only Collin Sexton.

Coming out of Kansas, Agbaji was billed by many as one of, if not the best three-point shooter among first-round picks. After knocking down just 23 percent of his threes over the first three months of the year, there was some question about whether the rookie’s range would translate to the NBA.

It’s no secret the Jazz have been listening to trade offers for Malik Beasley who has been one of the most prolific shooters in the NBA this season.

If Beasley is to find himself on the move in the next week, the Jazz may have their next great shooter already on the roster in Agbaji ready to absorb a larger opportunity.

Agbaji scored six points against the Raptors, all of which came on two important threes midway through the fourth quarter.

Jazz Next Broadcast

The Utah Jazz and Atlanta Hawks will tip off at 7 pm MT in Salt Lake City on Friday. The game will be televised on AT&T SportsNet and can be heard on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. It can also be streamed on DirecTV Stream and FuboTV.

Ben Anderson is the Utah Jazz insider for KSL Sports and the co-host of Jake and Ben from 10-12p with Jake Scott onΒ 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. Find Ben on Twitter atΒ @BensHoopsΒ or on InstagramΒ @BensHoops.

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Jazz Overcome Raptors Rebounds, Kessler Dominates