"Learning And Absorbing" | Utah Returns To Action After Three-Day Break To Host Toronto On Wednesday

Ryan Kostecka
Digital Content Writer

What a season it's been for Walker Kessler. 

After earning his way into the starting lineup over the past few weeks, the good news continued. Announced during practice on Tuesday, Kessler was named to the 2023 Jordan Rising Stars game at NBA All-Star Weekend. 

"I feel good. ... Super thankful to my teammates, coaching staff because I wouldn't be able to do it without them," Kessler said. "It's very exciting. ... I'm very blessed because this year was about learning and absorbing as much information going forward."

While his numbers may not jump off the page — 49 games (15 starts) where he's averaging 7.7 points (71.5% shooting), 7.3 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks in 20.2 minutes per game — Kessler more than passes the eye test and analytics. 

His per-36 minutes stats are Gobert-esque; 13.7 points, 13.0 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks on 71.5% shooting. His numbers as a starter prove that he's ready for the bigger role that's come his way, averaging 10.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks in 26.0 minutes per game.

Kessler's best game of the season came two weeks ago against the Timberwolves when he finished with 20 points, a career-high 21 rebounds, and two blocks. He also added four assists, a huge development that he's finally catching up to the speed of the game.

His 20-point, 20-rebound performance was the first by a rookie in the NBA since 2014 — and he was the first rookie since Alonzo Mourning (1992-93) to put up those numbers on 65% shooting or better.

"It's funny how everything works out," Kessler said. "The fact that I'll be in the city where I play, representing the team, I wouldn't want to represent any other city. The fanbase has been unbelievable, I love them."

However, Kessler hasn't been the only rookie finding success with the Jazz this season. 

Ochai Agbaji, acquired in the trade for former Jazzman Donovan Mitchell, has also seen his role gradually increase over the past few weeks. He's played double-digit minutes in the past 12 games, averaging 6.0 points and 2.5 rebounds on 44.8% shooting from three in 20.5 minutes per game.

While his turnaround can be attributed to his growth as a player with more experience, his teammates have been extremely helpful in helping him navigate the game. 

"Going in, like any other rookie, there's a lot of things you got to learn," Agbaji said. "But, coming in with a new staff and new coaches and a lot of new (players), I think we all collectively helped each other. The veteran guys were really helpful with the rookie guys and the younger guys. It's been nice to have those resources."

Kessler and Agbaji will have a chance to continue their strong play of late when Utah returns from its three-day break to host the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. MT.

Utah (26-26, 17-9 home / No. 9 Western Conference)
*117.5 Points Per Game (No. 4 in NBA)
*116.6 Offensive Rating (No. 3 in NBA)
*116.3 Points Per Game (No. 21 in NBA)
*115.1 Defensive Rating (No. 25 in NBA)
*Lauri Markkanen: 24.9 points | 8.6 rebounds | 1.8 assists | 43.3% 3P-shooting
*Jordan Clarkson: 20.9 points | 4.3 assists | 4.0 rebounds | 35.0% 3P-shooting
*Collin Sexton: 14.3 points | 2.7 assists | 2.2 rebounds | 41.8% 3P-shooting
*Kelly Olynyk: 11.9 points | 4.9 rebounds | 3.2 assists | 41.4% 3P-shooting

Toronto (23-29, 8-17 away / No. 12 Eastern Conference)

*112.8 Points Per Game (No. 21 in NBA)
*114.3 Offensive Rating (No. 10 in NBA)
*112.3 Points Per Game (No. 10 in NBA)
*113.8 Defensive Rating (No. 18 in NBA)
*Pascal Siakim: 25.0 points | 8.0 rebounds | 6.3 assists
*Fred VanVleet.: 19.2 points | 6.5 assists | 4.3 rebounds | 34.1% 3P-shooting
*Gary Trent Jr.: 18.6 points | 2.5 rebounds | 36.7% 3P-shooting
*Scottie Barnes: 15.7 points | 7.1 rebounds | 4.9 assists 

*Lauri Markkanen vs. Pascal Siakim
—  With NBA All-Star reserves set to be announced on Thursday, it’s safe to say that Markkanen should be expecting his name called for the first time. He’s taken a massive leap forward as Utah’s No. 1 option. Meanwhile, Siakam has emerged as a bonafide star in the league and a potential All-NBA candidate every season — and this year is no different. This battle should be thrilling on Wednesday. 

OUT | Simone Fontecchio (left foot soreness)
OUT | Johnny Juzang (G League - Two Way)
OUT | Micah Potter (G League - Two-Way)
OUT | O.G. Anunoby (left wrist sprain)
OUT | Otto Porter Jr. (left foot surgery - second toe dislocation)

 7:00 p.m. MT
Location: Vivint Arena |Salt Lake City, UT
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: The Zone Sports Network