Tuesday, May 30 2023

Walker Kessler flirted with a triple-double after a dominating effort on both ends of the court on Wednesday to help lead the Utah Jazz to a win over the Toronto Raptors.

Kessler recorded 17 points, 14 rebounds, seven blocked shots, one assist and one steal in the 131-128 victory as the Jazz moved above .500 for the first time since Dec. 28. He went 8-of-10 from the field in 30 minutes of work for his 11th double-double of the season.

The 22nd pick got off to a quick start, tallying six points, six blocks and four rebounds in the first quarter. He altered several other shots and helped prevent easy looks by the Raptors near the basket.

Jazz coach Will Hardy explained what his emergence has given the team.

He is giving our team a whole new level of confidence on that end with the way he protects the basket over and over again. It’s not just the seven blocks, you can probably find 10-15 other shots that he alters or that guys don’t even take. He is starting now to get a reputation around the league where guys see him and sort of veer off and go the other way. He has been huge for us. I think his growth and his confidence have been something that we’re proud of as a group. He definitely is somebody that feels like he belongs and is definitely anchoring our defense right now.

Kessler is the only player in the NBA this season with multiple games of at least seven blocked shots. He reached 103 total blocks on the season with the performance on Wednesday and is fourth in the league among all players in that category.

“He got seven blocks tonight but I don’t know how many he affected with guys just not going to the rim,” Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen said. “Those plays help us and, obviously, he is rebounding and getting better offensively. He is working super hard and understanding the angles and finishing at the rim better.”

Kessler was one of 11 first-year players selected to participate in the Rising Stars game after averaging 7.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks this season. He became the 15th player in franchise history voted to compete in the annual showcase.

He was excited about the opportunity to play in the game.

“There are a lot of people that have helped me to get to where I am,” Kessler said. “I wouldn’t be in this position without them so it is very cool to make them proud and just give my thanks back to them. I’m extremely happy.”

Kessler is emerging as one of the most productive rookies this season with the Jazz. He seemingly plays his role well each night and makes plays when needed. He does a lot of things that may not show up on the box score and that is proving to be valuable for the team.

He will soon be recognized for his play right in his own backyard.


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