Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 126-125 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Walker Kessler looked like Rudy Gobert in Minnesota
What a performance from the Jazz’s rookies tonight.
We’ll start with Walker Kessler, the 2022 No. 22 pick. He was absolutely phenomenal, scoring 20 points on 9-13 FG, adding 21 rebounds (nine offensive!), and four assists for the Jazz in his 31 minutes on the court. The rebounds, offensive rebounds, and assists are career highs. It’s the first 20 point, 20 rebound game from an NBA rookie since 2014.
There was a point in the third quarter, when Kessler was dominating on both ends, that I realized: this looks exactly like what Rudy Gobert would do in his best moments. He was locking down the rim, frankly just scaring opposing players so they don’t even attempt shots down low. On the offensive end, he was rolling and finishing with aplomb, and when his teammates missed, tipping in baskets anyway. It was a masterclass.
But I also want to zoom in on the assists. Here’s those four assists clipped out for you:
That first one: look how good that screen is — something Kessler had been struggling with. Then, he meets Gobert in the paint, and instead of forcing it, spins to find the open Conley.
The second assist might be my favorite. I’m sorry, that’s a Draymond Green play. To recognize the opportunity to sprint out to the perimeter to give Conley a screen for an open three? That’s more basketball IQ than a rookie should have.
Third assist is a pretty standard short-roll read, though good pass to Vanderbilt on the move for the conversion.
The fourth assist is really impressive: to stop so he doesn’t get the charge, look right, turn all the way around and look left, keep the ball above his head the whole time so it doesn’t get stripped, and then a perfect pass right into Clarkson’s hands.
How is he so calm and in control? Those high-hedge, heavy rotation defenses are designed to speed players up... Kessler just looks like a 10-year veteran!
It’s absolutely incredible what Kessler’s done this season. He leads all rookies in Win Shares, Value Over Replacement Player, Box Plus-Minus, you name it. He has a real shot at Rookie of the Year from the No. 22 pick. Just astoundingly good news for the Utah Jazz.
2. Ochai Agbaji, expanding his NBA game
Ochai Agbaji is, slowly but surely, expanding his role on the NBA floor.
His first few games in the rotation were essentially as only a catch and shoot guy in the corner: teams left him open, and he’d bury the three. Then, they stopped leaving him open as much.
So he’s had to add more to his game, borrowing more of his diverse skillset at Kansas and trying those things at the NBA level. Those things are:
• Coming off of screens for his shots, rather than just taking the standstill ones. This play is for Agbaji to do exactly this:
• Driving the paint. This is just an isolation against a defense that’s not quite set enough, a very good move to get Kyle Anderson off balance.
• Running in transition. In an earlier Triple Team, I highlighted how Agbaji could have a tendency to jog up the court, rather than all-out sprint. Who’s furthest up the court now?
• A recovery block — big closeout, then helping on the back end to prevent the layup.
All of it is very encouraging stuff from the lottery pick in his best game yet, in my opinion. He looks like a real deserving rotation player right now, even despite all of his G-League struggles.
3. Talking about that trade
What a masterclass from Danny Ainge.
Look, Gobert is hurt, and that’s unfortunate. He’s an unusual player, and you really do have to build around his great strengths. Teammates have to learn how to play with him, too — remember Mike Conley’s learning process? Gobert will probably look better at some point in Minnesota.
However, the Jazz received:
• Kessler, who looks frankly just as good as Gobert this season. Here’s the breakdown:
I think you can argue who has been better this season, but it’s really close and probably leans toward Kessler.
• Jarred Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley, two players who have approximately first-round pick value around the NBA.
• Patrick Beverley, who the Jazz turned into Talen Horton-Tucker — both of whom have probably had disappointing seasons this year.
• Leandro Bolmaro, who is frankly right on the fringe of the NBA at this point.
• The Wolves’ 2023 pick, which would currently be the No. 13 pick in the draft. Maybe Arkansas wing Anthony Black?
• Wolves picks in 2025, 2027, and 2029 — we don’t know how good those picks will be, but the Wolves really do have limited avenues to get better at this point.
• And a pick swap in 2026.
Oh my goodness. Honestly, at this point, it looks like potentially the very worst trade in NBA history from Minnesota President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly. We’ll see what the Jazz do with those picks, but it really might be that bad.
On the other hand, Jazz fans probably owe Connelly literally everything: as Denver’s POBO, he gave the Jazz Gobert to begin with in 2013 in a draft-day trade, gave them Donovan Mitchell in another questionable draft-day trade... and now this. He really might set the Jazz up for two decades, from 2013 to 2033. Crazy.
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