HOW ‘BOUT THIS JAZZ? UTAH BEATS TORONTO
HOW ‘BOUT THIS JAZZ?
UTAH 131 TORONTO 128
Here we are, just north of 50 games played on the season, and the Utah Jazz lay claim to a winning record, just like we all expected. The Toronto Raptors by record are not a good basketball team by record, which now stands at 23-30 after Utah took care of home court. They are dealing with trade rumors falling like the Toronto snow and OG Anunoby conveniently sidelined for the same amount of time it will take to reach the trade deadline. This is a team in disarray and although they were not expected to win a championship ALA 2019, they certainly were supposed to be better than this. In the midst of a long road trip for Toronto, the Jazz were coming off one of their largest rest periods of the season and were favored. Despite Utah being the likely better team and the Raptors being a clear mess, Toronto refused to give in. Utah would gain a lead here and there including a 10-2 start, but the Raptors kept clawing back. Utah impressed however by answering every Toronto retort. Utah even faced down an 8-0 run when the 4th started and went behind by two, they handled that, and then dealt with Fred VanVleet’s insane barrage of buckets down the stretch. With a 120-116 lead and just under two minutes remaining, Jordan Clarkson became as hot as the basket microphone (which literally caught fire and caused a delay) to put the game on ice. Clarkson hit a pullup three and then responded the next possession with a smooth floater in the lane to make it 125-119 game with right around a minute left. The rest was sealed from the free throw line in which Clarkson had two of his own.
Jordan Clarkson would finish with 23 points, while Lauri Markkanen added one final statement to his All-Star bid with 28 points and 13 rebounds. His 28 points on 13 shot continues to show his value as a high volume scorer on low shot usage. Long story short, Markkanen rarely fits the “chucker” moniker. Mike Conley was once again the steady hand that makes the Jazz offense tick. He had his team high 8 assists, and added a beautiful 19 points on 8 shots, despite not hitting from beyond the arc. Collin Sexton had a clean 12 and looks more confident and comfortable as of late. Malik Beasley had 14 off the bench going 4 of 11 from downtown.
On the note of efficiency, the Jazz shot above 50 percent from the field and 8 percent better than Toronto. They made 7 more triples and 8 more free throws. Now considering this, recognize the Jazz attempted 27 less field goals than Toronto. The Jazz were crisp, clean and polished offensively. Only Kelly Olynyk and Malik Beasley shot worse than 40 percent from the field. Utah had 7 players shoot north of 50 percent from the field. Now look at the opponent. The Raptors had some big-time scorers in this contest. Scottie Barnes scoring 18, Pascal Siakam netting 21 points, Gary Trent Jr putting up 20 and Fred VanVleet knocking down 34 seems really awesome for Raptors fans. Then you realize that Barnes attempted 23 shots for his 18 points. Siakam attempted 22 for his 21. Trent Jr was 14 shots and VanVleet’s 34 points came via 25 shots. This is the opposite of Utah’s performance and if it was not for Chris Boucher the Raptors numbers would look extra awful.
You may have noticed that one player was absent from the recap above. That player earned a solo spot here in the building block category for their performance. That was Walker Kessler with his 17 points, 14 rebound, and 7 blocks stat line. Here’s a fun challenge, go watch the condensed highlights of the game from the NBA YouTube channel and try to find plays that don’t involve Walker Kessler in some from. Putback dunks, post moves, rebounds, blocks, altering shots, driving guys out of the paint, you name it. He did it all, if we choose to disregard his free throws. The fact that Kessler was the 22nd overall pick seems more baffling by the day. He took advantage of the Raptors not having a true big man and posted his 11th double double of his life. He is the only player according to Wob with multiple 7 block games this season. Half of his rebounds were offensive, meaning Utah gained 7 extra opportunities from his efforts alone. According to StatMuse, Kessler is the first player with a stat line like his with at least 80 percent shooting since 2009 when Dwight “Superman” Howard was dominating with Orlando. Tony Jones made an excellent point in his article on The Athletic where he discussed the Jazz building around Kessler, Agbaji and Markkanen. He pointed out that these building blocks are “driving the winning.” Meaning that although they be your future, they are also making an impact now. Houston does not have that luxury with Jalen Green or Jabari Smith. Detroit doesn’t have it with Jaden Ivey or Jalen Duren. Charlotte doesn’t have it with LaMelo Ball even. The Jazz future pieces to build around are not only exciting and good, but they are playing winning, efficient, and impactful basketball right now in this moment. This is a luxury most teams who are “rebuilding” rarely have. These are far from hopeful potential, and empty stats.
THREE KEY NUMBERS:
The Jazz Social Media team posted that Walker Kessler now has 100 career blocks in his first 50 games. This of course translates to 2 blocks a game. Kyle Irving did a bit more digging and found that Walker is one of 21 players who recorded 100 or more blocks in their first 50 games. Next to him on this list are guys like Chris Webber, Patrick Ewing and Marcus Camby. It took former Jazz All-Star, Rudy Gobert, 57 career games to reach that milestone for comparison sake. Mark Eaton is a bit ahead at 116 blocks in 50, whereas Hakeem Olajuwon is 115. The list is highlighted with Manute Bol’s insane 252 blocks in 50 games and Alonzo Mourning behind him at 207. Pretty great company to be around.
Let us continue with the Center Comparison for fun’s sake. Tyson Ewing made the connection that Kessler is the 2nd rookie since 2002 to post back-to-back double doubles with 5 or more blocks. The last was a guy by the name of Yao Ming. I know a lot of great Center’s names have come up in this reading, and Kessler may not end up being half of what some of them were, but there is that small sample size and glimmer of hope that he could be everything they were and maybe some more. It is clear Kessler is a unique player with a high ceiling and the likely steal of the 2022 NBA draft even if he doesn’t end up being the next Shaquille O’Neal.
StatMuse laid out another stat for Jazz fans to eat up as they posted a passing blow to the starts of the Jazz past. Lauri Markkanen has more points than Donovan Mitchell this season. Walker Kessler has more blocks than Rudy Gobert. In the spirit of pettiness, we celebrate the new pillars of the Jazz succeeding in similar ways to their predecessors. Hopefully with the bevy of draft capital and assets the jazz can create an even better supporting cast than the previous players had. Many Cavalier fans pointed out that, of course, Markkanen has more points, because he has appeared in 5 more games than Spida. But the fun fact is Markkanen has done it with 85 less shots than Donovan and better shooting percentages throughout. Markkanen’s efficiency has been a revelation for Jazz fans and the team. We are moments away from hearing his name as a representative of Utah when Salt Lake host the All-Star game on February 19th. Calvin Chappell stated that Markkanen is the first player in Jazz history since 1997 to receive over a million All-Star votes.
OPPOSING FAN COMMENT OF THE NIGHT:
“KESSLER GOT A LEGO MAN HEAD SHAPE.” -GIRBAUDJEANSMAN