With only six games remaining in the regular season, it’s time to check in with the four rookies on the Utah Jazz.
Walker Kessler is the headliner here. Picked 22nd to the Minnesota Timberwolves and traded to Utah in the Rudy Gobert blockbuster, Kessler forced his way into the starting lineup early in the season. From his first minutes in the league, it was clear that he was a real talent. Since then, he climbed his way to competing for the Rookie of the Year award and should even receive some votes for the All-NBA Defensive team. Kessler averaged 9.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game. As a starter, his numbers were even more impressive. In his 38 starts, the rookie put up a double-double with almost three blocks per game.
Kessler led the NBA in field goal percentage and was fourth in total blocks and blocks per game. Among rookies, he ranked first in rebounds and blocks. His 173 blocks this year were the most by any rookie since Tim Duncan in 1997-98.
Pursuant to the discussion of rim protection. The distance between the dot and the orange baseline is my estimate of the player's per 36 rim portiection value above positional average. (The two Wiseman's are separating out GS and DET minutes) pic.twitter.com/mrrm3AEHXv— Anchorage Man (@SethPartnow) March 29, 2023
Walker Kessler is already one of the best rim protectors in the game and will only get better. Kessler said in an interview with Tim MacMahon, “I’m confident I’m going to get (a Defensive Player of the Year award) eventually.”
From game-winning blocks to fun off-court moments, Kessler has quickly become a fan favorite. His first season was an unquestionable success.
Ochai Agbaji was selected 14th overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was later traded to the Jazz in the Donovan Mitchell deal. As a bit of raw talent, Agbaji couldn’t get consistent minutes for Utah until late into the season. After earning a spot in the rotation, Agbaji showed flashes of why he was a lottery pick.
From the beginning of 2023, Agbaji has steadily increased his minutes and production.
By the end of the season, Agbaji was a regular starter. He had more and more opportunities to show what he could do.
Ochai Agbaji poured in a career-high 28 points in the @utahjazz win #NBARooks pic.twitter.com/ZweoFlNG4F— NBA (@NBA) April 8, 2023
Overall, Agbaji’s season was a mixed bag, but mostly positive. He had great moments and showed growth over the course of the year. His potential as a “3 & D” wing looks as good as ever. Ochai’s second season could be pivotal for his career.
As an undrafted rookie, Simone Fontecchio managed to play 766 minutes in his first NBA season. That is an accomplishment most undrafted players dream of. In Fontecchio’s minutes, he contributed as a scorer, averaging 15.4 points per 36 minutes. His best skill was the ability to be a floor spacer. Despite his three-point percentage being a bit low, he had to be respected beyond the arc and showed that he could catch fire.
SIMONE FONTECCHIO FOR THE WIN OFF THE STEAL!@utahjazz WIN pic.twitter.com/yyclOCRtAg— NBA (@NBA) December 8, 2022
Fontecchio had some great moments, including an incredibly memorable game-winner. He beat expectations for his first year. Time will tell if the Italian sharpshooter can earn a long-term role in the NBA.
The fourth and final rookie for this year’s Utah Jazz was Johnny Juzang. After going undrafted, the former UCLA star signed a two-way contract with the Jazz. As is the life of a two-way player, Juzang spent much of the season going back and forth between the Salt Lake City Stars and the Utah Jazz. For the Stars, Juzang scored over 20 points per game in his 17 games played. He was an efficient scorer with a solid 60% true shooting.
Juzang played in 18 games for the Jazz and scored 13.5 points per 36 minutes. This year was one of learning for the rookie. He, like Fontecchio, will be spending next year trying to prove he belongs on an NBA court.
33 for three*— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) March 1, 2023
*his first bucket as a Jazzman #TakeNote | @JohnnyJuzang pic.twitter.com/xeAvAmsMp2