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On Monday night, Utah Jazz center Walker Kessler walked to the middle of the court at the Delta Center, getting into position for the opening tip of a preseason bout against the New Zealand Breakers.

There was a little extra pressure to make sure he won the opening tip because it was the Jazz’s fourth preseason game and he’d lost the previous three tips. Soon he was able to breathe a sigh of relief because he tipped the ball to Jordan Clarkson.

But then he saw his bench reacting, celebrating like he’d just hit a game-winning shot. And then Kessler looked over at Lauri Markkanen who was on the court in the starting unit with him, and Markkanen was jumping up and down, raising the roof and whooping like Kessler had accomplished a great feat.

“Did you see the celebration?” Markkanen asked with a smile when I brought it up. “He finally got one.”

A few seconds later, Kessler chimed in.

“I mean, I know it had been a while, and my timing has been off or something but come on,” Kessler said, laughing and shaking his head. “Like, Lauri was celebrating on the court! Come on dude, come on.”

Poking fun at friends is one of my favorite pastimes, so I was fully on board with this whole bit and enjoyed every second of it. Great job by all the Jazz players and especially Markkanen for committing.

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I asked Kessler when his last won opening tip was and he said he wasn’t sure. So then my basketball nerd brain kicked in and I decided to do a little research.

Before we get into the details, a note: For my purposes, if the Jazz gained possession after the tip, no matter who touched the ball, I’m calling that a win for Kessler.

The last regular-season game in which Kessler won the opening tip was on March 31 against the Boston Celtics. It was Kessler’s penultimate game of the 2022-23 season (he lost the tip to the Brooklyn Nets two days later in his final game of the season).

Then I wondered, what’s his win rate?

So I went back and looked at the play-by-play notes of every game that Kessler started last season and it turns out he wasn’t half bad. In fact, he has a 60% win rate. In the 40 games that Kessler started, the Jazz won opening possession 24 times.

That seems pretty good ... I think.

I tried to find a place where the data was easily accessible for which players win tipoffs the most in the NBA and that data is just not available without scraping for it. Though there are some names that regularly have come up when discussing the best at winning the opening tip — Steven Adams, Kristaps Porzingis, Brook Lopez and Jusuf Nurkic.

So, this is going to be something that I’m tracking this season. We’ll see how many opening tips Kessler can win, if he can best his win percentage from last season and if he wins versus the best in the league. 

“We’re going to start a streak for him,” Markkanen said. “I’m speaking it into existence.”

*Though it doesn’t count, I feel it’s necessary to tell you that Kessler did not win the tip on Thursday night in the Jazz’s preseason finale vs. Sacramento. So, if a streak is going to start, it’ll have to be in the regular season.

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Quote of the week

“I’m a Pisces. One of my best traits is reading people. Like, I can read somebody within five seconds by the way you walk, the way you talk.” — Kris Dunn

From the archives

After feeling lost and uncertain with the Hawks, John Collins sees a different kind of future in Utah
Don’t worry, Jazz fans, Taylor Hendricks is where he needs to be

Stat of the week

Talen Horton-Tucker and Collin Sexton combined for 50 points in the Jazz’s preseason finale, a loss to the Sacramento Kings.

Extra points

  • Jazz mailbag, Part I: The latest on the guard battle, Kris Dunn and more (Deseret News)
  • Jazz mailbag, Part II: Walker Kessler + John Collins, Taylor Hendricks & more (Deseret News)
  • How watchable will the Utah Jazz be this season? (Deseret News)

Around the league

Up next: 2023-24 regular season

  • Oct. 25 | 7 p.m. | Utah Jazz vs. Sacramento Kings | KJZZ
  • Oct. 27 | 7:30 p.m. | Utah Jazz vs. Los Angeles Clippers | KJZZ