Indiana Basketball: Hoosiers' 5 Best-Ever NBA Products

Scott HenryFeatured ColumnistJune 23, 2013

Indiana Basketball: Hoosiers' 5 Best-Ever NBA Products

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    In less than a week, Cody Zeller (pictured) and Victor Oladipo will join a line of Indiana Hoosiers who were afforded the opportunity to take their talents to the NBA.

    Both are expected to be lottery picks. The duo would become only IU's fourth and fifth such selections, joining Calbert Cheaney, Jared Jeffries and Eric Gordon.

    While those three have enjoyed fairly successful pro careers, none of them makes the cut to rank among the Hoosiers' five most iconic professional players. Gordon will undoubtedly contend with a few more years under his belt, but these five athletes performed at a high level and did so for lengthy stays in the league.

5. Mike Woodson

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    Now better known as the coach of the New York Knicks, it's sometimes forgotten that Mike Woodson's professional playing career started as a first-round pick of that same franchise in 1980.

    After a forgettable rookie year, though, Woodson was dealt to the Nets for veteran scorer Mike Newlin. He lasted seven games in New Jersey before being dealt again for aging big man Sam Lacey.

    Once Woodson was finally allowed to unpack his bags with the then-Kansas City Kings, he settled in as a highly productive two-way guard. Over his seven seasons with the Kings and Clippers, Woodson averaged 16.6 points and 1.4 steals per game, shooting nearly 48 percent from the floor.

    As an additional note, part of the trade package that the Clippers acquired along with Woodson was a 1989 second-round pick that would eventually be used to select Hoosiers sharpshooter Jay Edwards. Edwards played all of four NBA games.

4. George McGinnis

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    George McGinnis played only one season at Indiana University, but he only polished his Hoosier State icon status when he joined the professional ranks.

    One of the most dominant players in the ABA, McGinnis helped the Pacers to two championships. He made three All-ABA teams and an All-Rookie team, and won MVP in 1975.

    The Philadelphia 76ers shrewdly drafted him in the second round of the 1973 draft. It was the New York Knicks, however, who convinced him to buy out his Pacers contract and jump to the NBA. In response, the Sixers were able to get the signing voided due to their ownership of McGinnis' draft rights.

    Big George hit the ground running in Philly, carding three straight seasons of 20-point/10-rebound averages and two All-NBA selections.

    The 1977 team, led by McGinnis, Julius Erving, Doug Collins and World B. Free, fell to Bill Walton's Portland Trail Blazers in a six-game NBA Finals series. McGinnis struggled for five games with a nagging groin pull, then missed a late shot that could have forced overtime in Game 6.

    After another All-Star season in Denver, McGinnis was returned to the Pacers in a deal that sent Hall of Famer Alex English to the Nuggets, where he would become one of the NBA's most prolific scorers. McGinnis ended his career with a whimper, retiring after a 1981-82 season in which he failed to average five points per game.

    If McGinnis were evaluated on his ABA work as well as his NBA games, he might be higher on this list. However, it was only a four-year span in which NBA fans got to see the sheer power of McGinnis at his best.

3. Dick Van Arsdale

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    It's odd to see Dick Van Arsdale not linked with his twin brother, Tom. After all, the two amassed nearly identical stat lines at IU, were drafted with consecutive third-round picks in 1965 and retired together from the Phoenix Suns in 1977. Both made three All-Star teams, and Tom ended up playing eight more professional games.

    Still, Dick established himself as a dangerous offensive threat from the moment he joined the Suns in the 1968 expansion draft. Already a double-figure scorer with the Knicks, the younger (by 15 minutes) Van Arsdale twin averaged 21 points per game over the first four years of the Phoenix franchise's existence.

    In only the Suns' second season, the 20-PPG trio of Van Arsdale, Connie Hawkins and Gail Goodrich led the team to a playoff berth. The Suns pushed the Jerry West-Wilt Chamberlain-Elgin Baylor Lakers to seven games in their first-round series.

    Today, Van Arsdale still ranks in the top five in Suns history in several categories, including points, games and minutes.

    Modern advanced analytics grade Dick Van Arsdale's career very positively. Basketball-Reference.com's all-time leaderboard of Offensive Win Shares ranks Van Arsdale in the top 100. That's ahead of Hall of Famers like Scottie Pippen, John Havlicek and Bob McAdoo.

2. Walt Bellamy

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    Only two former Hoosiers are enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame, so it stands to reason that they would rank as IU's two greatest professional icons. Walt Bellamy still stands as one of only two Hoosiers ever selected No. 1 overall in the draft, picked by the expansion Chicago Packers in 1961.

    Bellamy was a destructive force from the moment he entered the league, winning Rookie of the Year in 1962 by averaging 31.6 points and 19 rebounds per game.

    Only twice in Bellamy's 13 full seasons did he average single-digit rebounds, and his low scoring mark was 11.6 PPG.

    The big man was traded three times, with the second sending him from the New York Knicks to the Detroit Pistons in return for another future Hall of Famer, Dave DeBusschere. DeBusschere would help the Knicks to two NBA titles, while Bellamy would be dealt to Atlanta 14 months later.

    Nearing four decades since his retirement, Bellamy still stands ninth on the NBA's all-time rebounding list and 33rd on the scoring chart.

    Despite being a dominant player for nearly his entire career, the Hall of Fame took 18 years to call Bellamy, primarily due to his toiling for weak teams. He played on seven playoff teams, but only two escaped the first round.

1. Isiah Thomas

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    IU's other Hall of Famer is, like Bellamy, a player who is often underappreciated in comparison to other icons of his day. Isiah Thomas was one of the NBA's greatest floor generals, but falls behind 1980s icons like Magic, Bird and Jordan in much the same way Bellamy is forgotten in favor of Chamberlain and Russell.

    After his two-year run at Indiana ended with a national title, Thomas leaped from strength to strength in winning All-Rookie honors on a Detroit Pistons team that won 18 more games than in the previous year.

    Thomas' first two teams and last two teams missed the playoffs, but in between, the Pistons made nine straight playoffs, including an NBA Finals loss and two championships.

    Individually, Thomas cracked five straight All-NBA teams starting in his second season. His final year, an injury-shortened 1993-94 campaign, was his only year that did not include an All-Star appearance.

    In each of those five All-NBA seasons, Thomas had to score 20 points per game because the Pistons were not yet the defensive force they would become in the championship seasons. The 1986-87 team was Detroit's first top-10 defensive team, and as a result, those Pistons fell only one win short of the NBA Finals.

    By 1988-89, the Pistons had six players averaging at least 13.5 PPG, although one was the departed Adrian Dantley, who was traded for Isiah's close friend Mark Aguirre. With that kind of balance and the league's second-stingiest defense, the Pistons' ascension to NBA champions seemed practically inevitable.

    Thomas still stands seventh in NBA history with 9,061 assists and 14th with 1,861 steals. Unlike Walt Bellamy, Isiah was inducted into Springfield immediately, getting in on his first ballot in 2000.

     

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