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Ranking the Top 25 Players in Utah Jazz History

Andy BaileyFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 13, 2017

Ranking the Top 25 Players in Utah Jazz History

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    Despite never winning an NBA championship, the Utah Jazz franchise has a rich history filled with great playersincluding Hall of Famers Karl Malone, John Stockton, Pete Maravich and Adrian Dantley.

    Headlined by those four, a list of Utah's best players (particularly the top five to 10) could go toe-to-toe with that of just about any other organization in the league.

    The team has made the playoffs in 25 of the 40 seasons it's existed and posted a .543 winning percentage over that same span. In 1997 and '98, the Jazz made the NBA Finals but came up short both times against Michael Jordan's Bulls.

    The individual players on this list who led those teams are ranked based on achievements as members of the Jazztheir raw numbers, individual honors and contributions to the overall legacy of the franchise.

     

    All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference, unless otherwise noted.

25: Aaron James

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    Aaron James only spent five years in the NBA, all of which were with the Utah Jazz, where he was a solid scorer in a rotation that featured Pete Maravich, Gail Goodrich and Truck Robinson.

    Despite only playing about 22 minutes a contest, James still managed to average double figures during his career. Over those five seasons, he poured in 18 points per 36 minutes.

    He never got the kind of attention his better-known teammates did, but James was an offensive weapon who made the most of a limited role.

24: Greg Ostertag

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    Hold on a second. Don't jump to conclusions just yet.

    He may be the butt of a lot of jokes among NBA fans, but Greg Ostertag was actually the defensive anchor of the two best Utah teams in the organization's history, and he started 318 games in a Jazz uniform.

    In 1997, he was second in the NBA in block percentage and fifth in both offensive and total rebounding percentage.

    He was consistent in both those facets of the game and ranks third in franchise history in offensive rebounds, fourth in total rebounds and third in both blocks and blocks per game.

    He's also in the top 50 in NBA history in those last two categories (No. 45 for blocks and No. 30 for blocks per game).

    Ostertag didn't need to score or do anything flashy while playing alongside superstars John Stockton and Karl Malone. He knew his role, accepted it and played it well.

23: Donyell Marshall

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    Donyell Marshall had a solid NBA career that lasted 15 seasons, and his two best years may have been the ones he spent as a forward for the Utah Jazz.

    In both the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons, Marshall was third on the Jazz in PER behind all-time greats John Stockton and Karl Malone.

    Over that span, he averaged 14.1 points and 7.3 rebounds (good for 10th in Jazz history) in less than 30 minutes a game.

    Marshall posted those numbers in very efficient fashion. He's in the top 10 in Jazz history for field-goal percentage, effective field-goal percentage and PER.

22: Bryon Russell

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    When remembering Bryon Russell, it's sad that so many people choose only to recall the moment Michael Jordan pushed the Jazz forward to the ground right before hitting the Game 6-winning jump shot during the 1998 Finals.

    One of my coaches in college taught me a lesson that relates. He pointed out that most fans remember the shot Jordan hit over Craig Ehlo without acknowledging why Ehlo had the responsibility to guard Jordan in the first place. He was the best Cleveland Cavalier for the job, just as Bryon Russell was the best man for the job in '98.

    Russell was the best wing defender on what were clearly the two best teams in Jazz history (the '97 and '98 squads that lost to Jordan's Bulls in back-to-back finals). His size (6'7") and athleticism made him the obvious choice to match up with the greatest player of all time throughout the finals. Not that he did much to stop Jordan, but who ever did?

    Over his last six years with the Jazz, Russell averaged 11.3 points and 4.5 rebounds while hitting 38 percent of his three-point attempts. That stretch included the '99-00 campaign, in which he posted averages of 14.1 points and 5.2 rebounds while converting 40 percent of his shots from downtown.

    He's second all-time in Jazz history in threes made and sixth in steals.

21: Gail Goodrich

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    After spending the first 11 seasons of his career with the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns, Gail Goodrich laced 'em up alongside Pete Maravich as a member of the Jazz during his NBA twilight years.

    He may have only been with the team for three losing seasons, but Goodrich was a well-known player who helped bring some credibility to a new franchise.

    He closed out his career averaging 14.2 points and 4.5 assists over 182 games for the New Orleans Jazz.

20: Truck Robinson

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    Truck Robinson didn't particularly enjoy his team in New Orleans, as he asked for a trade after his first and only full season with the Jazz.

    That season (the 1977-78 campaign) was the best of Robinson's career. He led the NBA in minutes played and rebounds and averaged 22.7 points and 15.7 boards a game.

    He'd likely be a lot higher on this list if he'd stayed with the franchise longer.

19: Rich Kelley

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    Big men Spencer Haywood and Truck Robinson led the '78-79 Jazz in scoring that year and appeared in a combined seven All-Star Games during their careers. But it was the 7-foot and somewhat unheralded Rich Kelley who led the team in PER by a pretty healthy margin.

    In just over 30 minutes a game, Kelley averaged 15.7 points, 12.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks during that campaign. It was a great close to a four-year stretch in which he was consistently dominant inside. From 1975 through '79, Kelley averaged 14.7 points and 13.6 rebounds per 36 minutes while posting a PER just under 19.

18: Matt Harpring

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    In his first season with the Utah Jazz, Matt Harpring was second on the team in both scoring and rebounding behind Karl Malone.

    That 2002-03 campaign was the best of Harpring's career. He averaged 17.6 points and 6.6 rebounds while hitting 41 percent of his three-point attempts.

    For half a decade, he was one of the most consistent players on the Jazz before age and injuries forced him out of the rotation in 2008. He averaged double figures in scoring in each of his first five years there.

    Beyond the numbers, Utah fans loved Harpring for the effort and intensity he brought to the game. No one would mistake him for a top-tier athlete, but Harpring made up for it by giving maximum effort every minute he was on the floor.

17: Jeff Malone

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    Despite being the team's second-leading scorer in each of the four years he was in Utah, Jeff Malone has become little more than a footnote in the annals of Jazz history.

    As the less-celebrated third wheel of a legitimate "Big Three" with Karl Malone and John Stockton, Jeff Malone averaged 18.3 points and 2.7 rebounds.

    Together, the trio helped establish the Jerry Sloan era as the Jazz became one of the most consistent teams in the NBA

     

16: John Drew

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    One of the best volume scorers in Jazz history, John Drew averaged 27.7 points per 36 minutes over his three seasons in Utah.

    He's sixth in team history in points per game and seventh in player efficiency rating.

    His success with the Jazz is even more impressive when you consider the personal issues Drew faced when he arrived in Utah. During the 1982-83 season, Drew was attending AA meetings for a cocaine addiction.

15: Rickey Green

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    Perhaps it was because he preceded the guy who went on to become no worse than the second-greatest point guard in NBA history that Rickey Green was largely forgotten by Jazz fans.

    The point guard who paved the way for John Stockton started every game at the position for Utah from 1982 to 1985 and averaged 13.5 points and 8.7 assists during that stretch.

    He's third in team history in assists per game and second in steals per game.

14: Al Jefferson

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    Al Jefferson's stay in Utah didn't last long, but he was one of the most effective offensive players in franchise history.

    He's in the top 10 in 12 statistical categories, including minutes, points, rebounds and blocks per game, blocks, player efficiency rating and rebounding percentage.

    Jefferson has an arsenal of post moves surpassed only by Karl Malone. And even that might be up for debate, as so much of Malone's offense was created by John Stockton in pick-and-roll sets.

    Against Jefferson, a post defender has to be ready for spins, turnarounds, hook shots over either shoulder, up-and-unders and pretty much any other post move you can think of.

    That inside game was utilized to the tune of 18.5 points and 9.5 rebounds a game over Jefferson's three seasons in Utah.

13: Paul Millsap

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    The title of the video on Paul Millsap's slide is appropriate. For seven years, he did whatever dirty work was necessary for the Jazz.

    Much of what Millsap did on the floor was the stuff that isn't evident just by looking at numberschasing loose balls, setting solid screens and fighting for position on the boards.

    That doesn't mean he didn't put up good numbers, though. For his career in Utah, the 6'8" forward (who actually measured 6'7" coming out of college) averaged 16.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per 36 minutes while almost always being shorter than the guys against whom he was matched up.

12: Thurl Bailey

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    Thurl Bailey was an ironman for the Jazz, playing in at least 80 games in each of his first eight seasons in the NBA (all in Utah).

    His durability helped him climb the franchise leaderboards, where he is in the top 10 in games, minutes, rebounds, blocks and points.

    The best stretch of his time with Utah came from 1984 through 1991, when he averaged 15.6 points and 5.7 rebounds off the bench.

11: Mark Eaton

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    Mark Eaton played all 11 years of his career in Utah and is considered by many (myself included) to be the greatest shot blocker in NBA history.

    The 7'4" center started 815 games and averaged 3.5 blocks for the Jazz. That average is not only the best in team history, but it tops the list of all NBA players as well. He's also fourth in league history in total blocks and first in team history with a whopping 3,064.

    Andrei Kirilenko is second in the Jazz' books in blocks and has less than half of Eaton's total.

    The greatest shot blocker to ever play in the NBA led the league in that category four times in a five-year stretch. For the 1984-85 campaign, he averaged 5.6 blocks per gamethe all-time highest average for a single season.

10: Mehmet Okur

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    After winning a title with the Detroit Pistons in 2004, Mehmet Okur signed with the Utah Jazz and filled the role of starting center for six-and-a-half seasons.

    As a 6'11" big man who knocked down 38 percent of his three-point attempts in Utah, Okur was one of the most versatile players in the league.

    The fact that he's in the top 10 in team history in both three-pointers made and total rebounds is evidence of his versatility.

    From 2005 to 2010, he started 379 games and averaged 16.2 points and 7.8 rebounds.

     

9: Darrell Griffith

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    Dr. Dunkenstein's moniker is obviously referencing the most exciting aspect of his game, but there was a lot more to Darrell Griffith than his high-flying finishes.

    He spent all 10 of his NBA seasons playing for the Jazz and was one of the most complete scorers in team history, averaging over 20 points a game four times.

    Plenty of those points came in the form of dunks, but Griffith was also one of the league's best three-point shooters at the start of his career. He led the NBA in three-pointers made in 1984 and 1985.

    He's fourth in Jazz history in points and 10th in points per game.

8: Carlos Boozer

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    As a member of the Utah Jazz, Carlos Boozer was an offensive powerhouse and one of the most productive power forwards in the NBA.

    From 2004 to 2010, he averaged 19.3 points while shooting 54 percent from the field and was an excellent pick-and-roll complement to point guard Deron Williams because of his ability to both finish at the rim and knock down mid-range jump shots. 

    He was also one of the league's best rebounders while he was in Utah, averaging 10.5 rebounds over his six seasons there and finishing in the top 10 in the league in that category three times.

    Boozer is in the top five in Jazz history in points and rebounds per game, as well as PER.

7: Andrei Kirilenko

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    Andrei Kirilenko may go down as the best defender in Utah Jazz history. He was named to the NBA All-Defensive team three times and led the league in blocks per game during the 2004-05 season with an average of 3.3.

    For his career, Kirilenko's teams have given up about three points per 100 possessions fewer when he has been on the floor.

    One of the keys to his defensive prowess in Utah was his length. The lanky 6'9" Russian could make his way into passing lanes and recover for blocks that most small forwards couldn't.

    Though defense became his main calling card, and still is to this day, Kirilenko actually did a little bit of everything early in his career. 

    In fact, for about three years, he was one of the most versatile players in the NBA. From 2003 to 2006, he averaged 15.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 3.0 blocks and 1.7 steals per game. His PER during that stretch was 22.2.

6: Jeff Hornacek

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    If I were to make a list of some of the most underrated players in NBA history, Jeff Hornacek would likely make the cut.

    During the 1991-92 season, Hornacek averaged 20.1 points, 5.1 assists and 5.0 rebounds while shooting 51 percent from the field, 44 percent from three-point range and 89 percent from the line.

    Just a few short years after putting up those superstar numbers, Hornacek accepted a much smaller role as the third wheel on a Jazz team that already featured John Stockton and Karl Malone.

    He thrived in that role and went on to become Utah's franchise leader in both three-point and free-throw percentage. He's also in the top 10 in team history in three-point field goals, assists and steals.

    As a member of the Jazz, Hornacek averaged 14.4 points, 4.0 assists and 2.8 rebounds a game over the last six-and-a-half seasons of his NBA career.

5: Deron Williams

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    When he was with the Jazz, Deron Williams was never out of the conversation concerning the best point guard in the NBA. In fact, there were plenty who thought he was the best.

    In four years as the full-time starting point guard in Utah, Williams averaged 18.2 points and 10.2 assists, led his team to four straight playoff appearances and outplayed consensus top point guard Chris Paul almost every time they went head-to-head.

    Before being traded to the Nets, Williams was 12-4 against Paul. In those contests, CP3 had a slight advantage in assists per game, but D-Will trumped him in points, field-goal percentage, three-point percentage and, of course, wins.

    Williams spent just five-and-a-half years with Utah, but still managed to make it into the top 10 in franchise history in 19 categories, including points and assists.

4: Pete Maravich

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    A true legend of the game of basketball, "Pistol" Pete Maravich had already reached a certain mythical status before ever joining the Jazz.

    His introduction to the world took place at Louisiana State University, where he averaged more than 44 points a game over three seasons under his head coach and father, Press Maravich.

    The ridiculous ability that the younger Maravich showed in college translated to the NBA, as he ranks 20th in league history in career scoring average. It also got him drafted third overall by the Atlanta Hawks.

    After four years in Atlanta, Maravich was traded to the Jazz.

    He was a great first star for the new franchise in New Orleans. If you had to compare his game to a genre of music, it would almost certainly be jazz—free-flowing, spontaneous and fun.

    His knack for scoring was tied to an unprecedented level of flair and showmanship that he brought to the court. He also had a seemingly bottomless bag of tricks that he had developed as a youngster and that allowed him to get to the basket and fake out and lose defenders in ways few others have ever been able to duplicate.

    During the 1976-77 season, Maravich juked, spun, scooped and shot his way to the league's scoring title, averaging 31.1 points. That season contributed to his third-place ranking in Jazz history in points per game (25.2).

    However, don't let all this talk of scoring fool you into thinking Pistol Pete was one-dimensional. He was also a creative and willing passer who led the Jazz in assists for four of the five full seasons he was on the team. He averaged 5.6 assists a game during his time in Utah, good for fourth in team history.

     

3: Adrian Dantley

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    Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley spent seven seasons in the middle of what was otherwise something of a journeyman's career in Utah, where he was arguably the best scorer in the NBA.

    He won two scoring titles with the Jazz and averaged over 30 points a game in four different seasons. Over the seven years he spent in Utah, Dantley averaged 29.6 points per gamethat puts him at No. 1 in Jazz history.

    Inside the three-point line, he had an extremely well-rounded offensive arsenal that included pull-up jumpers, a post game and an ability to get to the rim off the drive. 

    Karl Malone may be Utah's all-time leader in points scored, but that has a lot to do with longevity and the fact that he played with arguably the best distributor of all time in John Stockton. 

    When it comes to pure scoring ability, the only Jazz player who might be better than Dantley is the legendary Pete Maravich, and even he comes up a bit short.

2: Karl Malone

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    Obviously, the biggest question with this slideshow is the placement of Karl Malone and John Stockton. As you can see, I have Malone at No. 2 (barely). Both players made each other better, but Stockton made Malone's remarkable numbers possible by choosing to pass the ball to him and doing it in such effective fashion. 

    That's not to discredit the unbelievable career of "The Mailman."

    As a member of the Utah Jazz, Malone averaged 25.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. He's in the top 10 in team history in 29 different statistical categories. He's first in 13 of those categories, including points, field goals, free throws and rebounds.

    Malone stacked up a lot of those numbers by being more of a human freight train than a roll man playing a basketball game. His timing in pick-and-rolls with John Stockton was perfect. His hands were soft when receiving the ball. And his ability to finish was unrivaled.

    He also developed a very consistent mid-range shot, making the pick-and-roll even more difficult to guard. Defenders were unable to look exclusively for Malone to roll. He became a pick-and-pop option as well.

    Malone was also an elite rebounder, averaging double-figures 10 times during his career. From 1986 to 1995, he averaged 11.2 rebounds per game.

    Team success was another big part of Malone's legacy in Utah. He played for the Jazz for 18 seasons, all of which included postseasons. He was the leading scorer for the Jazz teams that made it to the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998.

     

1: John Stockton

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    John Stockton played all 1,504 of his career NBA games in a Utah Jazz uniform. After 19 years with the organization, he can now find himself in the top 10 in team history in 32 different statistical categories.

    He is first in NBA history in assists, assist percentage and steals. He's second in assists per game and seventh in steals per game.

    His unselfishness, vision, ball-handling and passing ability on offense and his tenacity and leadership on defense are key components of the ultimate blueprint for a true point guard. No one has ever exemplified what the position was meant to be better than Stockton.

    As the floor general (point man, quarterback, call it whatever you want), he led his team both tactically and emotionally. Tactically in the sense that he got the offense flowing, made sure everyone was where they were supposed to be at all times and almost always made the right decision with the ball. Emotionally in the sense that he inspired his teammates and made everyone better, including Karl Malone.

    From 1987 to 1996, Stockton led the NBA in assists per game for eight straight seasons. During that stretch, he averaged 15.7 points, 13.1 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 2.6 steals while shooting 52 percent from the field and 39 percent from three-point range.

    During the 1989-90 season, Stockton averaged 14.5 assists a game. That's the best single-season mark in NBA history. Of the top six seasons in league history for assist average, Stockton can lay claim to five.

    The only player who might have an argument as a better point guard is Magic Johnson.

    But for the Jazz, Stockton's the best. Not just at point guard, but the best all-around player in franchise history.

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