By: Jay Yeomans
Published: May 13, 2019
Even though the Utah Jazz have been eliminated from the NBA playoffs, there are still plenty of reasons for local basketball fanatics to dive into the conference finals. Not only are there some compelling match-ups between some of the top players in the game, but the Western Conference finals most prominent figures is the best player to ever come out of a Utah school.
Now you might say that I am a prisoner of the moment who is just trying to produce relevant content in the 24-hour news cycle, but I am not the guy. I am the kind of person who cherishes the past and one who holds the players of yesteryear in higher regard than most.
But even with my passion for the past, I just can’t overlook the kind of player that this Blazers’ star has become while helping to lead his team on a deep run in this season’s playoffs.
Here are my rankings of the best players in NBA history to ever come out of Utah’s Div. 1 schools.
Note: These rankings are based solely on what a player did during his time in the NBA and nothing else.
Just missed the cut: Shawn Bradley, BYU
While he didn’t deliver on the massive expectations placed upon his shoulders coming out of Castle Dale, Bradley was an elite rim defender who didn’t back down from any challenger. It led to him being put on a poster more than a handful of times but produced an astounding 2,119 blocked shots during his 12-year NBA career.
10. Nate Williams, Utah State
Williams was a productive scorer for a bunch of teams you may have never heard of. He averaged double figures in scoring during each of his first seven seasons in the league, including the 1973-74 campaign where he averaged a career-best 15.5 points a night while shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 81.8 percent at the charity stripe.
9. Jim Eakins, BYU
Eakins is an underrated big man who lasted 10 years, playing for eight teams in the NBA and ABA. His most impressive campaign came with the ABA’s Virginia Squires where he earned an All-star selection after averaging 14.6 points on 52 percent shooting from the field while collecting 9.6 rebounds, handing out 2.8 assists and swatting away 1.2 shots a night over 84 games.
8. Mike Newlin, Utah
Newlin was a gifted scorer and a willing passer during his 11-year NBA career. That was proven by the fact that he finished top 20 in scoring in the league in back-to-back seasons while finishing in the top 20 in assists per game on four different occasions. While most of his career was spent in a Rockets’ uniform, his most productive seasons came with the New Jersey Nets where he averaged 21.2 points a night over 157 games while shooting 47.8 percent from the floor and 88.6 percent at the free-throw line.
7. Andrew Bogut, Utah
Bogut was a double-double machine early in his career who transitioned into more of a rim protector on championship level teams. While his touches and offensive numbers took a hit, playing on some very talented teams, his value only seemed to go up. Despite averaging less than six shots a game over the last seven seasons, he still has a career scoring average of 9.6 points a contest to go along with 8.7 boards, 2.2 assists and 1.5 blocks in 706 games.
6. Keith Van Horn, Utah
Van Horn was a gifted outside shooter who produced at a very high level during his nine seasons in the league. He averaged more than 15 points a night during six of his first seven seasons, including the 1999-2000 campaign where he put 19.2 points while adding 8.5 rebounds and 2.0 helpers in a career-high 80 games.
5. Danny Ainge, BYU
Ainge was a fierce competitor who played a big role on six different teams who went to the NBA finals. His most impressive playoff stretch came with the Boston Celtics during the 1985-86 Championship run where he averaged 15.6 points a contest while shooting 55.4 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from beyond the arc. He also contributed in many other ways during the Celtics’ second title in three seasons, handing out 5.2 assists and collecting 2.3 steals in 36.2 minutes a game.
4. Andre Miller, Utah
While Miller will no doubt be remembered as one of the games great passer, he was also a top-notch scorer and a terrific rebounding point guard. One of his most memorable seasons came with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2001-02 when he led the league in assists with 10.9 helpers a night while also contributing 16.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 81 games.
3. Mel Hutchins, BYU
Hutchins’ career was cut short, but not before he made a significant impact during the early days of the NBA. He was a four-time all-star who finished in the top 10 in MVP voting in back-to-back seasons. While known as a terrific rebounder, he was also a great passing big man who finished in the top 20 in assists per game three times.
2. Tom Chambers, Utah
To call Chambers a great scorer would be an understatement. He got buckets from the day he stepped on the floor with the San Diego Clippers and didn’t get done until 17 years later when he scored his last basket for the Philadelphia 76ers. Along the way, he earned four all-star game selections, finished top 20 in scoring four times and finished as a second-team All-NBA honoree in consecutive seasons. He remains one of just 44 players in NBA history to score more than 20,000 points.
1. Damian Lillard, Weber State
After a great start to his career, I was confident that Lillard would someday catch Chambers as the best player from a Utah school. I just didn’t think it would happen so quickly. Lillard is an elite scoring lead guard who thrives in pressure situations on the biggest stage. He proved that once again in the Game 5 first-round series match-up with the Oklahoma City Thunder where he drilled a 37-foot step back three to dispatch the Thunder and advance.
In his seven years in Portland, Lillard has finished in the top 20 in the league in both scoring and assists each season while earning four all-star game selections and being named to one of the three All-NBA teams on three occasions.