The Utah Jazz are probably the greatest historical team never to win a championship. Part of that’s just timing. I mean, Michael Jordan. What are you gonna do, right? So, when we’re putting together our franchise all-time starting five, don’t judge it by banners.
If they had all the right players together, they’d have one heck of a competitive team, in part because of how well they’d all fit together. While four of the five actually played together, two were just past their prime and two had just yet to enter it. Utah was closer to a ring than anyone can get without actually getting there.
Here’s the team.
Point Guard: John Stockton
When you’re talking “true” point guards, John Stockton is the greatest of all time. No one in history has ever produced as many points as the man who dished dimes in three different decades. Either through scoring or passing he contributed to more than 51,323 points (points plus assists times two). That’s not even including the three-point assists he had. No one else has topped 50,000. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was second with 49,987.
And for a man who lived off the mid-range jumper, it’s just phenomenal that he boasts a career field goal percentage of 51.5. That’s higher than Tim Duncan or Hakeem Olajuwon. In fact, according to Basketball-Reference.com, only nine players in history have more points and a higher shooting percentage — and only three have a better effective field goal percentage.
Putting Stockton’s assist record in perspective is hard to do. He has 30.7 percent more than any other player, ever. He’s also the all-time leader in steals by 20.1 percent.
Of all the “major records” in the four big North American sports leagues (NHL, NBA, MLB and NFL), the only records that surpass the gulf between the all-time leader and the rest of the world is Wayne Gretzky’s gargantuan lead in assists and points in the NHL.
However, while Gretzky is nearly universally regarded as the greatest hockey player of all time, Stockton is often not even listed in the top 20 of many all-time lists. He’s easily one of the sport’s most underrated players.
If I could have any point guard in history to facilitate an all-time team, it would be Stockton. No one has ever been better and more consistent at running an offense.
Shooting Guard: “Pistol” Pete Maravich
People often allude to Ricky Rubio as the reincarnation of “Pistol” Pete Maravich. And while Maravich was more of a scorer than Rubio, there’s a reason for that. Maravich had some phenomenal court vision, as you can see in the clip above. And his handles were just silly.
Over the course of 330 games, Maravich averaged 25.2 points and 5.6 dimes. He and Stockton playing off one another would’ve been a phenomenal pairing. With both either able to score or dish, defenses would be positively befuddled.
Both could distribute. Both could hit shots off the pass. And both could dribble and break down defenses. Not a bad backcourt there.
Small Forward: Adrian Dantley
Adrian Dantley isn’t just one of the greatest scorers ever; he’s also the most efficient scorer with 20,000 points with a career true shooting percentage of 61.7 percent. That was an even better 63.2 percent during his years in Utah.
What was the secret to his success? Here’s a great Dantley quote, courtesy of David Friedman from 20SecondTimeout.com:
Many times you will encounter situations in a game when you have already picked up your dribble and your defensive man is standing right in front of you preventing you from getting off a shot or passing the ball. It is just for cases like this that you need to have some dead-ball moves in your repertoire. Naturally, you can use these moves away from the basket, but they are most effective when you make them not far from the hoop, either in or close to the lane.
To make the shot fake and jump shot move, start with a one-count stop. Bring the ball up toward your head to give the defensive man the impression that you are going to take a jump shot. He will lunge toward you at this moment. As he moves in, crouch down with your legs to gather your strength and then go up for the jump shot just as your defensive man moves into you. Go up strong and bump him a little with your shoulder or forearm to keep him from blocking your shot. Often your man will foul you, and you can get a three-point play out of the move.
Yeah. He’s the guy who started that. So now you have two great ball handler/distributors and they’re feeding the most efficient volume scorer in history. Not a bad start.
Power Forward: Karl Malone
Karl Malone is the NBA’s second all-time leading scorer, and his partnership with Stockton is legendary. It’s impossible to calculate exactly how many times they connected because play-by-play data isn’t available for their entire careers.
Thanks to Seth Partnow of Nylon Calculus, we do have a clue, though.
From official pbps:
02/03: 222 https://t.co/Aj4eHsvPa3
— Seth Partnow (@SethPartnow) August 5, 2015
That accounts for 40 percent of his assists over those years. If that rate were indicative of their whole careers, Stockton would’ve connected with Malone roughly 6,322 times — about as many dimes as LeBron James has had in his career.
And as I stated earlier, Stockton is the all-time leader in total points produced. Malone is third. And if that’s not good enough, Dantley is 46th. Here’s the list:
Toss in Pistol Pete, and that’s a lot of ways to score.
Center: Mark Eaton
Except for Maravich, the lineup isn’t bad defensively. Stockton was an All-Defensive Team selection five times, while Malone was four times. Dantley wasn’t a great defensive player. While he was accused of not playing defense the first half of his career, he improved over the second half.
But the team is still void of a defensive anchor. And with all the passing and scoring on this starting five already, what he gives offensively is moot. And Mark Eaton was an absoloute beast of a rim protector.
He didn’t start playing in the NBA until he was 26. After he graduated from high school, he was just a 7’4” mechanic until Tom Lubin found him, per Pablo Torre of Sports Illustrated:
It was at a tire store near Anaheim that Tom Lubin, then an assistant basketball coach and chemistry professor at Cypress College, spotted Eaton one April afternoon in 1977. The kid rebuffed Lubin’s intro—”Not interested, no thanks”—but the coach, smitten with such height, came back again and again in the subsequent months, no matter how many times Eaton tossed the junior college’s brochures into the bottom drawer of his tool box. By the end of visit number 15, at long last, one of Lubin’s pitches stuck. “Tom convinced me that my height, which I had considered to be my biggest liability, could be my greatest strength,” Eaton recalls. “But I had to let go of every idea of who or what I could be.
Eaton went on to become one of the greatest shot-blockers in history. In 1984-85, he rejected 5.6 shots per game. No one else has ever averaged 5.0. His 3.5 over the course of his career is also an NBA record. And his 3,064 total career blocks is the third-most in NBA history.
And Eaton wasn’t one of those guys who was just “eatin” shots at the rim; he had the impact of chasing everyone away from it. Over the course of his 11-year career, Utah had the lowest effective field-goal percentage in the NBA — a strong indication of his deterrence factor.
So, the Jazz starting five has the all-time leader in assists, points produced and steals in Stockton, one of the most spectacular playmakers ever in Maravich, the most efficient scorer ever in Dantley, the second all-time leading scorer and sixth all-time leading rebounder in Malone and the greatest shot blocker ever in Eaton.
Put those five guys together in their prime, and I think they can win some games.
Previous all-time starting fives: Bulls, Pistons, Thunder-Sonics, Magic, Mavericks, Heat, Lakers, Wizards, Pacers, Raptors, Knicks, Bucks, Nuggets, Celtics, Grizzlies, Rockets, Pelicans-Hornets-Jazz, Clippers