There have been 301 players who have ever played at least one game for the Utah/New Orleans Jazz franchise.
If you were constructing a 15-man roster from among them, who would warrant a spot, though? I’m not talking anything so pedestrian as the best 15 players in team history — anyone can do that, considering it would take precious little creativity and would likely yield even less variety.
No, let’s keep it at least quasi-realistic. I’m not talking about rolling out a roster that has Deron Williams backing up John Stockton … or both Pistol Pete and Donovan Mitchell. What if you had to choose between them, amongst them? What if you had to consider that there simply wouldn’t be enough shots to go around in a lineup that included Karl Malone and Adrian Dantley and Gordon Hayward and Bojan Bogdanovic?
What if you had to take roles into account? Filling the bench with guys who were actually mostly reserves during their careers; having enough rebounding, defending, positional versatility; a backup point who can run the keep the show running; a second-unit microwave who can get you buckets?
Which 15 players would warrant a spot on your Ultimate Jazz Roster? Here are the 15 that made mine (any stats mentioned hereafter refer only to what they did with the Jazz — not their career numbers) …
To keep things close to kosher, I decided to shoot for a combined five-man usage rate in the ballpark of 100 — in order words, no having five guys who dominate the ball all the time. Straightaway, this proved a challenge. For instance, what if you wanted three big-time scorers, like say, Malone, Dantley, and Mitchell? Nice trio, right? Sure, except there’s an 88.5 combined usage between them, which wasn’t going to work.
Malone was an automatic absolute for me — elite scorer, excellent rebounder, great defender. Gobert was probably the second-closest to a lock. I looked at Mark Eaton, Memo Okur, Al Jefferson, even Derrick Favors. But Gobert’s premier defense and rebounding, plus his low offensive usage made him ideal.
For point guard, Stockton would seem an obvious choice, but D-Will did receive strong consideration, considering he was one of the best in the league for a time. While the latter’s superior scoring and size were appealing, Stockton’s shooting (not to mention his status as one of the game’s all-time elites) won the day.
And so, the wings. They were something of a pain — mostly because I really wanted to avoid having three guys from those late-’90s Finals teams here. Alas … Dantley is one of the NBA’s great scorers, but the usage was too high. Also, shockingly, Mitchell had the highest average usage rate of anyone in consideration. I looked at Bogey, Maravich, Jeff Malone, Darrell Griffith, Gail Goodrich … even Hayward. Ultimately, Jeff Hornacek’s shooting (49.4 FG%, 42.8 3P% 89.7 FT%), and Andrei Kirilenko’s all-around versatility (12.4p, 5.6r, 2.8a, 2.0b, 1.4s) yielded the best combo.
Is it perfect? Nope. It certainly doesn’t really resemble a modern lineup, considering the backcourt is a little small (the current Jazz can relate), there’s not much defensive switchability, and it would have spacing issues owing to its dearth of frontcourt 3-point shooting. Still, it’s a more than solid unit — and their combined usage is a respectable 103.7.
The picks: Rudy Gobert, Karl Malone, Andrei Kirilenko, Jeff Hornacek, John Stockton
Now, before we proceed to the bench, a quick note about choosing the reserves: I know I said the premise of this was to keep it as realistic as possible. Which means that, in assembling the 10 reserves (only eight of whom would be active per night), the minutes needed to be a consideration. The current Jazz have one guy in the high-20s, one in the mid-20s, another a smidge under 20, four guys between 15.7 and 10.7, and three under 10.
Here’s the thing — while I didn’t want to go crazy and load up on guys over 20 minutes per game, I also wanted to keep this fun and include names that mean something, so I fudged my own rules and went with more guys with decent-sized roles than would be strictly realistic. I’d rather that than be a slave to the idea of including three guys who averaged between 4-8 minutes per game in their careers. OK? Let’s proceed, then.
Two main rotation guys, and a third-string center is how I decided to roll here, for the record.
It just seemed intuitive that any list of Jazz reserve bigs should include Thurl Bailey. “Big T” is one of the franchise’s great reserve players (he made only 205 starts in 708 career Jazz games). Did you know he averaged 19.6 points in 1987-88 and 19.5 in ’88-89, while starting a combined 13 of 164 games?
As for the second spot, there were a lot of names to consider — Mike Brown? Trevor Booker? Greg Ostertag? Adam Keefe was thiiiiiiis close to being the guy, and maybe even deserved to be (5.2p, 4.2r, 52.1 FG% in 17.7 minutes), but I ultimately went with the “Big Dog,” Antoine Carr. He was a better scorer and shooter, though admittedly a worse rebounder. He also got the edge because he’s nominally more of a five.
As the final spot, well, every Jazz team seems to have a distant-third center capable of filling a few minutes in the event of injury or foul trouble. I looked at cult hero Kyrylo Fesenko, gave consideration to Jeff Withey, and honestly probably should have gone with everyone’s favorite book clubber, Ekpe Udoh. But I had the conundrum of not having a single representative from the team’s New Orleans era. And so it is that I (kinda sorta jokingly) settled upon Hall of Famer Walt Bellamy, who played one game for the expansion New Orleans Jazz in 1974-75, notching six points (on 2-2 FGs and 2-2 FTs) and five rebounds in 14 minutes before retiring.
The picks: Thurl Bailey, Antoine Carr, Walt Bellamy
I settled upon having a two-guard capable of filling it up, a one who’s able to keep the show running, and again, a distant-third point who can jump in there in emergency situations.
With the former, it could be recency bias, but I’m honestly fairly convinced that Jordan Clarkson might already have established himself as the best reserve scorer in franchise history. He’s shooting an efficient 48.2% from the field and a respectable 36.6% from deep, and his per-36 scoring works out to 22.1 points. His addition has propped up a previously woeful second unit. Anyway, apologies to John Drew and Alec Burks.
As for Stockton’s primary backup, well … who better than Stockton’s primary backup, Howard Eisley? His 6.4p and 3.4a, plus his better-than-you-remember 33.5% from deep beat out the likes of Jay Humphries, Mo Williams, Carlos Arroyo, and Earl Watson.
As for Eisley’s backup, the perpetually-steady Raul Neto gets the call over Delaney Rudd, Jacque Vaughn, Eric Murdock, John Crotty … even the fondly remembered but actually pretty inefficient Ronnie Price.
The picks: Jordan Clarkson, Howard Eisley, Raul Neto
Four guys who could theoretically swing between the two and the three, and provide both a little scoring and some defensive versatility, this quartet is decidedly collectively overqualified, but proved fun to compile because of an abundance of quality options.
My initial two choices were a pair of familiar faces, the Splash Uncles, Joe Ingles and Kyle Korver. (Remember the starting lineup’s dearth of 3-point shooting?) While this season has prompted many to argue that Ingles is better as a starter, his first few seasons saw him make a big impact off the bench. He’s averaged 8.2p, 3.6a, 3.2r and shot 40.7% from deep for the Jazz. As for Korver, well, considering the 40.5% he’s shot from deep in his two Jazz stints is the worst 3-point percentage he’s posted with any team in his career, yeah, he’s in.
In a theme continued from the starting lineup, the other two wing spots were arguably the toughest decisions to make. Royce O’Neale was in the running, but was skipped so as not to have an overabundance of current/recent roster guys. Matt Harpring was a strong contender, but missed out because, while only 40.2% of his Jazz games were starts, his best seasons with the team were decidedly as a member of the first five. So, who then? Burks? Jae Crowder? Gordan Giricek? C.J. Miles? DeMarre Carroll? All worthy possibilities.
In the end, though, the rangy athleticism and slightly-superior effectiveness of Shandon Anderson and David Benoit won the day. Anderson played only two seasons for the Jazz in 1997-98 and ’98-99, but contributed 7.6 points and 2.7 rebounds while shooting 48.9% overall and 37.5% from deep. Benoit, a former Slam Dunk Contest participant, had two tenures in Utah that sandwiched Anderson, and he contributed 7.3 points and 4.3 boards, while shooting 44.8% from the floor and 31.8% from deep.
The picks: Joe Ingles, Kyle Korver, Shandon Anderson, David Benoit
ULTIMATE JAZZ ROSTER
Here are the players chosen for the construction of a 15-man Jazz roster from among the 301 players who have ever played a game for the franchise, either in New Orleans or Utah. Roles were considered, and minutes were given partial emphasis, though salary caps were not. All stats are from players’ games with the Jazz only:
Rudy Gobert • 2013-20: 29.5m, 11.7p, 11.0r, 1.4a, 2.2b, 64.0 FG%, 62.9 FT%
Karl Malone • 1985-03: 37.3m, 25.4p, 10.2r, 3.5a, 0.8b, 1.4s, 51.7 FG%, 27.5 3P%, 74.2 FT%
Andrei Kirilenko • 2001-11: 30.8m, 12.4p, 5.6r, 2.8a, 2.0b, 1.4s, 47.0 FG%, 31.2 3P% 76.3 FT%
Jeff Hornacek • 1994-00: 30.9m, 14.4p, 2.8r, 4.0a, 1.3s, 49.4 FG%, 42.8 3P%, 89.7 FT%
John Stockton • 1984-03: 31.8m, 13.1p, 2.7r, 10.5a, 2.2s, 51.5 FG%, 38.4 3P%, 82.6 FT%
Jordan Clarkson • 2019-20: 25.3m, 15.6p, 2.9r, 1.6a, 48.2 FG% 36.6 3P%, 78.0 FT%,
Thurl Bailey • 1983-91, 98-99: 29.0m, 14.0p, 5.5r, 1.6a, 1.2b, 47.4 FG%, 81.2 FT%
Joe Ingles • 2014-20: 25.4m, 8.2p, 3.6a, 3.2r, 1.0s, 44.6 FG%, 74.8 FT%, 40.7 3P%
Howard Eisley • 1995-00, 04-05: 19.2m, 6.4p, 1.6r, 3.4a, 42.8 FG%, 33.5 3P%, 82.6 FT%
Antoine Carr • 1994-98: 18.8m, 7.5p, 2.6r, 0.9a, 0.8b, 48.7 FG%, 79.6 FT%
Kyle Korver • 2007-10, 18-19: 21.3m, 8.8p, 2.6r, 1.5a, 44.8 FG%, 40.5 3P%, 86.9 FT%
Shandon Anderson • 1997-99: 19.0m, 7.6p, 2.7r, 1.0a, 48.9 FG%, 37.5 3P%, 71.6 FT%
David Benoit • 1991-96, 2000-01: 19.7m, 7.3p, 4.3r, 0.6a, 44.8 FG%, 31.8 3P%, 79.2 FT%
Raul Neto • 2015-19: 14.2m, 4.8p, 1.9a, 1.3r, 44.3 FG%, 37.7 3P%, 77.6 FT%
Walt Bellamy • 1974-75: 14.0m, 6.0p, 5.0r, 100 FG%, 100 FT%