Because there is absolutely no Utah Jazz news out there at all, and all eyes are certainly riveted to the All-Star weekend which is upon, it is time for another look back at the franchise’s history in the mid-season festivities.
Friday evening, a trio of Utah Jazz players–Trey Burke, Rudy Gobert and Dante Exum– will be participating in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge. That is the largest Jazz contingency in the history of this event, but they are part of a long-line of Utah players who had the honor of playing in the All-Star Game Lite.
Let’s take a little stroll down memory lane. Here the Jazz list, along with their pre-All-Star Game statistics that particular season, how they fared in the game and what transpired in the years after:
Bryon Russell, 1994 (5.5 PPG (.490 FG%), 2.8 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.21 SPG in 18.9 MPG in 48 games (43 starts) )
As the 45th pick in the 1993 NBA Draft, Bryon Russell was not a shoo-in to make Utah’s roster, let alone earn a rotational place and starting nod. But an impressive training camp and preseason, along with some disappointing performances1, opened up the door for Russell. He did enough on offense to keep opponents honest, but it was his defense that particularly impressed.
Russell’s numbers did not stick out too much, but they were enough to help him make the squad, which included guys like Chris Webber, Toni Kukoc and Sam Cassell. This was the first-ever NBA Rising Star outing and BRuss managed to tally seven points and three rebounds in 14 minutes off the bench. The second half of the season was uneven for Russell, as were the following two seasons. But his hard work enabled him to eventually become a long-time starter on the greatest teams in Jazz history.
Andrei Kirilenko, 2002 (10.1 PPG (.463 FG%, .769 FT%), 5.1 RPG, 0.9 APG, 1.43 SPG, 1.91 BPG, 24.9 MPG in 49 games (14 starts))
In 1999, the Jazz had three first-round draft picks and few thought much of it when they tabbed the lanky, 18-year old Russian forward. Things were dramatically different when Andrei Kirilenko came over two seasons later. His athleticism, defensive prowess and quickness infused an aging Utah roster. Teaming up with John Stockton and Karl Malone, AK jumped right in to become a jack-of-all-trades off the bench. His quick hands and stellar timing allowed him to become a tremendous weak-side shot-blocker who could also play the passing lanes. Kirilenko fed off the brilliant passing from Utah’s pair of All-Stars, running well sans the ball.
Kirilenko was part of a talent-laden roster and played the fewest minutes of the team, posting four points and two rebounds in 15 minutes. Over the next few seasons, he simply blossomed. Bridging the gap from Malone and Stockton to the next iteration, Kirilenko was the Jazz’s star. Few could fill up a stat sheet like he did and his 5x5s were something to behold. The massive contract and some disappointing seasons tempered many Jazz fans’ perspective on him. Sometimes it is easy to forget how very good he was those in those first seasons.
Andrei Kirilenko, 2003 (12.3 PPG (.524 FG%, .801 FT%), 5.3 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.49 SPG, 2.00 BPG, 27.3 MPG in 47 games (9 starts))
Kirilenko made steady improvement, taking on a slightly more prominent role in the offense. His passing came out his sophomore campaign, something that became one of the strongest facets in his game. AK did much better in his second Rising Stars game, producing 13 points and five rebounds in 27 minutes. Interestingly enough, out of the 18 players who made the teams, five2 played for the Jazz at some point.
Deron Williams, 2006 (9.3 PPG (.384 FG%, .331 3%, .723 FT%), 3.9 APG, 2.5 RPG, 0.76 SPG, 26.4 MPG in 50 games (19 starts))
After falling to the lowest slot they could have in the 2005 NBA Draft, general manager Kevin O’Connor swung for the fences, trading up to snag Deron Williams at #3. As most remember, head coach Jerry Sloan opted to bring him off the bench to start, with journeymen Keith McLeod and Milt Palacio in place. Williams maintained a grudge about that and Sloan publicly disclaimed his regret over the move. But it is what it is, or I suppose, was what it was. All that said, his talent was clear to see. Williams struggled with his shot, but he improved each passing month.
Williams only played 11 minutes, posting four points and three rebounds. As part of their early rivalry which has since died, Chris Paul had eight points, 11 assists and five steals (seven turnovers).
Deron Williams, 2007 (14.8 PPG (.427 FG%, .252 3%, .724 FT%), 9.8 APG, 3.6 RPG, 0.93 SPG, 36.7 MPG in 52 games (52 starts))
DWill’s improvement was a big boon for Utah, as he assumed the makings of a franchise player his second season, nearly averaging a double-double. The confidence he exuded and the manner in which he could occasionally take over portions of games instilled a new excitement. Williams also improved in the All-Star weekend outing, notching 19 points and seven assists in just 15 minutes.
Much could be said about his career with the Jazz. The highs were evident–leading Utah to a surprising (thank you, Golden State) Western Conference Finals appearance to the All-Star games. Unfortunately, so were the negatives, most surrounding his sometimes prickly, surly attitude and the franchise-changing two weeks with Sloan. Personally, I look back on those D-Will-led teams with both fondness and sadness. Oh, what could have been?
Paul Millsap, 2007 (6.7 PPG (.537 FG%, .669 FT%), 4.9 RPG, 0.7 APG, 1.00 BPG, 18.3 MPG in 41 games (o starts))
The 47th pick of the 2006 Draft was one of the great stories in the NBA that season. Millsap, behind his yeoman’s work ethic, demanded playing time and attention from day one. He brought his elite rebounding to the next level and did the proverbial dirty work behind Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur–the perfect bench addition.
The NBA took notice, adding him to the rookie roster. He was sensational, scoring 22 points and corralling eight rebounds in 27 minutes off the bench. Millsap’s confidence was sky high and his play helped propel Utah to that extended Playoff run.
Paul Millsap, 2008 (8.1 PPG (.502 FG%, .669 FT%), 5.7 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.92 SPG, 0.77 BPG, 20.4 MPG in 53 games (2 starts)):
As he did each of his first several seasons, Millsap took solid steps forward each season. He became a bit more of a scoring threat his second season. In the Rising Stars game, he managed just two points and three rebounds in 23 minutes.
Millsap is clearly one of the Jazz faithful’s most beloved players. He became the team’s rock of consistency, developing a deadly midrange game and becoming a deft passer. Forever underrated, Millsap was and still is an analytics darling. Now a two-time All-Star, it is nice to see the classy forward getting his well-deserved dues.
Ronnie Brewer, 2008 (11.9 PPG (.546 FG%, .758 FT%), 2.9 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.96 SPG, 28.1 MPG in 51 games (51 starts))
Brewer was the 14th pick the year before and had his moments in limited playing time–this was the season Derek Fisher started at shooting guard. Through hard work, he earned a much more prominent role in 2007 and took advantage of it. Teaming up with a bevy of stellar passers and a classic Sloan offense, Brewer realized he could thrive by simply running the baseline and playing some hawk-like defense. His jump was very impressive, worthy of Most Improved Player consideration.
Brewer had 13 points (6-6 from the floor), four assists, three steals and three blocked shots in just 18 minutes. He went on to have a few more solid seasons, peaking his third season. Wesley Matthews’ emergence caused him to be a casualty in 2010 and his career has plummeted from there. He has not managed to latch on with a team this season, despite being just 28.
Gordon Hayward, 2012 (9.4 PPG (.421 FG%, .246 3%, .785 FT%), 3.2 APG, 2.8 RPG, 0.84 SPG, 0.72 BPG, 28.0 MPG in 32 games (32 starts))
Hayward had an up-and-down rookie year. After having Williams fire a ball at his head, he had a solid finish to the season. Despite that momentum, Hayward came along slowly following the 2011 lockout, though his all-around game was evident. He did enough to make the midseason sophomore team, along with several future All-Stars3 and had 14 points, three rebounds and two assists in 18 minutes. In the second half of the season, Hayward just took off. His perimeter game took shape and his numbers jumped up across the board.
Much has been said about Hayward’s development over the years and particularly this season. He is simply playing fantastic basketball, arguably at All-Star levels. The future is bright for Hayward.
Derrick Favors, 2012 (8.0 PPG (.493 FG%, .695 FT%), 5.1 RPG, 0.90 BPG, 0.4 APG, 19.4 MPG in 31 games (5 starts))
The key return in the Deron Williams trade with the Nets, Favors took some solid strides in his first full season in Utah. He became a very good third big and showed the potential that tantalized the Jazz community. Like Hayward, he showed well in the Rising Stars Challenge, playing for Team Chuck (Barkley)–14 points, three steals in 15 minutes.
Favors has made steady progress each season, culminating in his outstanding play this season. He has grown into being one of the team leaders and will be for years to come.
Trey Burke, 2014 (12.5 PPG (.368 FG%, .337 3%, .908 FT%), 5.5 APG, 3.1 RPG, 0.63 SPG, 30.8 MPG in 40 games (38 starts))
After a year of dismal point guard play, the trade to obtain Trey Burke was rightfully lauded. He was given the keys from day one, although a preseason injury slowed his start. Burke was able to create for his teammates, showed an ability to get hot from outside and showed a propensity for clutch play.
Suiting up for Team (Chris) Webber, Burke started and tallied six points and six assists in 20 minutes.
As for the year’s Jazz trio, it will be interesting to see the new format of American players versus international ones. Beyond Burke’s participation in the skills challenge, Friday’s outing may be the portion of the All-Star weekend that Utah fans will follow.