Utah Jazz: Mark Eaton (finally) hits the Hall of Fame ballot

Mark Eaton of the Utah Jazz (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Mark Eaton of the Utah Jazz (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images) /

Utah Jazz legend and former two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Mark Eaton is officially a nominee for the Naismith Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019.

When I compiled my Top 15 Draft Picks in Utah Jazz History over the summer, I was effusive in my praise for former fourth-round pick Mark Eaton, who came in at No. 3 on the countdown. “If he lands with a perennial title contender of the Lakers or Celtics mold, he’s probably a Hall of Famer right now,” I declared, somewhat controversially.

Although Eaton ended up in small-market Salt Lake City, never captured a ring or averaged double-digit points over an 11-year career and currently holds a 0.1-percent chance of getting inducted according to Basketball Reference’s Hall of Fame probability calculator, Eaton may now be on the verge of capturing the sport’s highest individual honor.

At the least, he’s getting serious consideration for the first time.

Over the weekend, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced the eligible candidates for its Class of 2019. Eaton was among the first-time nominees on this year’s ballot.

That, in and of itself, is a major accomplishment for the Jazz legend. In order to make a ballot, candidates must be approved by seven of the nine members of the HOF’s North American screening committee.

Still, I maintain that Eaton’s case for actual enshrinement is stronger than one might think.

In the same manner that Rudy Gobert is the greatest rim protector of the modern Association, Eaton owned the ’80s. He was the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1985 and 1989, an All-Star (also in ’89) and a five-time All-Defensive Team selection.

But his dominance goes well beyond accolades; it bears itself out in the numbers. Those numbers put the big man in rarefied air historically.

Eaton led the league in defensive box plus/minus six times over the course of the decade, and he finished in the top-five league-wide 10 times. Meanwhile, the Jazz defense as a whole was stifling. Utah boasted the NBA’s best D-rating four times (’85, ’87, ’88 and ’89) over that span and never finished worse than seventh from ’84 to ’92.

That’s nearly a decade of locking teams down and Eaton was the linchpin.

For my money, he’s the greatest shot-blocker of all time. No player in the NBA annals has averaged as many blocks over his career as Eaton. The 7-foot-3 center rejected 3.5 shots per contest over 875 games played. That rate places him at fourth all-time in total blocks at 3064.

He paced the Association in swats during four separate seasons. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Marcus Camby are the only other players to accomplish that feat. His best year came during the ’84-85 campaign, when he blocked a record 5.56 shots per game.

In doing his thing down low, Eaton helped save a franchise, combining with the likes of Adrian Dantley, Rickey Green and Frank Layden to lift the team from the cellar and usher in two-plus decades of elite-level hoops.

Eaton faces stiff competition for induction, but in this guy’s humble opinion, these things make him every bit the deserving candidate. Again — if he had played for one of the league’s historical powers, he’d probably be in already.

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The 2019 HOF class will be unveiled during the NCAA Final Four in Minneapolis, Minnesota in April of 2019. Enshrinement festivities will take place in Springfield, Mass in September.