One of the greatest shot blockers in the history of the NBA, big Mark Eaton defended the paint for the Utah Jazz for many years.
The Jazz wanted a space filler and at 7-4 and 290 pounds Eaton was a presence on the floor. He would have to be the only fourth round pick who would step into the NBA and block 3.4 shots per game in his rookie year.
An interesting part of the Mark Eaton story is that the Jazz were not the first NBA team to draft him. The Phoenix Suns actually picked him. Born in Westminster, California, Eaton would attend Cyprus College.
He averaged double figures for points there and was drafted by the Suns in the fifth round in 1979. Eaton didn’t go to the NBA then, he went to UCLA. He played very little there and his points per game average was only 1.8. The Jazz still liked his potential and used the 72nd pick of the 1982 NBA draft to pick him.
Eaton’s NBA resume is full of defensive honors. He was All-Defensive, first or second team, on five occasions. He was named the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year twice, which is impressive as he wasn’t just against other big-men who could block shots but often small guards who could get a lot of steals took out that award.
He led the NBA in total blocks, and blocks per game, four times. In the 1984-85 he blocked a total of 456 shots. He was also among the leaders for fouls, a result of trying to block so many shots.
Something that helped his teammates become stars was Eaton’s defensive and rebounding skills. John Stockton was a great player for steals. One thing that Stockton could do that other point guards from other teams couldn’t was to gamble on the steal with the knowledge that a 7-4 shot blocking machine was behind him. If Stockton tried to intercept the pass and missed, there was a good chance that Eaton would be there to defend the basket.
The Mailman Karl Malone used to bring in a lot of steals for a power forward, he could also go for the steal knowing that he had help if his opponent got clear.
With his great size, Eaton was also able to bring in the rebounds. If Karl Malone didn’t get the rebound there was a good chance that Eaton could. Twice during his career Eaton had a season with a rebounding average in double figures. In 1985 he had 11.3 rebounds per game and in 1989 he brought in 10.3 rebounds.
While Eaton didn’t score a lot of points, it didn’t matter to the Utah Jazz as they had “Stockton to Malone” for that. Along with John Stockton and Karl Malone, the Jazz could also put scorers like Darrell Griffith and Thurl Bailey on the floor so there weren’t going to be many shots for the fifth player on the floor anyway.
Eaton’s numbers on the offensive end did fluctuate throughout his NBA career. 40% shooting from the field in 1987 but 57.9% in 1991. 9.7 points per game was his best, he did that in 1985.
Eaton played in one NBA All-Star game. As you would expect, he wasn’t scoring but he was defending. His stats for the game were 0 points but also 5 rebounds and 1 block in only 9 minutes of play.