Illinois is a storied basketball program and there is no doubt about that. The Fighting Illini are 13th in wins all-time and are 10th in winning percentage among the list of top 50 schools. With such a great program where are the players in the NBA from Illinois?
There are only two current NBA players that donned the orange and navy blue Fighting Illini colors. They are Deron Williams of the Brooklyn Nets and Meyers Leonard of the Portland Trail Blazers. Both are former first rounders with Williams being picked third overall while Leonard was picked 11th. While these two players are both in the NBA from the same school, they're two complete different players.
Deron Williams Class of 2005
Deron Williams was the third pick in the 2005 NBA Draft after being named Second Team All American. He was also nominated to First Team All B1G that season as well. He averaged 12.5 points, 6.8 assists, and 3.6 rebounds while leading his team to the Final Four. In that NCAA Tournament, Williams brought his team back from a 15 point deficit in the final minute against Arizona to get to the Final Four. This team had five future NBA players including Luther Head, Roger Powell, James Augustine, and Dee Brown, but only Williams remains in the NBA.
So what has Williams done since joining the pro ranks? He has been an NBA All-Star three times (2010-2012), All-NBA Second Team twice (2008 and 2010), and even won an NBA Skills Challenge Competition in 2008. Williams has also won two Olympic gold medals (2008 and 2012). Needless to say, he's done a little bit of everything while playing for the Utah Jazz, New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets, and Team USA.
Looking deeper into his individual statistics, Deron Williams has been a very good point guard. In his career, he has averaged 17.4 points, 8.7 assists, and 3.2 rebounds. Like most aging NBA players, injuries have kept him from playing close to a full season recently playing in 75 games or more just twice since the start of the 2008 season. The crazy part about Deron Williams is that although he looks and has the injuries of an older player, he's not that old. He's only 29 years old and has nine seasons under his belt.
Williams has averaged a double double four times in his career and they all came from 2007-2011. In those four seasons he averaged 18 points and 10 assists three times or more and one seasons of 15 points and 12.8 assists.
Meyers Leonard Class of 2012
While Deron Williams was an extremely productive and safe pick in 2005, Meyers Leonard is a completely different player. Leonard was drafted more because of his potential and size than his actual skills. He flashed big talent in his sophomore year, but barely played his freshman season. In that nice sophomore season, Leonard averaged 13.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game. He was named Honorable Mention All B1G before declaring for the 2012 draft.
With the 11th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers selected Leonard. He has been stuck behind talented big men LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez causing Leonard to average 17.5 and 8.9 minutes per game in his first two seasons.
For his short career, he's averaging 4.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and .4 blocks per game. He's an 80% shooter from the free throw line, which is very nice to see from a 7'1 player. His Per 36 minutes numbers are quite solid. In 36 minutes of action he would have averaged 9.9 points, 11.3 rebounds, and .5 blocks per game this past season.
There is no way to tell how good Meyers Leonard will be because of limited minutes, but he certainly has become a decent backup to Aldridge and Lopez. His size will always be wanted and because of this he is likely to remain in the NBA for a while even if he never fully meets his potential.