Ranking the Top 25 Players in Detroit Pistons History

Jakub RudnikContributor IIIAugust 2, 2013

Ranking the Top 25 Players in Detroit Pistons History

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    The Detroit Pistons are a storied franchise, with three NBA championships and multiple Hall of Fame players.

    They struggled in their first three decades, before finally winning back-to-back championships in 1989 and 1990. After a rebuilding period they were able to create another championship team in 2004.

    In ranking the best players in franchise history there are many factors. The number of years a player was with the team, his individual statistics and accolades, and team success all matter. Championship rings play a major role as well.

    The Pistons had great players in every era, but the previous 25 years has been the golden era of Detroit basketball.

25. Adrian Dantley

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    Adrian Dantley played less than three seasons with the Pistons, but he is still one of the best scorers in team history.

    His scoring average of 20.3 ranks 7th on the team's all-time list, although it is well below his career average of 24.3. 

    Dantley was traded before the 1989 deadline, right before the Pistons won their first two NBA championships. He didn't play the majority of his career with the Pistons, but he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2008.

24. Rick Mahorn

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    Rick Mahorn played just four seasons for the Pistons, but he played a major role during their 1989 championship season.

    He was the starting power forward during the playoffs in 1987, 1988 and 1989. He averaged over five points and five rebounds during the 1989 playoffs.

    His numbers were not flashy, but he was part of one of the best defensive front lines in team history, along with Dennis Rodman and Bill Laimbeer.

    Mahorn played 1117 games in his 18-year career, scoring 7,763 points and grabbing 6,957 rebounds. 

23. Curtis Rowe

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    Curtis Rowe was one of the best rebounding forwards in Piston’s history. 

    The No. 11 overall pick in the 1971 draft averaged at least 10 points and six rebounds per game in his five seasons with the Pistons while playing next to Bob Lanier. 

    He missed just three games total in his time with the team, in an era without modern training staffs.

    Rowe was part of the most successful stretch of Lanier’s time in Detroit, making three-consecutive playoff appearances (1974-76), including two trips to the second round.


22. Kelly Tripucka

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    Kelly Tripucka played just five seasons in Detroit, but he was one of the best scoring wings in franchise history.

    He led the team in scoring twice, in 1983 and 1984. His 21.6 points per game as a Pistons ranks fifth all-time. 

    He averaged at least 19 points and four boards per game in each season, despite just average athleticism.

    He made two All-Star teams in his career (1982 and 1984), but he was traded before the Pistons had their major playoff success of the late 80s.

21. Jerry Stackhouse

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    Jerry Stackhouse played less than five full seasons in Detroit, but he was still one of the most prolific scorers in franchise history.

    His 29.8 points per game in 2000-01 is the most in Pistons history, and his 22.1 scoring average ranks third. His only career All-Star appearances came in 2000 and 2001.

    He made three playoff appearances with Detroit, getting to the second round in 2002, but he was traded to the Washington Wizards prior to the 2002-03 season, when the Pistons started their run of six-consecutive conference finals appearances.

    Stackhouse had very good individual seasons for the Pistons, but he played during a rebuilding period. For many he will be better remembered for who he was traded for than what he did in Detroit.

20. Gene Shue

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    One of the early stars of the Pistons was a guard from the University of Maryland, Gene Shue.

    He began his career with the team in 1957, their final year in Fort Wayne. He was the team’s leading scorer in his third and fourth seasons.

    He made five-consecutive All-Star games from 1958-1962, and was named to All-NBA teams in 1960 and 1961. He ranks 10th in Pistons history in assists.

    Shue was a great all-around point guard, and averaged 14.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game in his career.

19. Dave DeBusschere

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    Dave DeBusschere was born in Detroit, went to high school at Austin Catholic there, attended the University of Detroit Mercy, then was drafted by the Pistons in the 1962 draft.

    The Hall of Famer played six full seasons with the team before being traded to the New York Knicks in 1968.

    He averaged at least 12 points per game in every season but one, and was their leading rebounder from 1966-68. He is currently the 6th-leading rebounder in franchise history with 4,947. He is also tied for fifth in total triple doubles with three.

    He made three All-Star teams with the Pistons, but he was unable to win a championship until he joined the Knicks.

18. John Long

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    Romulus, Mich. native and Detroit Mercy graduate, John Long played 10 seasons with his hometown team. 

    The shooting guard averaged 14.8 points per game with the Pistons, and currently ranks as the 10th overall career leader in points scored. 

    He was traded to the Seattle Supersonics in 1986, but was re-signed in February of 1989. He was past his prime at that point in his career, but he was still able to come off the bench and help the Pistons win their first title in franchise history.

17. Bailey Howell

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    Bailey Howell, the No. 2 overall pick in 1959, was one of the original great Pistons big men.

    He led the team in scoring four times in the ‘60s (1961-64), and his 21.1 points per game ranks 6th on the all-time list.

    And although he was just 6’7”, he led the team in rebounding in three of his five seasons (1961-63), and is 7th on their all-time list.

    He made four All-Star teams and four playoff appearances with Detroit, but he never won a championship until he went to the Boston Celtics.

16. Rasheed Wallace

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    Acquiring Rasheed Wallace before the 2004 trade deadline proved to be just what the Pistons needed to become a championship contender.

    He averaged 13 points during the run to their third NBA championship, but it was what he did on the defensive side of the ball that was most important. He averaged 7.8 rebounds and two blocks per game during the postseason, and spent time defending both Shaquille O'Neal and Karl Malone.

    Wallace averaged at least 12 points per game in each season with the Pistons, where he helped them make six-straight playoff appearances.

    He left as a free agent after the 2009 season, but he has returned to Detroit as an assistant coach this summer. He is top 10 in franchise history in made three-pointers and blocked shots.

15. Lindsey Hunter

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    Lindsey Hunter may not have been a starter for the majority of his Pistons career, but he was one of the best defensive guards in franchise history.

    He played much more during his first stint with the team (1993-2000), but he played the best defense of his career during the 2004 championship run.

    He came off the bench and provided pesky full-court defense against opposing point guards. Opposing teams scored 90 points per possession when he was on the court, the lowest number of any Pistons guard.

    Hunter played the sixth most games in franchise history, and ranks in the top ten in made threes (3rd), steals (4th) and assists (9th).

14. Grant Hill

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    The best six seasons of Grant Hill’s career came in a Pistons uniform. 

    The 1995 co-Rookie of the Year (with Jason Kidd) averaged at least 19 points, six rebounds and five assists each year. His all-around statistical accomplishments led to five All-Star game appearances and five selections to All-NBA teams (one 1st).

    It appeared that Hill was poised to become one of the best players in NBA history when he left as a free agent for the Orlando Magic in 2000. Instead, a series of injuries left him unable to duplicate the success he had in Detroit.

    In 1999-00, Hill played one of the best individual seasons in Pistons history (25.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.4 steals per game), and he ranks top 10 all-time in scoring average (4th), assists (5th), steals (7th) and points (8th). But his Pistons teams were just 236-224, and they never advanced past the first round of the playoffs. His individual greatness never translated into team success.

13. Dave Bing

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    Dave Bing was the Pistons’ best guard in their first 20 years as a franchise.

    He led the team in scoring five consecutive seasons (from 1967-71), and assists in each of the nine seasons he was with the team (1967-75).

    His 22.6 scoring average is second best in team history, and he is fourth all time in total points. He also ranks third in total assists. 

    Unfortunately for Bing he played during one of the worst stretches in team history. He played for only one team with a winning record (1973-74), and only reached the playoffs three times.

12. Mark Aguirre

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    The addition of Mark Aguirre before the 1989 trade deadline helped the Pistons win their first two championships.

    He started at small forward during the 1989 playoffs, averaging over 12 points and four rebounds per game. In 1990 he primarily came off the bench, but still averaged 11 points per game.

    Aguirre made three All-Star teams with the Dallas Mavericks before getting traded, but he was better suited as a complementary player on a championship-level team.

    He averaged 20 points and five rebounds over his entire career.

11. Vinnie Johnson

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    Vinnie Johnson provided crucial bench scoring for the Pistons during their 1989 and 1990 championship runs.

    He averaged 14 points in 22 minutes per game in the 1989 playoffs, for a PER of 19. He was the perfect third guard to play alongside Joe Dumars and Isiah Thomas.

    Johnson played with the team for 10 seasons, and they made the playoffs a fantastic eight times during his tenure. 

    He ranks all time in games played, 6th in assists, 6th in steals and 7th in points. He never made an All-Star team, but Johnson is one of the best role players in Pistons history.

10. Tayshaun Prince

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    Tayshaun Prince never made an All-Star team, but he gave the Pistons more than 10 seasons of incredibly consistent play on both ends of the court.

    Excluding a rookie season where he averaged just 10.4 minutes, Prince averaged at least 10 points, four rebounds and three assists per game. He played at least 78 games in all but two of those seasons, averaging at least 32 minutes in each campaign.

    He was in just his second season during the 2004 championship run, but Prince gave the Pistons elite perimeter defense with his 7'2" wingspan. He was named to the All-NBA Defensive team each of the four seasons following their championship.

    Prince was shipped to Memphis at the 2013 trade deadline, but he left with the fifth-most games played in Pistons history, and as the eight-leading scorer. He is also top-10 in three-pointers made and blocked shots.

9. Richard 'Rip' Hamilton

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    When Stackhouse was traded to the Washington Wizards for Rip Hamilton in 2002, many thought the Pistons were taking a step back. Stackhouse was three years older, but he was also a proven All-Star talent, and Hamilton had yet to reach that point.

    Stackhouse lasted just two seasons in Washington, and struggled with injuries the rest of his career—he played 60 games or more just twice during the last 12 seasons.

    Hamilton played with the Pistons for nine seasons, averaging at least 17 points per game eight times.

    He was the leading scorer on the 2004 championship team, and helped lead the Pistons to six-consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference finals (2003-2008). He made all three of his All-Star appearances during that stretch (2006-2008).

    Hamilton left Detroit in 2011, and finished his career ranked No. 6 in scoring in Pistons history. He is also top-10 in steals and three-pointers made. 


8. George Yardley

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    George Yardley was the first great player in Pistons history.

    He was drafted No. 7 overall in 1950 to the Fort Wayne Pistons, and played four seasons in there before the team moved to Detroit. 

    He was a great scorer on the wing, averaging 19.2 points during his career. In 1958 he led the NBA with 27.8 points per game.

    He made six consecutive All-Star games, from 1955-1960. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1966.

7. Bob Lanier

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    Bob Lanier was the greatest low-post scorer in Pistons history.

    He led the team in scoring seven-consecutive seasons, from 1972-79, and his 22.7 point per game is still the best career mark of any Piston. He ranks third on the all-time points list, put he played 337 and 298 games fewer than the top two.

    He wasn’t a slouch on the other end of the court, either, ranking second with 8,063 rebounds and third with 859 blocks.

    Lanier played during a weak period in Pistons history, and never made it past the second round of the playoffs. A lack of postseason success is the only knock on his Hall of Fame career.

6. Dennis Rodman

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    The Pistons have had many great defensive players in their history, but perhaps none was better than Dennis Rodman.

    The Hall of Fame forward played his first seven seasons in Detroit, and was the best defender on their 1989 and 1990 championship teams.

    He played both forward positions offensively, but was used defensively to cover players at all five positions. He won Defensive Player of the Year awards in 1990 and 1991, and was named NBA All-Defensive 1st team five-straight times from 1989-93. 

    He led the NBA in rebounding for seven-straight seasons from 92-98, the first two coming with the Pistons. His top mark came with them in 1991-92, when he averaged 18.7 per game.

    Rodman would go on to win three more championships with the Bulls (1996, 1997 and 1998), but he played some of the basketball of his career in a Pistons uniform.


5. Chauncey Billups

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    When Chauncey Billups signed with the Pistons as a free agent in 2002, it was his sixth team in as many seasons. He missed significant portions of the 1998-99 and 1999-00 seasons, and it seemed like he would never live up to the expectations that came with being the No. 3 overall pick in the 1997 draft.

    Instead, he played in at least 70 games in each of his six full seasons with the Pistons, averaging over 16 points per game each year (his previous career high had been 13.9). 

    Billups' first season with Detroit marked their first trip to the Eastern Conference finals in twelve years, but it was just the beginning of the success he would have with the Pistons. They never failed to make the conference finals in his tenure with the team.

    The highlight of his career was the 2004 NBA Finals victory over the Lakers, a performance that earned him MVP honors. He averaged 21 points and 5.2 assists per game during the series, shooting 51 percent from the field.

    Billups made three All-Star teams with the Pistons (2006-08), and was named to All-NBA teams in 2006 and 2007. He has hit the second-most three-pointers in Pistons history (876), and also ranks among the top 10 in assists and made free throws.

    He signed a two-year deal in free agency to re-join the team, giving him the opportunity to move up those leaderboards and retire a Piston.

4. Bill Laimbeer

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    Not only was he one of the greatest enforcers in NBA history, but Bill Laimbeer was also one of the best big men in Pistons history.

    He was a hard-nosed defender that protected the paint and was willing to mix it up with anyone. His physical play exemplified the ‘Bad Boys’ era.

    What many people don’t remember is that Laimbeer was an elite rebounder. He led the team every season from 1983-89, even leading the league in 1986 with 13.1 per game. 

    He has the most rebounds in franchise history, and ranks in the top 10 in games played (3rd), blocks (4th) and points (5th).

    And to this day, Chicago Bulls fans still despise him.

3. Ben Wallace

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    Not much was expected from Ben Wallace when the Pistons acquired him from the Magic in 2000 (along with Chucky Atkins) for Hill. But during his first six seasons in Detroit he became the premier interior defender in the NBA.

    He won four Defensive Player of the Year awards during that stretch (2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006), made five All-NBA Defensive teams and played in four All-Star games. He led the league in rebounds twice (2001 and 2003), blocks once (2002) and defensive win shares four times (2002-05).

    Most importantly, his interior defense was crucial to the Pistons' 2004 championship run. He averaged 14.3 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 1.9 steals during those playoffs, and opponents scored just 84 points per 100 possessions when he was on the court, four points better than any other Piston. 

    After stints in Chicago and Cleveland, he returned to Detroit in 2009 for the final three seasons of his career, although he was a shell of his former self. He is currently the Pistons' all-time leader in blocked shots, and ranks second in steals and third in rebounds.

    Wallace exemplified what it meant to be a Piston, playing defense with strength, hustle and toughness. Even with almost no offensive talent, he ranks as one of the best the franchise has seen.

2. Joe Dumars

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    Joe Dumars was part of one of the backcourts in NBA history, and helped lead the Pistons to back-to-back championships.

    He was fantastic during their title runs, averaging at least 17 points and four assists in each postseason. He averaged 15.6 points and 4.6 assists in his 112 career playoff games.

    As important to his legacy was that he played each of his 14 seasons with the Pistons, where he is the career leader in games played with 1,018.

    His name is all over the top of their record books. He has made the most three pointers in franchise history, is second in both points and assists, and is third in steals.

    Dumars is a Hall of Famer, the architect of the 2004 championship team, a six-time All-Star and made five All-NBA Defensive teams. He is one of the greatest to ever wear a Pistons uniform.

1. Isiah Thomas

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    Isiah Thomas was the best player during their first two championships, and is the best player in franchise history.

    He is one of the greatest ever to play the position, and was elected to the Hall of Fame.

    He played all 13 of his NBA seasons with the Pistons, and was named to 12 All-Star teams. He was named to five All-NBA teams as well.

    During the 1989 playoff run he averaged 18.2 points, 8.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.6 steals. He was even better in 1990, averaging 20.5 points, 8.2 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 2.2 steals.

    His name covers their all-time record book. He is first in points (18,822), assists (9,061) and steals (1,861). He is also in the top 10 scoring average, games played, three pointers made and rebounds.

    There is no greater player in Detroit Pistons history.