For Better or Worse: The Most Memorable Draft Moments in Pistons History

Geoffrey RobinsonContributor IJune 19, 2009


There is nothing more simple, yet complicated, in the world of sports than the annual player draft. A franchise can make or break themselves for years to come with the selection of one pick.

The Detroit Pistons have been on both ends of that spectrum. From Isiah Thomas to Darko Milicic, we examine the five Pistons draft day moments that shaped the franchise for better or worse.


Best Pick: Isiah Thomas (1981, No. 2 Overall)

Without a doubt, the greatest player in the history of the franchise. Isiah Thomas was one of the premier point guards of all-time.

Coming off a National Championship at Indiana in just his sophomore year, Thomas decided to take off for greener pastures in the NBA. The league took notice when the little big man started making other players look silly on the basketball court.

He was the engineer of the "Bad Boy" Pistons of the late 80s and early 90s. You rarely saw him throwing down with opposing players, and that was because he was the quiet ring leader. He had his minions (Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn) do the dirty work for him.

Thomas had an edge about him. It was an edge the city of Detroit could identify with. He wasn't going to take flack from anyone. He led his Pistons to back to back championships, and was the captain of the team for over a decade. All he wanted to do was win. 

"Zeke," as he was commonly known, was a different breed of basketball player. But he was a different breed that was amazing to watch. Memories of a hobbled Thomas from Game Six of the 1988 NBA Finals stick out in my mind when I think of this man. He didn't mind putting other people on his shoulders when need be. His will, his smile, and his pure grit and determination led to him becoming the greatest Detroit Piston of all-time.


Biggest Steal: Joe Dumars (1985, No. 18 Overall)

I had someone else in mind for this title when I first started to sit down and hammer out this editorial. But then I thought about it a little more, and I realized that the pick of Joe Dumars with the 18th overall selection may have paid just as big of dividends for this franchise as Thomas.

Dumars came from a small school, and flew under the radar entering the NBA Draft. But it was the pairing of him with Thomas in the Pistons backcourt that would lead the team to consecutive NBA Championships. 

The clutch shooting and lock-down defense Dumars displayed on the court was thing of beauty, and a coach's dream. There wasn't much this guy could not do. Til' this day, Michael Jordan will tell anyone the hardest time he ever had on a basketball court was when he was matched up with Dumars.

The soft-spoken Pistons guard was featured on the cover of a 1989 Sports Illustrated issue, with the headline reading, "Can Any Stop Michael? Of Course Not, but Joe Dumars and the Pistons Come Closest."

After his playing career, Dumars took the reigns of the Pistons by becoming VP of Basketball Operations. His insight into the game is what led to the formation of the 2004 NBA Champions, a core group which also went to six-straight Eastern Conference Championships. He has had a big hand in all three World Championships in franchise history, and that makes him the biggest steal at number 18.


Worst Pick: Darko Milicic (2003, No.2 Overall)

Worse draft pick in NBA history? Close.

The number two pick in the draft fell into the Pistons' laps in 2003. Coming off the first of six-straight appearances in the Conference Finals, a trade for Otis Thorpe in years prior entitled the Pistons to the Grizzlies' second overall pick. It was almost impossible to go wrong, seeing as this has been the best draft class of this decade.

Somehow, Dumars made a mistake. After Lebron James was taken first overall, Dumars had his pick of the litter at No. 2. He could have gone with Carmelo Anthony, who was fresh off leading a Syracuse team to a National Championship in just his freshmen season. Dwyane Wade, a future NBA Finals MVP and a thorn in the Pistons back was there as well. So was Chris Bosh, a guy who played the same style as Milicic, but was much more polished.

Dumars went with the project, and may have ruined a chance for the Pistons to compete for an NBA Championship for 10-15 straight years. Chauncey Billups is now playing great basketball with Anthony in Denver. Does anybody doubt they would both still be on Detroit had Dumars pulled the trigger on Carmelo?

You can't blame Milicic for his shortcomings. The kid had nowhere to go when he arrived in Detroit. Being a project wasn't going to get you playing time on a Championship team. Thus, Milicic was never able to develop his game and would eventually just drift off into NBA obscurity. 

The Pistons are now heading the way of obscurity themselves. Because of this one pick. Had it been made for Anthony, Wade, or Bosh, we could be talking about a dynasty in Detroit that would rival all but the Celtics of the 1960s.

Lankiest Pick: Tayshaun Prince (2002, No. 23 Overall)

The man who made THE PLAY. Tayshaun Prince's rejection of Reggie Miller in the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals propelled the Pistons to the NBA Finals, where they would dust off the Lakers in five games.

Prince had a solid college career, but NBA scouts shied away from him because they felt he didn't have the bulk to hold up at this level. Little did they know at the time that his long arms, speed, and basketball IQ would go a long way into making him one of the NBA's premier defenders.

Prince didn't play much in the regular season of his rookie campaign. But with the Pistons trailing three games to one against the Orlando Magic in the First Round of the Playoffs, Head Coach Rick Carlisle had to tinker with the lineup. He hoped Prince's length would bother Tracy McGrady. That proved to be the right move that would lead the Detroiters to three straight victories and their first of six straight Conference Finals appearances.


Splashiest Pick: Grant Hill (1994, No. 3 Overall)

Now some people may disagree with the face that Hill is on this list, considering he never won a title with the Pistons. But, just hear me out.

Hill took the NBA by storm when he entered the league, sharing Rookie of the Year honors with Jason Kidd. He was a slasher that could get to the bucket whenever he wanted.

He carried the Pistons on his back through most of the 90s. He had a certain star power about him that had people in the media dubbing him the "next Michael Jordan." Injuries would keep him from living up to that potential.

Hill was a star in Detroit. You won't find an avid Pistons fan who doesn't have great memories of the former Duke star in a Pistons uniform. When he left for Orlando in 2000, the city was crushed.

What we did not realize at the time, was the great favor he was doing the Pistons organization. He never returned to his all-star form, and in return for him leaving, the Pistons got Ben Wallace, a key component in their championship run, in a sign-and-trade deal with the Magic. That fact alone stands to reason why the drafting of Grant Hill will forever live on in Detroit Pistons lore.