The NBA draft has come and gone, with many young basketball stars turning their lifelong dream of becoming a professional basketball player into a reality. The Detroit Pistons selected sharpshooting guard Luke Kennard on June 22nd with hopes of him fitting seamlessly into an offense in desperate need of shooting. With the main event of the draft festivities finally over, I thought I’d look back at some of the greatest players to ever don a Pistons’ jersey from the start of their careers – and for some – until the end of it. While some of these players were obvious top selections, others fell into the Pistons’ lap later in their respective drafts; however, all of them contributed to making the Detroit Pistons the historic franchise they are known as today. Handpicked by Detroit management, these are the greatest Detroit Pistons draft picks of all time:
#10. Dave Debusschere, 1962, Territorial
Debusschere, selected by his hometown Detroit Pistons with a territorial pick, brought a well-rounded repertoire of skill when he arrived in 1962. While it can be argued that his best years were with the New York Knicks, where he played a key role in bringing the city its first two championships next to fellow Hall of Famers Willis Reed and Walt Frazier, Debusschere was solid from the jump in Detroit and eventually finished his tenure there with three straight all-star appearances. However, Debusschere was a one man team for much of his stay with Motown, as the team could only muster two playoff appearances with him leading the way, despite his impressive averages of 16.1 points and 11.2 rebounds per game through his Pistons career. Even with little team success, the late great Debusschere is remembered for his successful college career at the University of Detroit and eventually translating his talent to the city’s very own Pistons for nearly seven years.
#9. Tayshaun Prince, 2002, 23rd Overall
The lanky forward out of Kentucky came to Detroit in the midst of a team starting to build something special in 2002, and throughout his gritty twelve season career with the Pistons, he always did exactly what was asked of him; whether it be to lock down the opposing team’s best perimeter player, knock down an open three or swat away a transition layup attempt by Reggie Miller to clinch a playoff game victory, Prince went out there and did it, without hesitation. While he was never a flashy offensive weapon on the contending Goin’ to Work teams of the mid-2000’s, he was consistently a defensive monster for the Pistons, grinding his way to four all-defensive teams and contributing to countless Detroit victories, including a championship in just his second season. With modest averages of 12.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists while with the team, Prince won’t be remembered by the city as a star, but will be known for playing a huge role in bringing the team its third title and contributing to countless conference finals runs.
#8. Kelly Tripucka, 1981, 12th Overall
When Tripucka burst onto the scene in Detroit in 1981, the scoring forward was quickly recognized as the newest star wing in Motown since Dave Debusschere, putting up averages of nearly 22 points and over five rebounds in just his rookie season. Coming into the league with star guard Isiah Thomas didn’t hurt either, as the duo eventually made the team consistent playoff contenders after a couple seasons spent together. However, after five years donning Pistons’ red, white and blue and the organization feeling like the franchise was ready to contend, the team shipped him to Utah for established superstar Adrian Dantley. After being sent west, Tripucka was never the same player, struggling with injuries in Salt Lake City before he was eventually forced into an early retirement. While he didn’t stay for too long , Tripucka had some memorable years in Detroit and was an integral part of the team during the dawn of the Bad Boys era.
#7. George Yardley, 1950, 7th Overall
Yardley became a lesser known legend for the Pistons (the Fort Wayne Pistons, to be exact) when he was drafted seventh in the 1950 NBA draft. He led the team to a playoff appearance in every season he was there (although he did not make his debut until 1953) while dominating the league throughout the ’50’s, even becoming the first player in league history to score 2,000 points in a season in the team’s inaugural campaign in Detroit. Including the aforementioned 1957-58 season, Yardley put up averages of 19 points and 9 rebounds per game with the Pistons, earning six all-star berths and was named to an all-NBA member twice along with being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996. Yardley was one of the first stars in the league for not only the Pistons, but the entire NBA, and was a steal at #7 considering the lack of basketball talent so early in the league’s lifespan.
#6. Grant Hill, 1994, 3rd Overall
After finishing a star-studded collegiate career at Duke, Hill’s expectations were through the roof, even being touted to be the heir to Michael Jordan; and while no one can really compare to His Airness, Hill did not disappoint during his time in Detroit. Needing a successor to Isiah Thomas, who had recently retired prematurely after a struggle with injuries, the Pistons selected Hill at #3 in the 1994 NBA draft, and he justified their selection immediately, sharing Co-ROTY honors with Suns’ guard Jason Kidd and doing everything for the team: scoring, distributing the ball, rebounding, and defending. Hill was then given the keys to the franchise, and did what he could with a team looking to work its way back to contention, leading Detroit to four playoff appearances in his six seasons before a blockbuster deal sent him to Orlando for the unknown commodity known as Ben Wallace. After being shipped south, Hill would battle injuries the rest of his career and would never build on the super-stardom he had gained in the Motor City. While he would never become the Hall-of-Fame caliber player that he was expected to be, he brought excitement and energy to the Pistons between the Bad Boys and Goin’ to Work eras, and eventually became a key trading piece that acquired the heart and soul of the Pistons’ defense throughout the early and mid-2000’s.
#5. Dennis Rodman, 1986, 27th Overall
Rodman was an absolute stud in college, averaging a monster 24 points and 17 rebounds per game as a senior, but many teams decided to pass on the raw forward, thinking that his stats were possibly inflated due to him attending the small university of Southern Oklahoma State. In the second round of the 1986 draft, the Detroit Pistons decided to take a chance on Rodman, and the rest is history. “The Worm”, as he came to be known, helped bring the city of Detroit its first two NBA titles in their history from his ability to snatch rebounds at a superhuman rate along with his impeccable defense. While with the Pistons, he became a 2-time All-Star, a 2-time Defensive Player of the Year, and 2-time rebounding champ, (7-time overall) and was always the hardest worker on the court. Even while with teams such as San Antonio and Chicago, Rodman continued to prove the doubters wrong, making teams regret passing on him as he’d consistently tally 20 rebound nights on the league’s best big men. Rodman will forever be remembered as one of the biggest draft steals in NBA history and arguably the best second rounder of all-time, along with being a defensive backbone to the Bad Boys teams of the late-80’s and early-90’s.
#4. Dave Bing, 1966, 2nd Overall
Bing was arguably the first player that really became known as a “Detroit Pistons legend” as he spent nearly a decade with the team and had impeccable individual success. In just his first season, Bing averaged over 20 points, 4.5 rebounds and four assists en route to becoming the 1967 Rookie of the Year. With an already impressive rookie year on his resume, Bing didn’t stop there as he solidified himself as one of the best young stars in the league increasing his scoring numbers to 27 points and his assist numbers to over six per game. While this was his best season as a Piston, his production didn’t stagger, as he consistently averaged around 20 points and at least 5+ dimes for the rest of his career in the Motor City. Unfortunately, even after being paired with one of the league’s best big men when Bob Lanier came to town in 1970, Bing was never able to capture that elusive championship in Detroit, one of the only blemishes on his otherwise impressive resume. Due to him playing during an era in which the NBA was at arguably its lowest point, Bing is widely unknown to most, but nonetheless was one of the best players in the league during his tenure.
#3. Bob Lanier, 1970, 1st Overall
Speaking of Bob Lanier, he was an easy first pick out of St. Bonaventure University for the last-place Pistons. With the help of the aforementioned Dave Bing, his beastly college numbers translated right away to the NBA, as he put averaged 16 points and 8 rebounds per game before exploding in his second campaign and becoming a superstar. A seven-time All-Star with the team, Lanier was a dominate force for the Pistons right up until the year he was traded to Milwaukee in the 1979-80 season. Probably the best center in franchise history in terms of individual dominance, the only knock against “The Dobber” when compared to the likes of other great Detroit centers such as Bill Laimbeer and Ben Wallace is the lack of championship hardware. Like Bing, Lanier, who also had his best years in the 1970’s, was another star who just has never gotten enough credit for what he could do on the basketball court. Even without the spotlight on him during his playing days like the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or the New York Knicks’ Willis Reed, Lanier was right up there with the league’s best centers during his time with Detroit.
#2. Joe Dumars, 1985, 18th Overall
While Isiah Thomas was a star from the jump in Detroit, the team wouldn’t start contending until he had the perfect backcourt running mate. In the 1985 NBA Draft, the Pistons found that player in the form of Joe Dumars, a combo guard and defensive specialist out of McNeese State, who they selected him with the 18th pick. Dumars joined a team that had already started to take the next step to contention, as they had lost in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in a hard fought six games to the Boston Celtics the year prior, but still found his niche in his rookie season, averaging a modest 9 points and 5 assists per game. That would be his first and only season averaging single digit points, as he began to take on a more prominent offensive role once the Pistons started to rise to contention. However, even with his offensive load increasing, his defensive presence did not falter, with even Michael Jordan (a frequent foe of Detroit in the playoffs) stating Dumars was the toughest defender he ever faced in his career. While he was known to most as the second fiddle to IT during the late 80’s, Dumars proved throughout his career that he was a star in his own way, piling up plenty of impressive accolades including six All-Star appearances, 3 All-NBA teams and 5 All-Defensive teams, along with helping lead the “Bad Boys” to back-to-back titles, and even winning the Finals MVP in 1989 over his superstar teammate. Dumars was a mid-first rounder that became a top five player in his draft en route to being the second half of the greatest duo in franchise history.
#1. Isiah Thomas, 1981, 2nd Overall
Thomas, who is top 10 in all-time assists, top-20 in steals, the best player in Detroit Pistons history, and a top-5 point guard all-time, was the obvious choice for #1 on this list, and was also the obvious selection at #2 in the 1981 NBA draft. Dominating the league from his rookie year, Thomas turned a Pistons franchise that had never even sniffed contention into a perennial powerhouse and was an All-Star in every year of his career sans his injury-riddled farewell campaign. “Zeke” led the blue-collared “Bad Boys” teams to two NBA titles and three NBA Finals appearances before the Hall of Fame guard was forced into an early retirement due to lingering injuries. Throughout his illustrious career, Thomas went head-to-head with some of the best point guards in league history and frequently got the best of them. If it weren’t for an unfortunate Achilles’ tear in 1994, Thomas would be getting more comparisons to Magic Johnson as the greatest point guard to ever play the game. While his play was exciting, electric and flashy, much to the approval of fans, the most important thing Thomas did was finally bring a championship culture to the city of Detroit, one that will never be forgotten.
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