The Detroit Pistons have a rich history as a franchise, dating back to 1948. In that time, the Pistons have amassed some of the best teams in NBA history and had many stars littered on their rosters. I am going to go through the best Pistons players in the history of the storied franchise, and explain why players are ranked where they are.
There are plenty of amazing players that have played for the Pistons, and differentiating between some of these players can be difficult, and people have their own opinions on some of these players. I will look at stats as well as their impact on the franchise as a whole to assess these players. There will also be some personal bias for some of my childhood heroes towards the bottom of the rankings because I didn’t watch the old guys play.
1. Isiah Thomas (1982-1994)
Isiah Thomas was the star player of the Bad Boys era Pistons teams of the late 80s and early 90s. He is undoubtedly the most important player in franchise history because he led the Pistons to two out of three franchise championships and established Detroit among the other dominant teams of his era.
Standing at just 6’0, Isiah Thomas is pound-for-pound one of the most talented players in NBA history. He had the quickness and dribbling ability to beat any defender off the dribble and the strength to finish around the rim in an era where you got punished attacking the rim as a guard night in and night out. For his career, Thomas averaged 19.3, 9.3 assists, and 1.9 steals per game, leading to two titles and an easy Hall of Fame selection.
Thomas gained the reputation as a villain amongst the NBA’s stars during the 90s. The Pistons played a tough brand of basketball, beating up the other team’s players, and Thomas was the ring leader of the tough-nosed defense. Teams like the Celtics, Bulls, Cavaliers, and Lakers all hated the Pistons, making them the most disliked team in basketball.
And instead of caving to the pressure, Thomas and the Pistons embraced their image and were called the Bad Boys. They punished teams and were led by Thomas and his running mate, Joe Dumars, on offense. They ended the Celtics dynasty with Larry Bird in 1988 and then defeated the Lakers and Trail Blazers in 1989 and 1990 to win the NBA championship in back-to-back years. Thomas was the unquestionable star of those teams and is the most important player ever to wear a Pistons jersey.
2. Dave Bing (1966-1975)
At 2, we are going back even further into Pistons history to Dave Bing, Prior to Isiah Thomas, Dave Bing was Mr. Detroit and the face of Pistons basketball. Detroit was unsuccessful during his tenure, having only two winning seasons while Bing was on the team, but that did not stop him from cooking his opponents 24/7. For his career, Bing averaged 22.6 points, 6.4 assists, 4.2 rebounds a game from the shooting guard position, and carried a Pistons team that lacked talent around him.
Bing was the rookie of the year in 1967 and followed that up with back-to-back first-team All-NBA appearances during his second and third year. During his sophomore season, Bing led the NBA in scoring with 27 points a game.
Bing’s post-NBA career might be more impressive than his NBA career. After retiring, Bing went on to found his own company, Bing Steel, which later grew into Bing Group, one of the largest Steel manufacturers in Michigan. In 2008, Bing announced he was running for Mayor of Detroit and was elected into office in 2009.
3. Joe Dumars (1985-1999)
Joe Dumars may have played as the second fiddle to Isiah Thomas for most of his career, but he still comes in 3rd on the list of Pistons greats. Dumars is one of the most prolific scorers in the franchise and NBA history, and ranks second all-time in Pistons scoring and holds the record for career made 3s.
He joined a relatively strong Pistons team in 1985 that had pieces of the Bad Boys and elevated them to a championship contender within a few years. He was a change of pace alongside Thomas’ lightning-quick speed and thrived off the open looks created by him. Dumars was another key anchor of the Bad Boys’ amazing defense, and often guarded the opposing team’s best wing player. He was an amazing on-ball defender that had great instincts guiding him.
After retiring, Dumars entered the business side of the franchise and eventually took over as GM in 2000. Dumars was instrumental in the construction of the 2004 Pistons team that won the NBA title and dominated the Eastern Conference for a good part of the decade.
4. Chauncey Billups (2002-2008, 2013-14)
Billups is the first player that I truly idolized as a player growing up. The command he had over the offenses of the great Pistons teams of my childhood was mesmerizing to watch, and he always showed up in big moments for the team. Known as Mr. Big Shot, Billups owns some of the most iconic moments in the history of the Pistons and was a key member and offensive leader of the “Going to Work” Pistons, who won the 2004 NBA championship.
He led the Pistons to six straight Eastern Conference Finals during his time and Detroit, averaging 16.5 assists and 6.2 assists a game. Their offense was not the strength of the team, but the beautiful ball movement that opened up Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace was created by Billups. He was the key to that team and one of the main reasons why everything clicked in 2004 to upset the Lakers with Kobe and Shaq.
5. Bob Lanier (1970-1980)
Bob Lanier was one of the first true stars of the Pistons franchise and was the running mate with Dave Bing late in his career. He was the first overall pick by the Pistons in 1970 and averaged north of 20 points every season after his rookie year. He was an anomaly in the NBA at that time because of his ability to stretch the floor from the Center position and could have been a beast in today’s NBA.
The Pistons did not have team success with Lanier during the 70s, but that did not stop Lanier from having a tremendous amount of success. He ranks 3rd in franchise history for points, 15,488, and rebounds, 8,063, and is 4th in blocks at 859.
6. Ben Wallace (2000-2006, 2009-2012)
Ben Wallace was the anchor of the Going to Work Pistons and one of the best defenders in NBA history. As an undersized center standing 6’9, Wallace was a defensive menace in an era of dominant centers, showing he is one of the all-time greats despite his size. Wallace is a 4-time defensive player of the year, 5-time All-NBA selection.
Wallace was not great on offense, averaging 6.6 points a game and only shooting 44% from the free-throw line for his career, however he should be a lock for the Hall of Fame. He holds the franchise record for blocks, 1,486, and ranks 4th all-time in rebounds, 7,264.
He was the defensive base to the great Pistons teams of the 2000s, which are the best defensive teams in NBA history. They clamped some great offenses on the way to the title in 2004 and held the Lakers to their season-low over 5 games in a dominant finals victory. Ben Wallace was the main reason for that and helped stop Shaq in his prime to win that title.
7. Grant Hill (1994-2000)
Grant Hill was well on his way to becoming an NBA legend before injuries derailed his career after he left Detroit, However, in his first 6 seasons with Detroit, Hill was one of the most electric players in the NBA in the era after the Bad Boys and had the promise of the next major superstar in the NBA.
In his short career in Detroit, he averaged north of 20 points a game in each season with the Pistons. In his final season with Detroit. In 1999-00, Hill averaged 26 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.3 rebounds, and was a first-team All-NBA selection. He made All-NBA 5 out of the 6 years in Detroit and was a top-10 player every season he was in Detroit.
8. Dennis Rodman (1986-1993)
Dennis Rodman is considered the best rebounder of the 80s and 90s and got his start in Detroit with the bad boys. He was a tenacious defender that played in tandem with the other intimidating players in Detroit’s frontcourt, and chased every possible rebound, earning him the nickname “The Worm”.
He was versatile on defense and could guard players like Michael Jordan and Larry Bird in the playoffs to stop them on the way to the titles in 89 and 90. He was not a threat on the offensive side of the court but could get offensive rebounds consistently and kick it out for extra possessions. He led the NBA in rebounds for 9 consecutive years in the 90s after the titles with the Pistons and began the streak while in his waning years in Detroit.
9. Richard Hamilton (2002-2011)
Richard “Rip” Hamilton was the backcourt running-mate alongside Chauncey Billups on the Going to Work Pistons and was one of the most effective and underappreciated scorers of the early 2000s. Rip was a consistent 20 point a game scorer throughout the prime of his career on those great Pistons teams and was a good defensive player, contributing to those amazing Pistons defenses.
Hamilton is the best mid-range shooter I have ever watched, which doesn’t mean much now but was a massive skill when he played, He curled around screens for 18-foot jumpers and knocked them down with so much consistency in the halfcourt for the Pistons. Whenever their offense began to lag or enter a slump, Hamilton was always the one to hit a few shots to get the team going again.
He was one of the main defenders that guarded Kobe Bryant and Richard Jefferson during key series in 2004 and is overlooked as a great defender in the Pistons history. He had a mellow personality and was often overlooked because of the other personalities on those teams, but Hamilton was one of the most important players on those teams. Hamilton led the league in 3FG% twice and had one of the highest FG% of any guard during the stretch of 2002-2007.
10. Bill Laimbeer (1982-1994)
Bill Laimbeer rounds out the top 10 of the greatest Pistons of all-time and is the 4th member of the Bad Boys to appear on the list. Laimbeer was the center that anchored the Bad Boys defense and was known as an enforcer because he oftentimes leveled other players on their way to the rim. He had lots of fouls, but also played great rim defense to protect the backside of the Pistons defense. Along with Rick Mahorn and Dennis Rodman, they harassed opposing teams’ frontcourts and made life a living hell for everyone they faced.
Laimbeer holds the franchise record for Rebounds (9,430) and fouls (3,131), showing his importance to those great Pistons teams as an enforcer and player. Also, he shot 38% from 3 during their 2-year stretch as the NBA’s best and gave their offense a much-needed wrinkle to help them score.
11. George Yardley (1953-1959)
George Yardley was the first true star of the Pistons franchise while they were still located in Fort Wayne during the 1950s. In 1958, he became the first player in league history to score 2,000 points in a season and averaged 27.8 points. Yardley helped Fort Wayne to two Finals appearances in 1955 and 1956. After two years in Syracuse, he retired at the age of 31.
12. Tayshaun Prince (2002-2012)
Tayshaun Prince was an integral part of the 2004 championship team in Detroit and a face of the Going to Work Pistons along with Hamilton, Billups, and the Wallaces. Prince was known for his lockdown defense on the perimeter. He averaged 10 points, 4 assists, and 3 boards at least in every season in Detroit and made the All-NBA defensive team for 4 consecutive seasons from 2005-2008.
He has arguable the most iconic play in franchise history, where he chases down Reggie Miller to pin his shot to secure a victory in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers. Prince chased him from the other side of halfcourt when Miller was at the free-throw line preparing to dunk, and pinned his shot with less than a minute to play while Detroit was up by 2.
That play is seen as the pivotal moment of that championship campaign and turned the tide for the Pistons to win the title. In the finals, Prince was the main defended on Kobe and shut him down for 4 out of the 5 games in that series. Prince formed a formidable backcourt with Hamilton and Billups, helping form one of the better teams in the past 20 years.
13. Vinnie Johnson (1982-1991)
Vinnie Johnson is one of the best role players in NBA history and had a massive impact as a bnech player on the Bad Boys. Johnson only played 22 minutes a game during 1989 and 1990, but averaged 14 points during those championship runs. “The Microwave” was Detroit’s 6th man, and oftentimes came off the bench to provide much-needed support on offense for a team that could struggle on that end of the court.
Johnson ranks 6th all-time in assists and steals, and 7th in points in franchise history during his 10 years as a Piston. He never won any awards while in the NBA, however, Vinnie Johnson is one of the best role players in NBA history because of his impact on the Bad Boys.
14. Mark Aguirre (1989-1993)
Mark Aguirre was acquired in 1989 for all-star Adrian Dantley, in a trade that was seen as questionable at the time. Aguirre stepped perfectly into the role of starting small forward for the Pistons in 1989 and averaged 12 points and 4 boards as the 3rd option on offense. In 1990, he moved to the bench and was replaced by Dennis Rodman.
However, he and Vinnie Johnson formed a lethal bench backcourt and helped the Pistons win back-to-back titles. Over his entire career, Johnson averaged 20 points and 5 rebounds a game and was a solid role player on two great Pistons teams.
15. Rasheed Wallace (2004-2009)
Rasheed Wallace was acquired during the 2004 regular season and was the missing piece for the Pistons that put them over the top and helped them win the championship. Detroit had a strong core, but had a massive hole at the power forward spot and desperately needed more shooting on their roster.
During his time in Detroit, Wallace averaged 14 points and 7 rebounds a game. He played masterful defense with Ben Wallace down low and formed one of the strongest defensive frontcourts in NBA history. Wallace was also a great shooter for Detroit, shooting 35% from 3 during his years in the D. Wallace is one of my favorite players of all-time because of his massive persona and playstyle, and he did not mind telling a ref to shove it, which always earns bonus points in my rankings.
16. Dave DeBusschre (1962-1968)
Dave DeBusschre did not have the best seasons of his career in Detroit but still played meaningful time in Detroit. He began his NBA career as a member of Detroit in 1962 and was a contributing member right away for the Pistons. He averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds per game in his 7 years in Detroit. The teams in Detroit were not successful while Debusschre was there, but it was a great start to a Hall of Fame career.
17. Andre Drummond (2012-2020)
Andre Drummond was the latest star for Detroit that was tortured with teammates below his skill level. Drummond is one of the best if not the best rebounder of all-time and a strong player above the rim on offense.
Drummond is a great player but not one that is transcendent that can lead a team to victory and needed to be a second or third option for a team to be successful. He is in Cleveland now after being traded halfway through 2020 and finished as Detroit’s second-best rebounder of all-time in just 8 and a half seasons with 8,199 boards.
18. Jerry Stackhouse (1998-2002)
Stackhouse only played 5 seasons in Detroit but made a significant impact during his time as a Piston. Stackhouse had the best season of his career in 2001 with the Pistons, averaging 30 points, 5 assists, and 4 boards a game, even though the team did not make the playoffs. Stackhouse was another star who missed out on playing with some other great stars while in Detroit but put up amazing numbers while he was a Piston.
19. Lindsey Hunter (1994-2008)
Lindsey Hunter played 14 of his 16 seasons in Detroit and is a fan favorite because of his years spent as a role player in Detroit. In the 90s, Hunter played point guard with Allan Houston and Grant Hill, forming a formidable backcourt for Detroit. He was a part of the transition from those 90s teams to the great teams of the early 2000s and eventually served as the backup point guard behind Chauncey Billups in the 2004 championship run.
20. Bailey Howell (1959-1964)
Howell is one of the first great big men in the Pistons history. 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 rank 6th on the all-time list.
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 Celtics in 1965.
21. John Long (1976-1986)
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.
22. Rick Mahorn (1985-1989)
Rick Mahorn played in the frontcourt on the Bad Boys team that won the Pistons’ first title in 1989 and was a key part of establishing the Bad Boys image. 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. He guarded the other teams’ best big men on most nights and shut them down in the post.
23. Kelly Trupika (1981-1986)
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 rank 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 as a Piston, but he was traded before the Pistons had their major playoff success of the late 80s.
24. James Edwards (1989-1991)
“Buddha” was not a Piston for long, but had a tremendous impact on the Pistons franchise. In two of the three seasons as a Piston, Edwards was a key role player on championship teams before joining the Clippers. He played backup center behind Bill Laimbeer and continued his great defense while contributing 15 points per game off the bench.
25. Allen Iverson (2008-2009)
Iverson only played one season for the Pistons but is one of the best players of my childhood and I was the happiest person alive when he was traded to Detroit. Iverson’s look in a Pistons jersey is iconic and will forever be one of my favorite Pistons ever.
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