Great by Any Measure

Numbers support the eye test: Isiah, Joe D the greatest Pistons

Even the most casual basketball fan wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars are central to some of the greatest moments in Pistons history. The record book underscores just how big a part of franchise lore they remain even 17 years after Isiah last suited up and 12 years since Joe D retired.

Points scored? Isiah is still comfortably at No. 1 with 18,822 and Joe D is right behind him at No. 2 with 16,401. They’re also 1-2 in games played (Joe D 1,018, Isiah 979), minutes (Isiah 35,516, Joe D 35,139), assists (Isiah 9,061, Joe D 4,612) and steals (Isiah 1,861, Joe D 902).

In field goals (Isiah 7,194, Joe D 5,994), field-goal attempts (Isiah 15,904, Joe D 13,026), free throws (Isiah 4,036, Joe D 3,423) and free-throw attempts (Isiah 5,316, Joe D 4,059), Isiah ranks No. 1 and Joe D No. 3.

The Bad Boys needed all of the amazing depth Jack McCloskey stockpiled, they needed the hard edge that players like Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn provided, they needed the defensive infusion provided by Dennis Rodman and John Salley and they needed the coaching panache Chuck Daly brought to the equation.

But the single most problematic challenge the Pistons presented the opposition was their backcourt – two All-Stars, two future Hall of Famers, dynamic and complementary on both ends of the floor: Isiah the fearless penetrator and deft setup man whose quickness set him apart, Joe D the gifted deep shooter but also the crafty driver who used strength and deception to score inside; defensively, Isiah’s daring disruptive to the opposition’s half-court offense, Joe D’s relentless consistency suffocating the game’s great wing scorers of the era.

Dumars was a four-time All-Defensive first-team selection and he and Rodman clearly were the two individual standout defenders. But defense was a state of mind for the Bad Boys. The individual brilliance of defenders like Rodman and Dumars aside, the whole of their defense was greater than the sum of its parts. And no team can play great defense without its point guard playing a key role. Isiah’s greatest contribution to the defense the Bad Boys played was his competitive intensity. Yeah, fundamentally you could question whether he gambled too much, but he lit the fuse.

When that team was at its peak, they were masters at knowing when to ratchet up their play and blow the doors off the opposition in the blink of an eye. Even in the early rounds of the playoffs, when the opponent was Indiana or Milwaukee or somebody clearly not a title threat, the Pistons would often win those games by dominating for a three- or four-minute stretch, and as often as not those stretches were sparked by their perimeter defenders – Isiah and Joe D and Rodman.

Numbers almost never provide a complete picture of a player’s value and that holds where Isiah and Joe D are concerned, as well. The numbers don’t speak to Isiah’s phenomenal pain threshold or Joe D’s mental toughness or their shared capacity to bear up under the most withering pressure. But the numbers say plenty about them. Closing in on two decades since they last played together in arguably the NBA’s greatest backcourt ever, the numbers say they were the two greatest Pistons ever.


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