The fact Isiah Thomas is one of the top NBA players of all time is not news to Detroit Pistons fans. However, exactly how high he should be ranked, compared to all the other NBA greats, is always a topic of debate. One publication has decided Thomas is the 26th best player in NBA history.
In a time when the Pistons are not making many current highlights, it is nice to look back and remember the best player in franchise history (sorry George Yardley fans).
Judging players from the past is an inexact science, as the NBA game has changed over the years. There was a time when there was no 24-second clock, and it was decades before the three-point shot was instituted. The top players are product of their time, and the rules.
Dominant centers were for many years thought to be needed to win a title, but the current emphasis on three-point shooting has ended that. The starting centers for the last two NBA champions were Brooke Lopez and a 35-year-old Dwight Howard. No one would call them dominant players at that point in their careers.
A few years ago, Andre Drummond was considered one of the premier centers in the NBA. Where did that get the Pistons?
At the other end, a great shooter like Steph Curry would not have been as big a star playing for the Warriors in, say, 1952, when there was no three-point line and no shot clock.
Curry still would have been good, but he would not have had the impact on a game as, say, George Mikan (ranked No. 35), a slow-footed center for the Lakers, but who was highly skilled.
So, comparing players from different eras can be a tough task, as different things were asked of them.
With the NBA celebrating its 75th anniversary (although some disagree with it really being the 75th), the paid subscription site The Athletic asked a panel of 15 basketball writers and editors to come up with the list of the top 75 players in NBA history.
It was recently revealed that Pistons legend Isiah Thomas was ranked No. 26 (PAID SUBSCRIPTION NEEDED).
Note: Dennis Rodman was voted No. 62 and Chris Webber was 65th, among former Pistons named so far. (Allen Iverson and Bob McAdoo, who each had brief times with Detroit, also are in it)
‘Zeke’ has plenty of credentials as an all-time great: 12 All-Star appearances, NBA Finals MVP in 1990 after averaging 27.6 points, 7.0 assists and 1.6 steals, Sporting News Rookie of the Year in 1982, a five-time All-NBA selection. Thomas, to this day is the career leader in 12 categories for the Pistons.
Thomas and Game 6 of 1988 NBA finals
His greatest moment was prominently mentioned. It is nice to remember what Thomas did in Game 6 of the 1988 NBA finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Playing on a badly sprained ankle for much of the second half, Thomas scored 25 points in the third period and had a total of 43 points to force a Game 7.
The 6-foot-1 Thomas, the second pick in the 1981 draft, brought a toughness to the Pistons that became the team’s culture, as more players of talent and similar temperament were added. The ‘Bad Boys’ made three NBA finals and won two titles (1989, 1990).
It was pointed how Detroit, before Thomas’ arrival, had been a non-contender for so long.
Detroit made the playoffs in 1984, Thomas’ third season. It was the first time in seven years that the Pistons had even been in the playoffs (and making the NBA playoffs is not that hard).
Detroit reached the 1987 Eastern Conference finals, losing to the Larry Bird-led Celtics in seven games (we will not touch on Thomas’ inbound pass at the end of Game 5). It was also the first time the Pistons made a conference final in 25 years.
(And in 1962 it was the Western finals, falling in six games to the Elgin Baylor/Jerry West Lakers. In that era, Detroit was one of the more western cities in the NBA).
It must also be pointed out that the Pistons during Thomas’ time had to beat some legendary players and teams to achieve playoff success. First it the Celtics and the Magic Johnson-led Lakers, as well as then the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls.
Alhough there were plenty of other very good players on those title teams, the Pistons took their cue from Thomas. It would be 2003 before Detroit made another conference final, using the Thomas style of play, tough defense and smart aggressive action to achieve a new era of success.
Anyone who was a Pistons fan back then does not have to be told that Isiah Thomas was one of the greatest players of all time. And those too young to see, have heard plenty about him, undoubtedly.
Isiah Thomas is one of the NBA’s greatest players, how high he is considered is something any fan can think about.