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Greg Kelser, Rod Beard rank greatest Detroit Pistons of all time

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

The Pistons franchise dates back to the 1948-49 season, with several players who made their mark in the NBA in the ensuing decades. The team has had its share of star players, including those who contributed to the three championships.

In sifting through those stars, ranking the top 10 is a challenge and an exercise in trying to differentiate between players who may not have been the league’s superstars but are fixtures in the minds of Pistons fans through the team’s heyday.

Isiah Thomas led to the Pistons to back-to-back NBA titles in 1989 and 1990.

The two championship teams — the “Bad Boys” from 1989 and 1990 and the “Goin’ to Work” squad from 2004 — are represented well, with six of the 10 players coming from those eras.

Former Piston Greg Kelser, who is an analyst for Fox Sports Detroit, provided his input and commentary on his top 10 all-time Pistons as well.

1. Isiah Thomas, guard

Seasons with Pistons: 1981-94

Pistons career stats: 19.2 points, 9.3 assists, 1.9 steals, 979 games

Accolades: Hall of Fame, Top 50 players of All Time, 1990 Finals MVP, 12-time All-Star, two-time All-Star MVP, five-time All-NBA

Beard’s take: Thomas was the backbone of the “Bad Boys” championship teams and is often underrated as one of the best point guards of all time. His performance, despite a severe ankle injury, against the Lakers in the 1988 Finals is part of Pistons lore. Thomas remains the franchise leader in points (18,822), steals (1,861) and assists (9,061). He averaged 13.9 assists in 1985 — the highest in NBA history at the time — and third-highest in league history.

Kelser’s take: Ranked No. 1. “Isiah was incredibly driven to win and to succeed, and his ability to play through pain was incredibly impressive.”

More: Isiah Thomas eager to see 'Bad Boys' portrayal in Michael Jordan docuseries

2. Dave Bing, guard

Seasons with Pistons: 1966-75

Pistons career stats: 22.6 points, 6.4 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 675 games

Accolades: Hall of Fame, Top 50 players of All Time, six-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA, 1967 rookie of the year

Beard’s take: Bing was a potent scorer and passer during a down period in the franchise. He was the No. 2 overall pick in the 1966 draft, but the Pistons had just two winning seasons during his career. In 1968, Bing was first-team All-NBA, leading the league in scoring (27.1) with 2,142 points — though Oscar Robertson led in scoring average (29.2). He still ranks fourth in franchise history in scoring (15,235 points).

Kelser’s take: Ranked No. 2. “He is class personified and every ball player in Detroit wanted to be like him.”

3. Joe Dumars, guard

Seasons with Pistons: 1985-99

Pistons career stats: 16.1 points, 4.5 assists, 38% 3FG, 1,018 games

Accolades: Hall of Fame, 1989 Finals MVP, six-time All-Star, five-time NBA All-Defense, three-time All-NBA

Beard’s take: Dumars was a quiet but effective guard who played all 14 of his seasons with the Pistons and finished as the franchise leader in games played. That’s not bad for a previously unheralded guard from McNeese State, who was taken 18th in the 1985 draft. Dumars was the perfect backcourt complement for Thomas during the "Bad Boys" era. He has the franchise record for made 3-pointers (990) and ranks second in points (16,401) and assists (4,612).

Kelser’s take: Ranked No. 4. “He had quiet grace. He was a terrific defender and a sneaky scorer; he didn’t get enough credit for his ability to score.”

4. Bob Lanier, center

Seasons with Pistons: 1970-80

Pistons career stats: 22.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2 blocks, 681 games

Accolades: Hall of Fame, seven-time All-Star, 1974 All-Star MVP

Beard’s take: Lanier was the first overall pick in the 1970 draft, though he was recovering from a knee injury from his senior year at St. Bonaventure. After his rookie season, he averaged more than 20 points per game, leading the Pistons in scoring each year. He formed an effective duo with Bing, but the two didn’t have much team success in the playoffs. He ranks third in franchise history in scoring (15,488 points) and rebounds (8,063) and fourth in blocks (859).

Kelser’s take: Ranked No. 3. “He’s underrated and unappreciated for how good he truly was. With his outside shooting range, he was a forerunner to today’s centers who can shoot from the perimeter.”

Chauncey Billups guided the franchise to its third title in 2004.

5. Chauncey Billups, guard

Seasons with Pistons: 2002-08, 2013-14

Pistons career stats: 16.5 points, 6.2 assists, 40% 3FG, 482 games

Accolades: 2004 Finals MVP, three-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA, two-time All-Defense

Beard’s take: Billups was the third overall pick in the 1997 draft but had a tough time early in his career. He found the right landing spot after signing with the Pistons as a free agent in 2002. He earned the moniker “Mr. Big Shot” for his clutch shooting and was the glue that held the “Goin’ to Work” group together, leading them to the Eastern Conference Finals six straight times.

Kelser’s take: Ranked No. 8. “Billups is a study in perseverance and self-belief; he bounced around and eventually found a niche. He proved that he could play in Minnesota and when he got to Detroit, he was ready to take off under Larry Brown and be a leader.”

More: Lions' Calvin Johnson, Pistons greats headline MSHOF ballot

6. Grant Hill, forward

Seasons with Pistons: 1994-2000

Pistons career stats: 21.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 435 games

Accolades: Hall of Fame, five-time All-Star, five-time All-NBA, 1995 rookie of the year

Beard’s take: When he was picked third in the 1994 draft, many thought Hill might be the heir apparent to Michael Jordan. He was a supernova in his Pistons career, but injuries derailed his ascent and they never got out of the first round of the playoffs. Hill averaged 20 points each season in Detroit but his later stops with the Magic, Suns and Clippers paled in comparison.

Kelser’s take: Ranked No. 5. “At his best, Hill consistently was one of the top 10 players in the league during his time with the Pistons.”

Ben Wallace had opponents fearing the 'fro during the 2000s.

7. Ben Wallace, center

Seasons with Pistons: 2000-06, 2009-12

Pistons career stats: 6.6 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 655 games

Accolades: Four-time All-Star, five-time All-NBA, four-time defensive player of the year, five-time NBA All-Defense

Beard’s take: In moving on from Grant Hill, the Pistons stumbled onto the building block for their second championship era in the little-known Wallace, who became the heart and soul of the "Goin’ to Work" squad. “Big Ben” was one of the elite defenders and rebounders of his era, and his offensive numbers may be the only hesitation in Wallace being a first-ballot selection for the Hall of Fame. He has the franchise record for blocks (1,486) and is fourth in rebounds (7,264).

Kelser’s take: Ranked No. 7. “Who knew the impact he would have on this franchise? In a lot of ways, for me, he’s the base of their championships.”

8. Dennis Rodman, forward

Seasons with Pistons: 1986-93

Pistons career stats: 8.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 549 games

Accolades: Hall of Fame, two-time All-Star, two-time defensive player of the year, five-time All-Defense

Beard’s take: “The Worm” was a second-round pick (27th overall) in the 1986 draft and helped the Pistons ascend quickly. He was an underrated part of the "Bad Boys," with his ability to defend guards like Michael Jordan and rebound with the best of the big men. He wasn’t a huge threat on offense but, like Ben Wallace, he found a place to fit in whenever he was on the court.

Kelser’s take: Ranked No. 6. “A most unusual talent. He became a different kind of superstar after he left Detroit. He was the greatest X-factor in franchise history.”

9. George Yardley, forward

Seasons with Pistons: 1953-1959

Pistons career stats: 19.1 points, 9.2 rebounds, 384 games

Accolades: Hall of Fame, five-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA

Beard’s take: Yardley was the first star in the Pistons franchise during the early days in Fort Wayne. 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.

Kelser’s take: Unranked. “He set a great example of using one’s platform to transition into life after basketball. He started his own engineering company and, by all accounts, is a great team player and a great guy.”

Bill Laimbeer was one of the most hated NBA players during his playing days.

10. Bill Laimbeer, center

Seasons with Pistons: 1982-94

Pistons career stats: 13.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 937 games

Accolades: Four-time All-Star

Beard’s take: Laimbeer was a ferocious competitor and unheralded rebounder for his era. He was ahead of his time as a perimeter-shooting center and shot a career-best 38% on 3-pointers in 1992. He holds the franchise records for rebounds (9,430) and fouls (3,131) and, along with Rick Mahorn, was the face of the "Bad Boys" unit.

Kelser’s take: Ranked No. 10. “He was super-competitive and fearless. He didn’t care if he got punched in the nose.”

Richard Hamilton, guard

Seasons with Pistons: 2002-11

Pistons career stats: 18.4 points, 3.8 assists, 631 games

Accolades: Three-time All-Star

Beard’s take: Hamilton was a consistent scorer and a nightmare inside the 3-point arc, though he led the league in 3-point shooting (46%) in 2006. His contributions are sometimes overshadowed by the bigger personalities in the "Goin’ to Work" group, but he was as important as any of them.

Kelser’s take: Ranked No. 9. “Rip was one of the game’s finest at moving without the basketball and playing in the mid-range area. He was a perfect complement to Chauncey."

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard