The Detroit Pistons have been one of the relatively more successful NBA franchises in the 21st century, appearing in six straight Eastern Conference Finals and making two Finals appearances. This includes the Pistons’ 2004 Finals triumph over the imperial Los Angeles Lakers, which was arguably the most shocking postseason upset in NBA history. In the NBA, more than any other sport, great players make for great teams, and the Pistons certainly have had their share, from defensive monsters to scoring machines, and this list features the 8 Best Pistons players since 2000.
But bookended around all that Pistons mid-00s success are bad draft picks, bizarre trades and underperforming blue-chippers who have all contributed to dragging the Detroit franchise down at times, and we’ll also take a closer, albeit disappointing, look at the 7 Worst Pistons since 2000.
Overall, the Pistons have produced mixed results since the turn of the 21st century. They seem to be on their way back to being a contender in the NBA, as Stan Van Gundy has built a solid foundation in Detroit. Still, that doesn't take away the pain many Detroit fans felt after their team's championship run in 2004 and their finals appearance in 2005.
Without further ado, let's look at the 8 best and 7 worst Detroit Pistons players since 2000.
15 Best - ANDRE DRUMMOND
Drummond represents the current Pistons, as the 2016 All-Star produces double-doubles even when Detroit goes down, as he did in the Pistons’ January 3 loss to the Pacers. As reported by CBS Sports, Drummond scored 20 points, pulled down 14 boards and threw in 2 assists, 2 blocks and a steal for good measure in only 35 minutes. The Pistons have some talent, but most nights it feels like the 6-foot-11, 23-year old is out there fending for himself. But with all that promise, Motown needs to build around the engine that is Drummond. In his fifth season, the true center is averaging 14.5 PPG and 13.6 rebounds, after pacing the NBA in boards-per-game last season at 14.8.
He is the key piece in the Pistons becoming a true force to be reckoned with.
14 Worst - ALLEN IVERSON
Iverson's listed as the least of the worst because he did somehow manage to make the All-Star game during his otherwise bland 2008-09 season in Motown, even if "The Answer's" appearance was just based on his rep and not his actual play that year. What’s worse, Iverson’s play declined noticeably when he switched teams, as he declined from 18.7 PPG with the Nuggets shooting at a decent .450 clip, to 17.4 PPG and a terrible .416 field goal average with Detroit.
Iverson also gets dumped on the wrong side of this list because the Pistons were dumb enough to trade Chauncey Billups to get him. To add insult to injury, Iverson took Billups's #1 jersey with the Pistons. Outrageous. Iverson will be remembered as a great NBA player, but not a great Detroit Piston.
13 Best - LINDSEY HUNTER
In what can't be seen as a surprise, we have our first member of the 2003-04 Pistons championship team on our list. Hunter served double-duty with Detroit, and frankly, could have made the list of best Pistons of the 1990s in addition to this tally. After playing the point from 1993-2000 with the Pistons, Hunter bounced around the league before returning just in time to switch to shooting guard and add to the defensive prowess of the 2003-04 Pistons team that sent the Lakers down to shameful defeat. Hunter gets a bonus point for inclusion due to his being a trade piece that landed the Pistons Rasheed Wallace.
The Celtics, who acquired Hunter, cut him and he immediately signed with his beloved Pistons. Hunter is truly one of the Pistons’ all-time players, averaging a solid 9.0 PPG in his twelve seasons total in Motown.
12 Worst - BRIAN CARDINAL
White men can't jump, but can they at least shoot and rebound a little? This busted second round pick (44th overall) in 2000 out of Purdue couldn't do much of either. At least Cardinal was consistent, averaging 2.1 PPG in each of his two seasons in Motown. The over-matched forward averaged a pathetic 0.8 rebounds a game, and is another case of the Pistons giving up quickly on a disappointing draft pick.
He was traded after two seasons after appearing in 23 games. Cardinal bounced around the league until 2012 and had some decent moments including being a finalist for the 2004 NBA comeback player of the year, which he lost to Zach Randolph. Sadly though, he's a footnote in the history of the Pistons.
11 Best - JERRY STACKHOUSE
Stackhouse wasn't around for the Pistons title in 2004, but when he was traded to Detroit from the Philadelphia 76ers midway through the 1997-98 season, it began to cast a light at the end of the Pistons long tunnel of the 1990s. Stackhouse averaged 23.6 points in 1999-00 and followed that up with a mind-blowing 29.8 points a game for 2000-01. The next season Stackhouse scored less, but helped lead the Pistons to 50 regular-season wins and a first round victory over the Toronto Raptors in the deciding fifth game, back when the NBA still had the first round only run five games maximum.
Of the eight franchises Stack played for in his NBA career, the Pistons were the only team for which he averaged more than 20 PPG, scoring 22.1 a game during his five years in Detroit.
10 Worst - ARRON AFFLALO
After a stellar career at UCLA, Afflalo was drafted in the first round in 2007 (27th overall) to help the Pistons maintain their hold on the NBA's Central Division. Instead the 6-foot-5 shooting guard/sometime small-forward shot a woeful .411 during his rookie campaign. Afflalo’s lasted two seasons in Detroit, only starting 17 games and averaging a total of 4.3 PPG, insufficient production from a shooting guard. He's part of a long lineup of disappointing Pistons draft picks in the mid 2000s. This was partly what led to Detroit's downfall following their back-to-back Finals appearances.
He's put together a decent journeyman's career, even averaging 18.2 points for the 2013-14 Orlando Magic, but his Detroit days are best forgotten. Affalo probably wants to remember what he accomplished in Orlando.
9 Best - TAYSHAUN PRINCE
Prince seemed aptly named, as there was a certain nobility about his game. Tayshaun, with a Durant like-frame at 6-9, came alive in the 2003 postseason for the Pistons when he actually scored more points in the playoffs (141) than he had in the regular season (137). Prince will also always be associated with "The Block", his defensive gem swat-down of Reggie Miller's layup in the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals versus the Pacers.
Prince followed that up with stalwart defense in the Finals on Kobe Bryant, who wasn't used to being played so tightly and it clearly messed with his game as the Pistons took down the Lakers in just five games. Prince logged a dozen seasons in Detroit, averaging 12.6 PPG and 4.7 rebounds.
8 Worst - AUSTIN DAYE
His last name almost literally describes his tenure with the Pistons, as the 6-foot-11 small forward was drafted by Detroit 15th overall in the 2009 NBA Draft, meaning that the Pistons passed on superior talents like Jrue Holiday and Jeff Teague. Daye showed a bit of promise his rookie season, when he posted a .464 shooting percentage. Unfortunately, that remains his career high, as he regressed to a .410 overall field-goal percentage despite getting plenty of playing time, appearing in 72 games with 16 starts. With yet another draft miss like this, it's easy to see why Detroit dipped in the standings in the late 2000s.
Daye was packaged with one of the best Pistons, Tayshaun Prince in the three-way deal in 2013 that landed Jose Calderon in Motown.
7 Best - RIP HAMILTON
Richard Clay Hamilton was a vital cog in the Piston's mid-00s team that played in back-to-back NBA Finals, almost repeating. But then,, Rip was always a winner. After leading UConn to a shocking upset of Duke in 1999, Hamilton figured he'd do the same with the Pistons over the Lakers as he actually had a higher PPG average (21.4) than Finals MVP Chauncey Billups (21.0). And who can forget Hamilton's trademark plastic face-mask that made Rip look like some kind of avenging super-hero shooting guard/small forward?
And like any great player, Hamilton got better as he got older and more experienced, as he went on to average a career high 20.1 points in 2005-06 season. Rip played nine total seasons in Motown, averaging 18.4 PPG overall.
6 Worst - RODNEY WHITE
The ninth overall pick of the 2001 draft, the 6-9 small forward/shooting guard was a Detroit disaster from the get-go, as he could never secure much playing time from then new Pistons coach Rick Carlisle, who relied on Corliss Williamson--the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year for the 2001-02 season. As a result, White only got an average of 8.1 minutes per game, which he justified with a lowly .350 shooting percentage. White only lasted one season in Detroit and only four years in the NBA. In choosing White, the Pistons passed on all-stars like Joe Johnson, Zach Randolph and Tony Parker.
The fact that he lasted just one season in Detroit, despite being a ninth overall pick, tells you all you need to know about White.
5 Best - BEN WALLACE
The Pistons' “other Wallace” is just a notch below Sheed. In fact, it could be reasonably argued Detroit's acquisition of Ben Wallace in August 2000 as part of the trade that sent Pistons' superstar Grant Hill to Orlando began the transformation of the Pistons from middle-of-the-pack team to perennial title contender by mid-decade. Cementing the credibility of the NBA's version of "Big Ben" was Wallace’s ferocious play against a seemingly unstoppable Shaquille O'Neal and the mighty three-peat champion Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals. Nobody foresaw what Wallace was able to do.
Wallace was a four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award recipient four times, a record he shares with the great Dikembe Mutombo, and played nine seasons in Detroit, averaging 11.1 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.
4 Worst - MATEEN CLEAVES
Cleaves' failure with the Pistons was made all the more disappointing because of his glories at Michigan State, but he never panned out to be the next Isiah Thomas for Detroit. Cleaves was drafted as the number 14 overall pick in the 2000 draft out of Michigan State, after the point-guard helped the Spartans take the 2000 NCAA title. At Detroit, Cleaves was give ample opportunity his rookie season, appearing in 78 games but could only manage 5.4 points and even worse, only 2.7 assists from the player who dished out 20 in his final home game in East Lansing.
Detroit traded him after one season to Sacramento for Jon Barry. He did return to the Pistons as a in-studio analyst in 2010 but that speaks more to his Michigan State cred than anything he did in Motown.
3 Best - RASHEED WALLACE
So much talent, so many technicals. As good as those Pistons teams were, it's hard to imagine them winning it all in 2004 without "Sheed". The Pistons were a very solid team when they acquired Wallace from Atlanta--after playing literally just one game with the Hawks--in February ‘04. Sheed brought a fiery toughness and a solid combo of rebounding and low-post scoring that completed the Pistons, providing them with the edge necessary to take down more established foes like the Indiana Pacers and the Lakers.
Wallace averaged 13.4 PPG and 7.2 rebounds during his six seasons in Motown, but it was his intangible win-at-all-costs mentality he brought as much as his stats that enabled those ‘04 Pistons to achieve NBA immortality. Wallace is a Pistons legend.
2 Worst - DARKO MILICIC
His very name is synonymous with bad NBA choices that turn potential Spurs-like dynasties into a fizzled franchise which is what the Pistons eventually became. When Pistons president Joe Dumars chose Milicic number two overall in 2003--bypassing Carmello Anthony and Dwyane Wade in the process--the seven-footer was seen as a link to strengthen the Pistons’ future inside game. But Milicic turned out to be more of a “missing link” because, often inexplicably, the Pistons would just rarely play him, as he averaged only 5.8 minutes a game during less than three seasons in Motown, with the Pistons eventually shipping him to the Orlando Magic.
Milicic made over $52 million during a 10-year career that would be generous to even regard as “mediocre”. There's no doubt the Pistons' eventual downfall began with Darko.
1 Best - CHAUNCEY BILLUPS
The best Piston of the 21st century is Chauncey Ray Billups--”Mr. Big Shot”, who earned his nickname as he led the Pistons to six straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances, as well as their improbable 2004 world championship triumph over the dynastic Lakers. After his disastrous start under Rick Pitino's Celtics, Billups bounced around the league like an errant shot until landing in Detroit in 2002, giving the shooting guard, who adjusted to the point position, the stability he needed to excel. Billups justified the Pistons' faith by being a five-time All-Star and most significantly, MVP of those '04 Finals.
Billups came full-circle by re-joining Detroit for his final season 2013-14, and fittingly retired as a Piston. In eight seasons total with Detroit, Billups averaged 16.5 points per game (PPG) and 6.2 assists.
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