Dave Bing

Born: November 24, 1943
Position: Point Guard and Shooting Guard
Professional Career:
Detroit Pistons (NBA): 1966-’75
Washington Bullets (NBA): 1975-’77
Boston Celtics (NBA): 1977-’78

Dave Bing warm ups

Dave Bing’s remarkable career is rather stunning. He was one of the best guards – whether shooting or point – for a decade in the NBA averaging 20 points and six assists per game. And he did that despite two horrific eye injuries. As a child Bing’s vision was marred when a nail scarred his left eye. As a professional, another eye injury, this time a detached retina, further dimmed his vision. But the injuries, remarkably, never dimmed his basketball abilities.

The prior to detaching his retina, Bing was an awesome scorer for the Detroit Pistons. He was wily and always winding with the basketball. His ability to contort while elevated in the air beguiled opponents. Whatever his official label – point, shooting, combo, whatever-guard – Bing in just his second season led the NBA in total points scored in 1967 while also finishing second in points per game with 27.1. Up through 1971, Bing averaged 24.3 points a night along with 5.7 assists.

Then came his retina injury.

The points per game for the rest of his career fell to 17.2. Bing’s passing ability, however, remained unchanged and even got better. He averaged a career-high 7.8 APG in 1973. Per 36 minutes he tallied 6.2 assists after his eye injury compared with 5.5 before. As it turns out, the same slithering attributes that made his shot hard to stop, often allowed him to pass the ball when opponents least expected it.

Bing spent the vast majority of his career with the Detroit Pistons. He represented Motown six times in the All-Star Game and in 1968 he spurred the Pistons to a 40-42 record. Doesn’t sound like much but it was the best regular season record for the franchise since 1956 when they were in Fort Wayne. In the 1968 playoffs, the Pistons lost 4-games-to-2 to the eventual champion Celtics. In the deciding Game 6, Bing scored 44 points overall including 37 in the second half and 16 of those second half points came in a blistering row.

The Pistons high-water mark in the Bing Era came in 1974 when the club won 52 games. Alongside Bob Lanier, Bing’s Pistons eventually lost to the Chicago Bulls in the Western Conference Semi-Finals by 2 points in the Game 7. That achievement would be the best regular season and playoff showing for the Detroit Pistons until the Bad Boys game around a dozen years later.

From there the Pistons declined and Bing was traded to the Washington Bullets. His chance at an NBA title never seemed higher, initially at least, when he joined the Bullets. Washington had appeared in the 1975 NBA Finals, losing to Golden State. They hoped Bing was another, if not final, piece toward securing the championship. Dave made one final All-Star appearance in 1976. He made it worth his while snagging the game’s MVP.

However, the Bullets would be bounced in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in both of Bing’s seasons with the franchise. And by the end of the 1977 postseason, it was clear Bing was diminished considerably. He finally ended his career in 1978 with the Boston Celtics.

Twice he averaged 27 points in a season and twice he was named to the All-NBA 1st Team. Unfortunately, Bing never achieved the ultimate team glory, but his wizardry with the ball was a spellbinding sensation. All the more remarkable considering he did it all with a bad eye. Makes you wonder what might have happened if both his eyes were 100% healthy.

Accolades

2x All-NBA 1st Team (1968, 1971)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1974)
7x All-Star (1968-’69, 1971, 1973-’76)
All-Star Game MVP (1976)
Rookie of the Year (1967)
All-Rookie Team (1967)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (901 games):
20.3 PPG, 6.0 APG, 3.8 RPG, 1.3 SPG
.502 TS%, .441 FG%, .775 FT%
17.6 PER, .101 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (31 games):
15.4 PPG, 4.3 APG, 2.7 RPG, 0.6 SPG
.470 TS%, .423 FG%,  .748 FT%
15.6 PER, .067 WS/48

George Yardley

Born: November 3, 1928
Died: August 13, 2004
Position: Small Forward
Professional Career:
Fort Wayne Pistons (NBA): 1953-’57
Detroit Pistons (NBA): 1957-’59
Syracuse Nationals (NBA): 1959-’60
Los Angeles Jets (ABL): 1961-’62

George Yardley
George Yardley

The one thing I’m most proud of as a coach is playing Yardley. He became the first player to score 2,000 points in a season, and he was such a skinny, chalky-white bastard that you thought he was dying from malnutrition.

– Fort Wayne Pistons coach Charley Eckman in Tall Tales

George Yardley was indeed the first player to score 2000 points in an NBA season. The Bird, as the fleet forward was called, pulled off the feat in the 1957-58 season. In the final game of the year, he needed 25 points to reach the 2000-point mark. Against the Syracuse Nationals, he scored 26 points and ended the year with 2001 points on 27.8 points per game.

That little factoid can be Yardley’s calling card, but the swingman deserves to be remembered for so much more.

Along with Philadelphia Warrior forward Paul Arizin, Yardley was a pioneer of off-the-dribble jump shooting. As Yardley himself once attested, Arizin and he were the only guys who took their jump shots at the apex of their jump instead of while shooting on the way up.

Seems like a small, insignificant thing. However, it was another important evolution of shooting. Shooting while going up meant the shot was more pushed than released. At the apex required greater strength from the arms, wrists, and hands rather than letting the legs provide the momentum.

Given his shooting and scoring methods, Yardley was probably the most athletic slasher and shooter in the mid-1950s NBA.

George Yardley

Aside from his jumping shot, he possessed a lightning-quick first step. This put defenders in a bind since Yardley could nail his jumper standing still, but if you closed out too hard he would blow by you in a hurry to the basket. And even if you did recover, Yardley was a beast at making off-balance or fading away jumpers. Basically, he’s the antecedent for players like Reggie Miller, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Durant who love to fire up jump shots from a litany of contorting angles.

Yardley spent the majority of his career with the Fort Wayne Pistons, had a  short stint in Detroit after the Pistons relocated there in 1957, and closed out his brief seven-year career with the Syracuse Nationals. The brevity is partly because he had to serve two years in the Navy thus delaying the start of his career and partly because he retired early to start his own engineering company.

He still packed those seven years with significant achievement. He was a six-time all-star and played in back-to-back NBA Finals with the Pistons in 1955 and 1956. The first of those was a nail-biting seven-game series with Fort Wayne against Syracuse. The Pistons lost the final game by one point. The next season the Pistons again lost to the Philadelphia Warriors in a much-closer-than-it-looks five games. They lost three of the four games by a combined eight points. The Yardbird was absolutely beastly in the ’56 Finals, despite the negative result for his Pistons. He averaged 25 points and 15 rebounds in the five-game series.

As his career wound down, Yardley helped lead the Pistons – now in Detroit – to the Western Division Finals in 1958. In 1959, after the trade to Syracuse, Yardley injected the Nationals with enough punch to nearly knock off the emerging Celtics Dynasty. Yardley averaged 26 PPG in the Eastern Division Finals against in Boston in ’59. In the decisive Game 7, Syracuse lost by a mere 5 points on Boston’s home court. Yardley was superb with 32 points in the narrow loss.

When Yardley did finally step away from the NBA after the 1960 season, he still had plenty of juice left averaging 20 points and eight rebounds on career-highs in FG% and FT%. His 20.2 PPG that year made him the first player to retire while averaging over 20 PPG in his final season. Since then he’s been joined by only Bob Pettit, Rudy LaRusso, Paul Arizin, and Michael Jordan.

And yet, Yardley wasn’t quite done with pro basketball just yet. He joined the Los Angeles Jets of the upstart American Basketball League in the 1961-62 season. George swooped in and averaged 19.2 points in 25 games before the Jets prematurely folded due to financial trouble.

What’s most intriguing of Yardley’s brief sojourn in the ABL was the three-point shot. The ABL was the first pro league to use the three-pointer and Yardley made 14 of 37 attempts that year for a cool average of 37.8%. Yardley was already an offensive menace. Imagine him with a three-pointer to his already impressive arsenal.

As it stands, Yardley was damn good enough and one of the best scoring small forwards in basketball history.

Honors

All-NBA 1st Team (1958)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1957)
6x All-Star (1955-’60)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (497 games):
19.2 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.8 APG
.499 TS%, .421 FG%, .378 3PT%, .781 FT%
20.5 PER, .178 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (46 games):
20.3 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 2.4 APG
.507 TS%, .422 FG%, .817 FT%
20.7 PER, .174 WS/48

Grant Hill

Born: October 5, 1972
Position: Small Forward
Professional Career:
Detroit Pistons (NBA): 1994-2000
Orlando Magic (NBA): 2000-’07
Phoenix Suns (NBA): 2007-’12
Los Angeles Clippers (NBA): 2012-’13

Grant Hill
Grant Hill

What Grant Hill’s career could have been is something of joyful imagination mixed with sorrowful reality. The prodigious talent was mixed with demoralizing foot injuries, the endless rehabs, the near-fatal staph infection he suffered… it’s all enough to dash the fantastic dreams we had of Grant Hill leading the Detroit Pistons or the Orlando Magic to potential title glory.

It surely was enough to dash what should have been the middle portion of Hill’s career.

From the 2000-01 season to the 2005-06 season, Hill played in just 135 of 492 potential games. And half of those 135 came in the 2004-05 season. He also missed all of the 2003-04 season. His sojourn in Orlando was just rife with pain. But taking a step back from the sorrow, we do realize that Hill’s career was its own brand of magnificent.

He was co-Rookie of the Year in 1995 for the Detroit Pistons. In just his second season, he was approaching triple-double territory with regularity averaging 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. He kept up a similar pace through the 2000 season. This era was undoubtedly the apex of Grant Hill. Amongst all NBA players of this era, Hill ranked 9th in PPG, 15th in APG, and 24th in RPG fully displaying his versatility.

But his final games for Detroit were played on an injured ankle that should have been rested. Hill’s impending free agency, however, cast an unfair pall. If Hill wisely sat out the playoffs to heal his ankle, accusations would have arisen claiming he was unfairly putting himself above his team. Yet another selfish millionaire athlete. If he played, he’d be a “team player”, but he’d put his health in jeopardy. Which is exactly what happened. To keep alive the season for a middling Pistons squad, Hill practically sacrificed five years of his career.

After finally emerging fully healthy in 2006, Hill enjoyed a surprising rejuvenation. Over the next five years – one with Orlando, the rest with Phoenix – Hill would average a respectable 13 points and 5 rebounds. Clearly, not what he once was, but after what he had experienced, these twilight years were glorious for Hill.

Only three other players (Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, and Larry Bird) had replicated Hill’s 1996 season of 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists. But his season at age 38 in 2011 was nearly as remarkable. His 13 PPG that season was the 11th highest ever for a player that age or older. And he did it shooting nearly 40% from three-point range, quite the change from his early days. Nearly 20 years before, Hill happened to have the world’s best spin-cycle on his drives going to the hoop… but he couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn from downtown.

Nonetheless, he did what he had to do as time went on to remain an effective basketball player. Truthfully, he did what he had to do just to simply remain any kind of basketball player. He easily could have given up at any number of points without any complaints. But his perseverance is astounding.

Don’t sleep on Grant Hill’s actual talents, though. Few small forwards ever handled the ball like Hill. Few have ever passed like Hill. Few have ever encapsulated so many grand qualities with such grace like Hill. He’s a Hall of Fame type talent and an astounding one at that.

Honors

Rookie of the Year (1995)
All-NBA 1st Team (1997)
4x All-NBA 2nd Team (1996, 1998-2000)
7x All-Star (1995-’98, 2000-’01, 2005)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (1026 games):
16.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 4.1 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.6 BPG
.551 TS%, .483 FG%, .769 FT%
19.0 PER, .138 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (39 games):
13.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 3.6 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.5 BPG
.531 TS%, .469 FG%, .781 FT%
18.1 PER, .102 WS/48

Adrian Dantley

Born: February 28, 1956
Position: Small Forward
Professional Career:
Buffalo Braves (NBA): 1976-1977
Indiana Pacers (NBA): 1977
Los Angeles Lakers (NBA): 1977-1979
Utah Jazz (NBA): 1979-1986
Detroit Pistons (NBA): 1986-1989
Dallas Mavericks (NBA): 1989-1990
Milwaukee Bucks (NBA): 1991


Adrian Dantley

One of the most unstoppable post players in the history of basketball stood a mere 6’5″ on a good day… in an extra thick pair of high knee socks.

That truth seemed like a doubtful assertion back in the 1970s when Adrian Dantley was routinely told time and again that he was too short to keep playing in the post. Or that he was too heavy and chunky to be any good in college, let alone the pros. And, yet, Dantley proved the naysayers wrong his entire career.

During his final two seasons at Notre Dame, AD dropped a shade under 30 points a night to go along with 10 rebounds and 56% shooting from the field. As his professional career unfolded, it turned out that Dantley’s rebounding would diminish but his scoring and, more remarkably, his FG% would not take a hit.

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Bailey Howell

Born: January 20, 1937
Position: Power Forward
Professional Career:
Detroit Pistons (NBA): 1959-1964
Baltimore Bullets (NBA): 1964-1966
Boston Celtics (NBA): 1966-1970
Philadelphia 76ers (NBA): 1970-1971

Bailey_Howell

The Lowdown: A great power forward, Bailey Howell wasn’t the type of player to demand glory, attention, or top status in a team’s pecking order. He desired a key role, but he never sought out acclaim. Despite a routine average of 20 points and 10 rebounds a game, most of his career was spent on middling teams. A fateful trade to the Boston Celtics in 1966 gave Howell the opportunity to play an integral and needed role in keeping the last few seasons of the Celtic Dynasty alive. That balanced team environment was what the six-time All-Star desired all his career. Better late than never for the maniacal rebounder and hustling forward.

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The 6’2″-and-Under Champions Club

Napoleon

Life should be grand for Chris Paul. He delivered 22.5 points, 12 assists, and 2.5 steals per game while shooting 51% FG, 75% FT, and 45.5% 3PT in the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder. His regular season saw some injury woes but he’s still likely to make another All-NBA 1st Team, which would be the 4th such selection of his career. Of course the Clippers losing their series against Oklahoma City is dispiriting, but basketball fans can bask in Paul’s great efforts.

Well, some can. Not all.

Roll that beautiful Chris Paul critique footage!

The criticism will start anew after the Clippers playmaker delivered more heartache during his team’s season-ending 104-98 loss to Oklahoma City in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals Thursday night at Staples Center.

Paul finished with 25 points and 11 assists but will be recalled mostly for the offensive foul with 3 minutes 35 seconds left that probably sealed the Clippers’ fate.

Paul was dejected after the loss and his continued failure to reach the Conference Finals, let alone the NBA Finals:

“It’s not just to get out of the second round. It’s to win a championship. I don’t know anybody in our league that plays for the Western Conference finals. That’s not enough.”

Well, given the circumstances of the NBA, having a 6’0″ tall player as your leading man rarely means winning a championship. Extending the height to 6’2″, only five NBA franchises have garnered a title with a player that tall reasonably, not unequivocally, considered their best player.

The Rochester Royals 1950-51

The first franchise was the Rochester Royals back in the 1950-51 season. Their best player was Bob Davies, a 6’1″ guard/forward who was one of the first players in the major pro leagues to dribble behind his back. The Royals, however, were a well-balanced machine with Bob Wanzer and especially Arnie Risen contesting best player honors. Indeed during the postseason, the 31-year old Davies had a miserable time averaging 16 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3 assists on 34% shooting over 14 games. However, Risen and Wanzer rose to the ocassion. Wanzer notched 12.5 PPG, 5 RPG, and 4 APG while shooting 47% FG and 91% FT. Risen was a beast in the post with 19.5 PPG and 14 RPG including a dominating NBA Finals against the Knicks which would have secured a Finals MVP for Risen had it existed then. There was also defensive ace Jack Coleman who threw in 10 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists per game in the postseason.

Davies may have been the best player, but it was truly a full team effort.

The Boston Celtics 1956-57

The Celtics were the next NBA champ to exhibit a wondrous 6’1″ dribbler as their best player. Bob Cousy was the regular season MVP for the NBA and had appeared in the All-Star Game all seven seasons of  his pro career. The Celtics had also made the postseason every year of his career, but had never made the Finals. Finally, in 1957 Boston won the Finals as Cousy averaged 20 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds in the playoffs.

Don’t be too quick to give Cooz all the credit, though. His longtime running mate Bill Sharman averaged 21 PPG. Rookie forward Tommy Heinsohn dropped 23 PPG and 12 RPG. Oh yeah, another rookie – Bill Russell – contributed 14 points and 24 rebounds nightly. Russell would wind up winning MVP the very next season in 1958 quickly supplanting Cousy as the Celtics’ best player.

But in 1957 was Cousy or Russell the better Celtic? It’s debatable. Nonetheless, the point is still standing: a short star needs a some equitable talent.

The Los Angeles Lakers 1971-72

No one can still figure out who was better for the Lakers in 1972: Wilt Chamberlain or Jerry West. The team won 33 straight games on their way to 69 wins in the regular season. They trounced opponents in the playoffs breezing to the title with 12 wins and 3 losses. West and Wilt played vastly different but complementary roles. Wilt cleaned the glass, defended the paint like crazy, and produced highlight dunks here and there. West pestered the perimeter, ran the offense as the point guard, and drained long-range bombs.

Their regular season stats reveal their productive schism.
Wilt – 15 PPG, 19 RPG, 4 APG
West – 26 PPG, 4 RPG, 10 APG

Jerry West, however, played the worst postseason of his career that year. Prior to 1972, he had averaged 31 PPG, 6 APG, and 6 RPG on 48% FG and 81% FT shooting. In 1972 he bottomed out at 23/9/5 – still great for a 33-year old guard – but shot a miserable 37.5% from the field. It was even worse in the Finals where Mr. Clutch put up 20/9/4 on 32.5% shooting. The Big Dipper meanwhile feasted on the Knicks to the tune of 19.5 points and 23 rebounds a game on 60% shooting.

In the end, it’s likely a wash as to who was more instrumental for those Lakers.

The Seattle SuperSonics 1978-79

The champion oft-forgot, the 1979 Sonics were one of the most egalitarian teams to take the title. The youthful trio of Jack Sikma (23 years old), Dennis Johnson (24) and Gus Williams (25) did the heaviest lifting while veterans like Paul Silas, Freddie Brown, and John Johnson capably helped out the young bucks.

The splits of three contenders for Sonics’ best player don’t concretely solve the question, but it gives a tentative answer…

Regular Season

  PPG RPG APG BPG SPG FG% FT%
Gus Williams 19.2 3.2 4.0 0.4 2.0 49.5% 77.5%
Jack Sikma 15.6 12.4 3.2 0.8 1.0 46.0% 81.4%
Dennis Johnson 15.9 4.7 3.5 1.2 1.3 43.4% 76.0%

Playoffs

PPG RPG APG BPG SPG FG% FT%
Gus Williams 26.7 4.1 3.7 0.6 2.0 47.6% 70.9%
Jack Sikma 14.8 11.7 2.5 1.4 0.9 45.5% 78.7%
Dennis Johnson 20.9 6.1 4.1 1.5 1.6 45.0% 77.1%

On balance, Gus Williams emerges as the premier, but not definitive, candidate for best player on the 1979 Sonics. The 6’2″ guard would lose out on Finals MVP to the 6’4″ Dennis Johnson. Guess that didn’t help settle matters.

The Detroit Pistons 1988-89 and 1989-90

The only time a multiple championship teams were led by a diminutive player. Still in his prime, but maybe a hair past his peak, Isiah Thomas was the linchpin of the Bad Boys Pistons. If ever a team won a title based on gang tactics, it was these Pistons squads. Bill Laimbeer, James Edwards, Dennis Rodman, and John Salley delivered body blows to frustrate opponents. But the real threat to Thomas’s claim to best player on these teams came from his young, stoic backcourt mate: Joe Dumars.

Dumars proved so valuable he snared the 1989 Finals MVP in a sweep over the LA Lakers. Put winning Finals MVP doesn’t automatically catapult you to best player on the team. When it’s all said and done, Isiah was the orchestrator of the Pistons’s assault even if the disparity between himself and his teammates wasn’t the chasm we like to imagine exists between a team’s best player and the secondary pieces.

So what does any of this mean for Chris Paul? Or for any future pipsqueak star?

It means that they can be the best player on a team that wins an NBA title, but the team has to be extremely well-balanced. And even if that short star plays the role of best player, it’ll be hard for contemporaries and future generations to easily discern that.

Pro Hoops History HOF: Joe Dumars

Joe Dumars
Joe Dumars

Joe Dumars was never one to awe with the freakishly spectacular.

He stood 6’3″, had a matter-of-fact mustache, and a workman-like attitude. About the flashiest thing he ever did on a basketball court was hit silly bank shots and toss scoop-handed alley oops to players capable of reverse dunks like Grant Hill.

Dumars instead “awed” with a relentless, stubborn defense that was solid like a rock. Routinely giving up inches and pounds to other shooting guards, Dumars nonetheless held the advantage when it came to determination. Perhaps you would get the best of Joe, but it wasn’t going to be because he gave a flimsy effort.

And on offense, Dumars could knock out opponents with his exquisite jump shot. By the end of his career he had become one of the more ruthless three-point shooters in the NBA. He occasionally scored more than 25 points in a game, but if you slept on him, or if the motion hit his ocean, he’d unleash a deluge.

That fact was exemplified in the 1989 NBA Finals when Joe Dumars erupted for 27 points on 57.6% FG and 86.8%FT shooting against the Los Angeles Lakers. The scorching performance earned him Finals MVP honors and propelled him to NBA stardom. He’d make six All-Star Teams and five All-Defensive squads over the ensuing decade.

Although a fierce competitor – and being a member of the notorious Bad Boy Pistons-  Dumars had the respect of opponents. In fact, the recipient of the NBA’s Sportsmanship Award currently receives the Joe Dumars Trophy. How’s that for leaving behind a bland legacy?

So, perhaps the flashiest thing about Joe Dumars was his celestial last name, but his earth-bound game was inspired and surely Hall of Fame.

Years Played: 1985 – 1999

Detroit Pistons
Detroit Pistons

Accolades

NBA –
2x Champion (1989-’90)
Finals MVP (1989)
4x All-Defensive 1st Team (1989-’90, 1992-’93)
All-Defensive 2nd Team (1991)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1993)
2x All-NBA 3rd Team (1990-’91)
6x All-Star (1990-’93, 1995, 1997)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1986)

Statistics

NBA – 1018 Games
16.1 PPG, 4.5 APG, 2.2 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 46.0% FG, 38.2% 3PT, 84.3% FT

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1985-86 through 1998-99 season)
13th Points, 14th FGs Made
12th 3PTs Made, 16th 3PT%
19th FTs Made, 20th FT%
19th Assists, 33rd APG
11th Games Played, 7th Minutes Played