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

Pro Hoops History HOF: Grant Hill

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 Famer and an astounding one at that.

Years Played: 1994 – 2013

Accolades

NBA -
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

NBA - 1026 Games
16.7 PPG,6.0 RPG, 4.1 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 48.3% FG, 76.9% FT

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1994-95 through 2012-13 season)
20th Points, 16th FTs Made
22nd FGs Made, 32nd FG%
20th Assists, 29th APG
18th Steals, 32nd SPG
36th Rebounds
22nd Games Played, 20th Minutes Played

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Dennis Rodman

Dennis Rodman
Dennis Rodman

Nicknamed the Worm, Dennis Rodman had innate and uncanny abilities to work his way underneath an opponent’s skin. Physically, he’d grab, twist, trip, bump, and thump you. Mentally he’d put on a smile reminiscent of the Cheshire cat and mention the most ridiculous things to throw you off your game. If you finally tired of his antics and swung a blow, Rodman would just wrap you up in his embrace. The hug didn’t work to simmer opponents down. In fact it had the exact opposite effect.

The fact you couldn’t knock out one of his teeth was yet another infuriating disgrace Rodman visited upon you.

This physical and mental battle was Rodman’s way of exploiting every last bit of his talent. A marvellous defender and miraculous rebounder, Rodman didn’t need the hijinks to be a great player. The strange games he played, nonetheless served to make him a legend. Your mental preoccupation with his behavior ultimately led to physical degradation of your play and gave the Rodman the decisive edge.

Or perhaps the Worm was so unstable with opponents because he was so unstable with himself. A personality quirk that by happenstance, and not design, served to sometimes enhance his skills. And left unchecked the quirks would be just as deleterious to Dennis as it was to opponents.

Rodman didn’t enter college until age 22 and the NBA until age 25 after a rough early life. Detroit Pistons coach Chuck Daly connected with Rodman and brought out the best in him. Daly would use Dennis masterfully as a defensive powerhouse off the bench. These Bad Boys of Detroit gave Rodman the appropriate structure to be free. Variously guarding opponents like Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Scottie Pippen, Rodman gave the Pistons an indispensable edge and helped them capture two titles. In 1990 at 30 years of age, Rodman was starting for an NBA team for the first time, was an All-Star, and was named Defensive Player of the Year.

For a large part of the 1990s, though, Rodman lacked the structure to truly be free.

The Pistons waned and faded as Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, and other stalwarts aged. Daly was ousted as coach in 1992 and Rodman began going out of his way, in often embarrassing fashion, in his quest to grab every rebound available. In 1993, he was traded to the San Antonio Spurs, and he was a fish out of water flopping around on bone dry land. He was somewhat of a sideshow as “mainstream” media focused on his ever-changing hair color and growing number of tattoos.

Dennis Rodman

The Spurs experiment was finally ended after the 1995 season. San Antonio traded Rodman to the Chicago Bulls for Will Perdue. With Phil Jackson, Rodman again found a coach who could erect the structure that supported the better natures of Rodman’s personality and game.

He still dyed his hair and donned a wedding dress, but his on-court actions were once again as notable as his off-court engagements. The Worm helped the Bulls achieve the best regular season record in NBA history in 1996 with 72 wins. He played a pivotal role in the second three-peat of the Jordan-Pippen Era. These seasons helped reaffirm Rodman’s place as one of the NBA’s premier defenders and rebounders who could actually help his team win.

That notion had been lost in his latter days in Detroit and during his San Antonio sojourn.

At this point in his life, Rodman is now famous for just being famous… or for acting in terrible movies… or for being the house guest of North Korean dictators. But decades ago, Rodman became noteworthy, distinguished, and, yes, famous for what he was able to do on a basketball court. By being himself, he daringly became an NBA star based on defensive glamor.

Years Played: 1986 – 2000

Accolades

NBA -
5x Champion (1989-’90, 1996-’98)
2x Defensive Player of the Year (1990-’91)
7x All-Defensive 1st Team (1989-’93, 1995-’96)
All-Defensive 2nd Team (1994)
2x All-NBA 3rd Team (1992, 1995)
2x All-Star (1990, 1992)

Statistics

NBA - 911 Games
7.3 PPG, 13.1 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 52.1% FG, 58.4% FT
7x RPG Leader (1992-’98), FG% Leader (1989)

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1986-87 through 1997-98 season)
1st Rebounds, 1st RPG
17th FG%, 33rd Blocks
20th Games Played, 25th Minutes Played

Mark Aguirre

(ESPN)
(ESPN)

In just their second year of existence, the Dallas Mavericks struck pay dirt when they selected number one overall in the 1981 NBA Draft. Big D chose a player out of the Windy City who could score on par with NBA’s best during the 1980s.

Although he was the NBA’s top draft pick, Mark Aguirre spent his rookie season as a reserve on the Mavericks. Still, in just 29 minutes of action the small forward maintained a 19 PPG average. The next season, Mavs coach Dick Motta fully unleashed Aguirre and from that 1983 season through 1988, he averaged 25.5 points a night on 50% shooting from the field.

His ways of scoring were rather typical for the legion of high-octane small forwards in the ’80s. Like Bernard King and Alex English, Aguirre possessed a soft mid-range jumper. And much like King, he also had significant power behind his moves despite being a “small” forward. He was a burly 235 lbs and could comfortably ricochet off defenders on his drives to the basket.

On these attacks, Aguirre had the uncanny ability to manipulate the basketball solely with his right hand. It was somewhat like Connie Hawkins, but a little more earth-bound and a lot less elegant, but it was still effective. He could dunk the ball ferociously with the maneuver. Or simply avoid the defenders and flip up unexpected, agile one-handers. Or he could dump off the perfect pass to a teammate hanging along the baseline by the basket. There’s a reason why this offensive juggernaut averaged four assists a night during his 1983 to 1988 prime.

As Aguirre was rumbling along to star status in the NBA, the Dallas Mavericks were a team on the rise all that same while. Dallas ran deep and by 1988 featured  Rolando Blackman, Derek Harper, Brad Davis, Sam Perkins, Detlef Scrempf, Roy Tarpley, and James Donaldson. The club steadily improved from 28 wins in Aguirre’s 1982 rookie season to 53 victories in 1988.

This run of Mavericks success jump-started in 1984. Aguirre finished second in the NBA in scoring with 29.5 PPG, the Mavericks ran off 43 wins and clinched the first playoff appearance in franchise history. In the first round of the playoffs, the upstart Mavericks upset the veteran Seattle SuperSonics in five games including a one-point OT victory in the deciding Game 5. Aguirre and his All-Star running mate Rolando Blackman combined for 54 points in the 105-104 victory. Unfortunately for the Mavericks their next opponent would be the Los Angeles Lakers, who proved that season and the following ones to be too powerful for the Mavs.

Aguirre and Dallas, however, chipped closer and closer to the Lakers. They lost the 1984 Western Conference Semi-Finals to the Lakers 4-games-to-1. In 1986, the Lakers best them 4-games-to-2. Finally, in 1988, the Lakers eked out a seven-game series victory over Dallas in the Western Conference Finals.

That 1988 postseason run was Aguirre’s finest time as a Maverick. He lit up the Houston Rockets in the decisive Game 4 of their opening 1st round series. The small forward nailed 38 points for the entire game (in just 33 minutes of action), and went insane in the 3rd quarter scoring 27 points. The effort propelled Dallas to the 2nd Round where they knocked off Denver. In the aforementioned Western Conference Finals against the Lakers, Aguirre averaged 24 points a game on 50% shooting, but that series marked the demise of the Mavericks.

Midway through the 1988-89 season, Aguirre was traded to the Detroit Pistons. In the Motor City, Mark would no longer be a featured option, but one offensive source amongst many. And he’d play as a reserve for the first time since his rookie season. During his 4.5-year tenure with Detroit, Aguirre averaged a modest 13 PPG. The move nonetheless resulted in Mark receiving two NBA championships as a member of the Pistons in 1989 and 1990.

His greatest individual work, though, was with the Mavericks. His output of 24.6 PPG remains the highest in Mavericks’ history. That fine offensive skill gave North Texas its first taste of success with professional basketball.

Years Played: 1981 – 1994

Accolades

NBA -
2x Champion (1989-’90)
3x All-Star (1984, 1987-’88)

Statistics

NBA - 923 Games
20.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.1 APG
48.4% FG, 74.1% FT