The Pistons have a storied history in the NBA, a member of the association since 1948. They have seen several historic players walk through their locker room, and many have been homegrown through the draft. Let's look at the top ten draft picks in Detroit Pistons history.
#10 – Khris Middleton (Round 2, #39 Overall, 2012)
Due to his success with the Milwaukee Bucks, many people forget that Middleton was a former draft pick of the Detroit Pistons. His Pistons career is something that fans try to forget, as he played only 27 games, averaging 6.1 points per game, 1.9 rebounds, and 1 assist. Unfortunately, Middleton turned into a different player in Milwaukee, transforming himself into one of the best role players of the decade. In 2019, Middleton began to find his groove playing alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo, being selected to his first All-Star game. Middleton would make two more All-Star appearances in 2020 and 2022 and win his first NBA title in 2021. He became a huge contributor in the 2021 title run, averaging 23.6 points per game, 7.6 rebounds, and 5.1 assists. Everyone will remember Giannis from that title run, but Middleton was the unsung hero.
While it may not have worked out for Middleton in Detroit, the value of finding a player of his caliber in the second round is worthy of recognition.
#9 – Andre Drummond (Round 1, #9 Overall, 2012)
The player from the 2012 draft class who stayed, Drummond also had a successful run as a member of the Pistons. While Drummond doesn't have the NBA title or as many all-star selections as Middleton, we will slot him ahead here since his accolades came during his time in Detroit. The Drummond era in Detroit should be remembered more fondly, but the team struggled for the entirety. In Drummond's eight years with the team, they made the playoffs twice, with a combined record of 0-8. As an individual, Drummond was arguably the best Piston of the 2010s. He was named to the All-Star team twice, given 2015-2016 All-NBA honors, and was a four-time leader in rebounding. For his Pistons career, the 6-10 power forward averaged 14.4 points per game, 13.9 rebounds, and 1.3 assists. For a team that wasn't good, Drummond was a lone bright spot.
#8 – Tayshaun Prince (Round 1, #23 Overall, 2002)
A fan-favorite during the 2004 NBA championship run, the lefty-shooting American won over fans with clutch shooting and smothering defense. Prince was as reliable as he was good for the Pistons, playing all 82 games for six straight seasons from 2003-2009. While his numbers don't live up to some other Pistons legends, his contributions to the surprising Pistons teams of the early 2000s can't be forgotten. Prince averaged 12.6 points per game, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.6 assists during his 12 seasons in Detroit and never made an all-star team. He was never front-and-center on any team, but the homegrown star will always be front-and-center in fans' memories. He IS most remembered for his defensive play against some of the game's best, earning four All-Defensive honors in his time with the team.
#7 – Bailey Howell (Round 1, #2 Overall, 1959)
Howell's career started over six decades ago, but his production as a member of the Pistons made him one of the first great Pistons players. Selected second overall out of Mississippi State, Howell was a factor right out of the gate in his rookie season. In his sophomore season, the 6 foot 7 power forward made his first All-Star team and then rallied off four straight appearances. In 1962-63, he had his best individual season, getting All-NBA honors. With the Pistons, Howell averaged 21.1 points per game, 11.8 rebounds, and 2.3 assists. While the Pistons didn't win during his tenure, he would win two titles in 1968 and 1969 with the Celtics. He is also the first Hall of Famer featured on our list, as he was inducted in 1997.
#6 – Bob Lanier (Round 1, #1 Overall, 1970)
In terms of Win Share, Bob Lanier is the best Detroit Pistons player in its history. While the stats and personal accolades may not reflect it, Lanier was the face of Detroit basketball for a long time. He had a great career with Detroit, averaging 22.7 points per game, 11.8 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. He was an All-Star in seven of his ten seasons with the Pistons and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992.
#5 – Grant Hill (Round 1, #1 Overall, 1994)
The top-five of Detroit Pistons draft picks is a star-studded list, including some of the greatest players in NBA history. We start with a player who Pistons fans wish had stuck around longer but was a favorite in his six seasons. Hill would be named an All-Star in five of his seasons in Detroit, winning Rookie of the Year in 1994-95. Hill was also named to the All-NBA team five times in his career and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018. For a career that spanned 18 seasons, Hill would only make the All-Star team two more times after leaving, confirming the fact that his best years were in Detroit. Hill had an average of 21.6 points per game, 7.9 rebounds, and 6.3 assists with the Pistons. Hill's biggest downfall as a Piston was never making it out of the first round of the postseason.
#4 – Dave Debusschere (Round 1, #4 Overall, 1962)
In a disturbing trend for Pistons' fans, most of Debusschere's success came in his post-Pistons career. Debusschere did earn three all-star nominations during his time in Detroit, but the team only made the playoffs twice. He averaged 16.1 points per game, 11.2 rebounds, and 2.6 assists over seven seasons. Debusschere took his talents to the New York Knicks in 1968, and his career took off. He would make five straight all-star games and win two NBA titles in New York. He did rack up plenty of individual accolades during and post-career. Debusschere earned All-NBA honors in the year he was traded to the Knicks mid-season, was a six-time All-Defensive team member, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983. The NBA would also honor him as a member of the NBA 75th Anniversary team.
#3 – Joe Dumars (Round 1, #18 Overall, 1985)
The first member on our list of the Bad Boy Pistons era, Joe Dumars comes in as the third-best draft pick in Pistons history. The Michael Jordan stopper, Dumars was an integral part of the Detroit Pistons' two championships in the late 1980s. Dumars played all 14 seasons of his career in Detroit, racking up numerous accolades. He was a six-time all-star, three-time All-NBA, and five-time All-Defensive player. As previously mentioned, Dumars won two titles with the Pistons and earned the 1988-89 NBA Finals MVP. Unsurprisingly with those awards, Dumars was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006. Dumars finished his career averaging 16.1 points per game, 3.5 assists, and 1.8 rebounds.
#2 – Isiah Thomas (Round 1, #2 Overall, 1981)
Thomas was also a part of the Bad Boy Pistons era, starring alongside Dumars in the team's backcourt. Thomas was an all-star in his first season with Detroit and then made it for 12 straight years. He was chosen to the All-NBA team five times and was named the 1989-90 Finals MVP after back-to-back titles. Of course, he was named to the NBA 75th anniversary team, and inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2000. Current NBA fans know Thomas more for his controversy with Michael Jordan, but they need to know how good of a player Isiah was in his prime. A questionable attitude, failures in the front office, and Michael Jordan supporters have tarnished an otherwise successful legacy.
#1 – Dennis Rodman (Round 2, #27 Overall, 1986)
You read the Isiah Thomas breakdown and said, How is he not number one on this list? In terms of basketball skills and personal accolades, there may be no one better than Isiah Thomas. However, this list highlights the best draft picks, and Rodman is one of the best value picks in NBA history. Coming out of Southeastern Oklahoma State University, no one had Dennis Rodman on their radar. Rodman became a top-five defensive player in NBA history, and the anchor to many championship teams. Detroit struggled to get over the hump before Rodman came into his own, but when he did, the Pistons won two straight championships. Rodman then ended up in Chicago with Michael Jordan and won three straight NBA titles to bring his total to five. Personally, Rodman was a two-time All-Star, eight-time All-Defensive, two-time All-NBA, and two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
He was also on the NBA 75th Anniversary Team and inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011. In a league that focuses on the lottery picks, Rodman came out of nowhere and became one of the greatest to ever do it.
All stats courtesy of BasketballReference.com