Ranking the 50 greatest NBA players of all time

The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /
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Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images /

27. Isiah Thomas

  • Resume: 13 seasons, 2 NBA championships, 1 NBA Finals MVP Award, 5-time All-NBA selection, 12-time NBA All-Star, 2-time NBA All-Star Game MVP, 1-time NBA leader in assists, Detroit Pistons’ all-time leading scorer, Hall-of-Famer
  • Stats: 19.2 PPG, 9.3 APG, 3.6 RPG, 1.9 SPG, .452/.290/.759 shooting splits, 18.1 career PER, 80.7 win shares

Cousy was a pioneer, Nash was revolutionary, Stockton was Mr. Consistency, Payton was a nightmarish defender and Kidd was Mr. Triple-Double, but I’m taking Isiah Thomas over every point guard in NBA history not named “Magic Johnson,” “Chris Paul” and “Stephen Curry.” He was the purest point guard of all time, bringing scoring, crunch-time playmaking, quickness, grittiness, defense, passing and ball-handling skills that would’ve fit in with any title contender.

It goes beyond his ability to dictate the tempo of a game as the floor general, however. When you hear “floor general,” you think of some commander at the back of the battlefield pushing little toy pieces on a map to indicate where he’s moving his forces. Isiah was more like Mel Gibson in Braveheart, leading the charge with a half-painted face and a half-crazy look in his eye that let you know he was not to be trifled with.

The funny thing is, even though “Zeke” was the leader of one of the meanest teams in NBA history, he was nothing short of charming and well-spoken off the court. People condemned Detroit’s bruising style of play and they were up in arms when those Pistons left the court early after being defeated by Jordan’s Bulls in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals, but back then, it was hard to hear Thomas speak and not think, “Hmm. He seems like a bright young man.”

Despite orchestrating his team’s offense most of the time, his late-game heroics are well documented, like his Game 6 of the 1988 NBA Finals, when he scored 43 points on the Lakers — including 25 in the third quarter — on a sprained ankle in an effort to close the series out. The Pistons lost the game and the series, but Thomas would get revenge the following year and lead Detroit to back-to-back titles.

Oh, and if it weren’t for a personal feud with MJ, Thomas would’ve been on the Dream Team too.