Pistons Hall of Fame guard Isiah Thomas averaged 19.2 points a game for his career and is considered by many to be the second greatest point guard in NBA history behind Magic Johnson.
People who never saw him play often ask me why he did not average 25 or 2 6 points a game like Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
I give you two words.
Will Robinson is a legendary coach who worked as a consultant and scout for the Pistons when Thomas played. He stayed in Thomas’ ear, advising him.
Whenever I dropped by the Pistons practice facility I ducked my head into Robinson’s office for life lessons and lessons on basketball. Robinson often said Thomas had the talent to average 27 points a game.
But the goal here was not to put up gaudy numbers. Thomas came to Detroit to win championships.
“I always tell Isiah that your job is not to make yourself look good,” Robinson told me. “Your job is to make John Salley look good. Your job is to make Joe Dumars look good. You have to make Bill Laimbeer look good.”
Robinson’s word infiltrated my writings as beat writer for the Pistons and I often judged Thomas on how well he was involving teammates ahead of his breaking somebody down and taking him to the hole. It led to frustration on his part.
“What am I doing wrong here,” he said. “I think I have the right balance between scoring and assisting. What am I supposed to do?”
Thomas and I never talked about numbers and stats. It was always about titles and victory parades. Michael Jordan came into the NBA as a scoring machine but did not win titles until he made teammates better.
Chauncey Billups went through a similar transformation under coach Larry Brown in leading the Pistons to the 2004 NBA title. Brown came here and had tough, uncomfortable discussions and training sessions with Billups. The Pistons could not win that title without the addition of power forward Rasheed Wallace. Brown also knew that they could not win without unselfish point guard play from Billups.
So the two men burned the midnight oil and often argued about “playing the right way.” Brown, a former point guard at North Carolina and in the ABA, pushed Billups in ways nobody else did.
The year before the Pistons title run Billups averaged 3.9 assists per game. He boosted that to 5.7 assists during their championship year and 5.8 assists the following year when they lost in the NBA Finals to San Antonio.
James Harding averages 25.2 career points a game and has no titles. Westbrook 23.2 points a game. He also has yet to win a title. Isiah Thomas had the shake and bake and talent to do the same. But once again, why didn’t he do it?
I give you two words.
Will Robinson.Find Terry Foster Podcast here: