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Former Piston Adrian Dantley the fifth best small forward of the last 30 years

So far, we’ve had Pistons represented in each of Dennis Velasco’s lists of the 10 best players at each position over the last 30 years. Point guards and shooting guards have already been unveiled and this week, Velasco’s list of small forwards is up at The Basketball Jones. It includes former Piston Adrian Dantley, who played a key role in the team ascending to title contender status before he was traded for Mark Aguirre:

5. Adrian Dantley, Buffalo Braves (1976-77), Indiana Pacers (1977-78), Los Angeles Lakers (1978-79), Utah Jazz (1979-1986), Detroit Pistons (1986-89), Dallas Mavericks (1989-1990), Milwaukee Bucks (1990-1991)
955 G; 24.3 PPG; 5.7 RPG; 3.0 APG; 0.0 3PTM; 54.0 FG%; 81.8 FT%; 1.0 SPG

When I think of an old school scoring basketball player, I somehow always think of Dantley. I’ll admit that he was to some degree a ballhog, but when you shot as well as he did, could you blame him? A.D. could work the post, dribble down from the top of the key, give a spin move, sell a shot fake and had a myriad other ways to score. I personally thought he got the shaft when the Detroit Pistons traded him to the Dallas Mavericks for Isaiah Thomas’ best bud, Mark Aguirre, but such is life. Dantley was in the twilight of his career, but still scoring 20 on the regular, and the Pistons went on to win a couple of titles because no one was there to challenge Zeke’s control of the team.

Dantley led the league in scoring for two seasons (1980-81 at 30.7 PPG; 1983-84 at 30.6 PPG). He finished in the top seven in scoring average in six seasons and has the 17th best all-time PPG average. Dantley is 21st overall in total points (23,177), has the 22nd best field-goal percentage of all-time, the seventh most free-throw makes (6,832) and 11th most free-throw attempts (8,351). He was the 1976-77 NBA Rookie of the Year and made six All-Star games, as well as two All-NBA squads. Dantley finished with a 21.5 PER and 119 ORtg.

Maybe Pierce should be in front of Dantley, but check the numbers and watch that video link. They don’t make scorers like that anymore, and because I’m old, I have to give a shout-out to the geriatrics.

Dantley was one of the toughest guys in the league to define positionally. Size-wise, he was a three. But he did much of his damage offensively in the paint, out-muscling much taller and more athletic players. He was simply one of the craftiest players who ever played.


  • Jul 20, 20119:07 am
    by Murph


    I think I would place Paul Pierce ahead of both Dantley and Wilkins, based on his NBA Championship ring, which eluded both Dantley and Wilkins.  As much as I dislike Pierces’ personality, I thought he was the clutch, go-to guy for the Celtics down the stretch in 2008.

    Also, I would place Worthy ahead of English, Dantley and Wilkins for the same reason.

  • Jul 20, 201110:40 am
    by Sebastian


    A.D.! Sho’ you right!!!
    Dantley was big time in the League and in college at Notre Dame. And, I for one, was really disappointed in the lack of respect that it appeared that Melo and J.R. Smith had for Dantley, as he was serving as the Interim Coach for the Nuggets, while George Karl was absent from the team during his cancer treatments (2009-2010 season).

    But, yes, A.D. was the man!

    • Jul 20, 201111:28 am
      by Dan Feldman


      So, current players don’t automatically respect a coach for how he played 20-plus years ago? Hmmmm.

      • Jul 20, 20115:50 pm
        by Sebastian



        Everybody knows: one should respect their elders. Especially, when the same profession is practice. These guys, Melo and J.R. Smith wished they will become, in the end, as great as A.D. was.

        Heck, A.D. was a far better collegiate player (Melo a ”one-and-doner” and J.R. Smith didn’t event go to college.

        And, these two guys (Melo and J.R. Smith) still haven’t reached the accomplishments that A.D. has: NBA ROY, NBA two-time scoring champ, etc.  

        • Jul 20, 20118:21 pm
          by Dan Feldman


          No comment on what should happen. Just an observation about what does happen.

  • Jul 20, 201110:54 am
    by DoctorDaveT


    Did you get these quotes from the article:
    “I personally thought he got the shaft when the Detroit Pistons traded him”
    “…the Pistons went on to win a couple of titles because no one was there to challenge Zeke’s control of the team.”
    If the Pistons went on to win titles because “no one was there to challenge Zeke’s control of the team,” it’s too bad they didn’t move Dantley 12 months earlier; that 7 game Lakers series might have gone the other way.
    Dantley was good; but his subtraction from the Pistons made the team better. In a left-handed-sort-of-way, Velasco admits it himself.
    People have been whining about the Dantley/Aguirre trade since it happened. I remember there was a buzz in Detroit about getting Dantley a championship ring for the first championship. I’ve disliked the whining about it ever since then.
    Sure, Dantley was good; and I don’t object to his being placed on this list at all. But Dennis, stop the “he got the shaft” stuff, will you?

    • Jul 20, 201111:02 am
      by Patrick Hayes


      Dantley was brilliant in the Finals vs. the Lakers. I understand his bitterness at getting traded when he did. But moving him cleared more minutes for Dennis Rodman, which was absolutely a good thing.

  • Jul 21, 201112:06 am
    by khandor


    Despite being an AD fan from his years at Notre Dame and his early seasons in the NBA with the fledgling Buffalo Braves franchise, IMO, ranking him No. 5 on this list is an over-estimation of his actual ability level at the SF position relative to other slightly more talented and equally deserving Paul Pierce [who has a better all-around skill-set than Dantley] and Bernard King [who was an even better scorer than Dantley in their prime years].

  • Jul 16, 20121:51 am
    by Barry Sandinureyes


    Bernard King was unstoppable before he blew out his knee and still came back 2 years later and was an All-Star. Pierce shouldn’t even be mentioned in a greatest list. Titles are overrated. Pierce was on a terrible team that was saved by Kevin Garnett.  He would have no ring without him.  The Pistons were a much better team before they traded AD. Daley never used him right. Too many missed outside shots for the guards.  Those Pistons were so deep that it didn’t stop them from winning. They destroyed the Lakers in LA during the regular season when Dantley was still  there.

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