SLAM looks back at Joe Dumars' playing career on his birthday

Joe Dumars turned 48-years-old today, and SLAM re-ran a magazine feature on Dumars written by Alan Paul in 2006 to commemorate Joe D’s birthday. The story discusses Dumars’ success as an exec with the Pistons, at the time, in the midst of their run as the dominant team in the Eastern Conference. But the most interesting parts are Dumars rising from little known small college player to key part of championship teams in Detroit.

Dumars, a scorer in college, talks about how he became more versatile in order to earn minutes on an already good team with established players. This passage stood out to me:

With (John) Long gone, the Detroit backcourt became Thomas and Dumars, with Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson coming in to relieve them both. It proved to be a devastating three-guard rotation, with a combined average of nearly 50 ppg and a great deal of versatility.

“I started at the two and Isiah at point guard, but all of us could play either position, which made it easy,” Dumars says. “It never fell on one guy. The first time I saw Isiah get overplayed, I went back and got the ball and he went to the two, and that’s what we did for the next 10 years.”

I’ve always felt like this experience has been the foundation for how Dumars evaluates talent as president of basketball operations. As we’ve seen, he frequently takes on players whose skillsets don’t translate seamlessly to traditional positional constraints. Sometimes, it has been pretty successful: Chauncey Billups wasn’t a traditional PG prior to signing in Detroit, Corliss Williamson wasn’t a traditional small forward or power forward and Jonas Jerebko was effective at multiple spots as a rookie. On the flip side, players like Rodney Stuckey and Austin Daye, both because of inconsistent coaching and development issues, haven’t found a spot on the floor where they look totally comfortable at all times.

It’s easy to knock the Pistons for their recent results. But I think Dumars’ reasoning behind preferring versatility is a sound one that was proven to work on the Bad Boys era teams that were filled with guys who could play multiple positions and roles.

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