Michael Jordan once said nobody defended him better than Joe Dumars.
Of course, Jordan still had plenty of success against the four-time All-Defensive-team member. Jordan had plenty of success against everybody.
But Dumars defended Jordan well enough – as part of the Pistons’ “Jordan Rules” defense – to help Detroit fend off the Bulls in the 1989 and 1990 playoffs and win championships those years. Eventually, Jordan became too much for Dumars – again, he was too much for everybody – but those Jordan-Dumars matchups have become part of NBA lore. Jordan had many bigger moments, but for Dumars, they were pretty career-defining, at least outside his two championships and 1989 Finals MVP.
So, not many people talk anymore about Dumars’ defense of everyone else. But Zach Lowe of Grantland asked a great question in his Q&A with Dumars:
Last one. Who was the toughest guy to guard in your career, other than Michael Jordan? Again: You cannot say Michael Jordan.
You know, Jackie MacMullan did a great story on him a couple of weeks ago — it was Reggie Lewis for me. He was long, athletic, smooth, he could raise up over you and shoot. He was a really good defender, too. He was a tough, tough cover. Man, he was a tough guy to guard. He was definitely the one, other than MJ, who was the toughest for me to figure out. He was so long, and you couldn’t really get physical with him, because he was so slim, and it always seemed like I was getting called for fouls. He was a great, great player.
Lewis was 6-foot-7 to Dumars’ 6-foot-3, but that really reveals how good a defender Dumars was.
As much as Dumars believed Lewis gave him trouble, Lewis didn’t fare very in the 19 games they both played. He averaged just 13.5 points per game on 46.8 percent shooting. Only three times did he exceed 22 points, and he shot relatively pedestrian (for those outputs) 11-of-23, 12-of-21 and 10-of-20 in those games.
Lewis had a 30-point game in 1991 playoffs against Dumars, but again, Lewis’ playoff averages in the postseason against Dumars – 15.8 points per game on 46.8 percent shooting – are well below his career averages.
Though Lewis was a heck of a player, let’s not forget Dumars was a heck of a defender.