There have been a lot of great players who have suited up to represent the Detroit Pistons. From Hall of Fame centers like Bob Lanier and Ben Wallace, to Finals MVP winning point guards like Isiah Thomas and Chauncey Billups.
The storied franchise has a rich history of blue-collar teams that reflect the city itself. Fans of Detroit Basketball have been spoiled over the years with high impact players at all positions. Next time you attend a basketball game in Little Caesar’s Arena look up at the rafters, the jerseys hanging represent the generations of greatness. This is exactly what Troy Weaver means when he talks about restoration.
Today we’ll take a look at the small forward position. With several players making their bid over the years for consideration this should be interesting. This list will be done based of their contributions to the Detroit Pistons, not their overall NBA success. Some on the list had major production, others had a huge impact on winning. All of them are highly recognizable by any true fan of the Pistons.
Detroit Pistons top small forwards #5: Tayshaun Prince
Tayshaun Prince was selected 22nd overall in the 2002 NBA draft by the Pistons and ended up being one of the top draft steals in team history. The small forward had a successful college career at Kentucky under then head coach Tubby Smith. In his first season with the team he only played in 42 games starting in five of those contests. He averaged 3.3 points 1.1 rebounds as a rookie in limited minutes. In no way did these numbers indicate what was to come.
His career took off in the playoffs of the 2003 season. The Detroit Pistons were taking on the Orlando Magic in a first-round best-of-seven series. The Pistons were having fits trying to deal with offensive dynamo Tracy McGrady. With the Pistons trailing 3-1 and the series all but over, head coach Rick Carlisle inserted the rookie into the starting lineup for game five.
With McGrady averaging 36.2 points a game in the series, Prince took on the defensive assignment. Prince showed Pistons fans what would become the staple of his legacy, great perimeter defense. He held McGrady to 19 points on 8-20 shooting and 1-5 from behind the arc, almost cutting his scoring output in half. When the buzzer sounded McGrady had a plus/minus of -25 the worse of any Magic player. After the 98-67 blowout the Detroit Pistons went on to win the series in seven.
Out of desperation came one of the most illustrious careers in Pistons history. Prince remained in the starting lineup cementing his place with the “Goin To Work” squad. He went on to start 490 out of the next 492 games for the franchise, missing only two games in six years.
His defense was his calling card, his 6’9 frame and his 7’2 wingspan allowed him to terrorize opponents on that end of the floor. With his strong defensive presence on the perimeter something historic was on the horizon. The “Goin To Work” Pistons were arguably the greatest defensive team the league has ever seen. Setting multiple records during their Eastern Conference supremacy, most notably holding eleven teams under 70 points in 2003-04 season. The defensive dominance continued in playoffs where they held six more opponents under 70 points. He also made one of the greatest defensive in playoff history.
It was the Eastern Conference Finals the Indiana Pacers just gave the Pistons a heartbreaking loss in game one. A outspoken and emotional Rasheed Wallace spoke to the media guaranteeing victory in the postgame. Saying “You can put it on the front page back page, middle of the page. They will not win game two” Sheed told reporters. Prince the quiet kid from Compton made sure he did his part and more. He only scored five points and grabbed five rebounds, but he contributed in other ways recording two steals and four blocks. The long arm of the law was doing what he does best.
With the Pistons in possession of the basketball, the lead, and less than thirty seconds remaining in the game. Chauncey Billups drove towards the basket losing the basketball the Pacers swooped it up, passed it ahead to the future hall fame guard Reggie Miller all alone, who caught the ball took dribbles as he passed the free throw line, when Prince took off from half court, Miller went up for the go ahead layup, Prince gained ground and made the clutch block. The crowd was stunned in amazement. Not only was this the greatest defensive play in Pistons history it’s one of the greatest blocks in NBA history.
The Prince of the Palace never needed to score or put up stats to show his worth. Although he finished top ten in career scoring with the team, scoring over 10,000 points. All he did was give his all to the franchise, impact winning, and played the right way. If he needed to score his crafty jump hook could get it done, but he knew his role and played it. The professionalism and approach he had to the game should be admired. He’s recognized as Pistons royalty, cherished for his contributions to the organization. Tayshaun Prince was a Swiss Army knife mix that with his longevity and you have a recipe for success. He’s a winner who embraced the culture of Detroit. Those attributes made him the fifth best Pistons small forward in history.