1. Isiah Thomas
2. Kevin McHale
3. Willis Reed
One thing that's interesting about Isiah is that during the 87-88 through 90-91 seasons (the years Isiah had the most team success) he somehow got significantly less votes in both MVP voting and all NBA teams, despite the fact that his stats across the board were just as good - if anything, maybe a slight dip but not enough to justify such a significant drop in MVP and all NBA votes - especially considering he was now having much greater team success - and considering he continued making the all star team every year. And typically when a guy has more team success, they get more MVP/all NBA votes..not less.
Below you'll find the year, followed by Isiah's finish in MVP voting, followed by which all NBA team he made
*Also keep in mind there was no all NBA 3rd team in 81-82
82 - 17th in MVP - didn't make all NBA team
83 - 16th in MVP - all NBA 2nd team
84 - 5th in MVP - all NBA 1st team
85 - 9th in MVP - all NBA 1st team
86 - 9th in MVP - all NBA 1st team
87 - 8th in MVP - all NBA 2nd team
88 - 12th in MVP - didn't make all NBA team
89 - 17th in MVP - didn't make all NBA team
90 - 13th in MVP - didn't make all NBA team
91 - 13th in MVP - didn't make all NBA team
My theory as to why he all of a sudden had such a big dip in MVP/all NBA votes despite much greater team success is because people truly started to hate the Pistons beginning with the 87 ECF finals, which was a grueling series between the Celtics and Pistons. In 87, the Celtics were a blue collar team that was very well liked, their players got lots of votes for awards, evidenced by Bird winning 3 straight MVPs in 84-86..and in 87, both Bird and McHale finished top 4 in MVP voting.
Then in the 87 ECF, this happened:
Following the 87 ECF, the Pistons became the most hated team in the league. Not only for brawling with the Celtics in the ECF, but also because of how physical and borderline dirty they played overall. The next year in 87-88 - the Pistons were officially established as a hated team. All Pistons players saw a big dip in MVP/all NBA votes - especially Isiah who was considered the ring leader of the Pistons. The other guy on the Pistons besides Isiah who was seen as the poster boy for the Bad Boys image was Laimbeer. If you look at Laimbeer and his all NBA selections and all star appearances before the 87-88. season and after, you'll notice the same discrepancy.
Isiah was top 10 in MVP voting 4 years in a row from 83-84 through 86-87. He made 1st or 2nd team all NBA five years in a row from 82-83 through 86-7. Then somehow magically, the votes he received plummeted from 87-8 through 90-91 despite the fact that he put up similar stats, was still an all star every year and had much greater team success. It's because of bad boy image. People didn't like him and they didn't like Laimbeer. Dumars (despite the fact that hew as on the hated Pistons team) was more of a nice guy, of anyone on those Pistons teams, he had the best image and was the least likely guy on the team to mix it up and get in someone's face, least likely Piston to throw a punch, etc. That's why a) he finished with the same ranking in MVP voting as Isiah in both 89 and 90 and b) Dumars made all NBA third team in 90 over Isiah despite the fact that Isiah was clearly the better player and was the heart and soul of the team, according to this article and many others:https://exnba.com/articles-news/isiah-thomas-on-who-could-be-bad-boy-on-80s-pistons/
Isiah made all NBA 2nd team in 82-83, while finishing 16th in MVP voting. And that was BEFORE there was a significant bias against the Pistons. So I'm actually being conservative here by saying that he if we remove the bias against the Bad Boys Pistons and specifically Isiah and Laimbeer, then this is what Isiah would have achieved:
-All NBA team (either 1st or 2nd team) 9 years in a row
-Top 10 in MVP voting 5 years in a row
What player still left on the board can compete with that?
Still not convinced Isiah deserves consideration here? How about:
-12 time all-star (in a 13 year career)
-1 time NBA Finals MVP
-2 time NBA champion
-2 times was the best player on an NBA championship winning team (Isiah led the Pistons in minutes, points, assists and steals - in both the regular season and playoffs in both 88-89 and 89-90)
-Only player ever (other than Magic and Oscar) to average over 19 PPG and over 9 APG for his career
-Joined a Pistons team which was on the brink of extinction - there was talk about the team moving to a different city - or possibly shutting down entirely - they went 21-61 the year before Isiah joined the team. They improved their win total by a whopping 18 games in Isiah's rookie year. 2 years later they made the playoffs and 6 years after that they were champions.
Still not convinced? Perhaps you missed this piece of NBA history:
Isiah with 43 points in game 6 of the 88 NBA finals - against the Showtime Lakers who were in their dynasty. He scored 25 of those points in the 3rd quarter on a severely injured ankle. One of the most heroic performances of any NBA game, especially one in the NBA finals. If not for the phantom foul call on Laimbeer:
a) this would have been arguably the greatest performance in a NBA finals clinging game in history
b) would have been 3 titles in a row for the Pistons
c) Isiah would have been finals MVP in 88
Even Lakers coach Pat Riley calls it a phantom foul:https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2103545-pat-riley-admits-84-lakers-benefited-from-phantom-foul-vs-detroit-pistons
To anyone who says "oh Laimbeer got away with other fouls so he deserved to get called for that one"...no, that's BS because a) refs hated Laimbeer, if anything they were out to get him and are more likely to favor the Lakers with calls since the Lakers were showtime, they were the much more liked team and had a much better image than the Pistons and b) the Phantom Foul was called with 14 seconds left in the game - it was an elimination game in the NBA finals. You're comparing apples to oranges if you say Laimbeer got calls in the 2nd quarter of this game so it's ok that the phantom foul was called. Obviously a foul being called on a dude attempting a game winning shot with 14 seconds left - that call carries MUCH more weight and significance than a call in the 2nd quarter.
Also, someone posted in the other thread something like "oh, even if the foul wasn't called on Laimbeer, if Kareem misses that show there was a Lakers player in position for the offensive rebound and put-back. To that I say, no! Look at this video, pause it at the :41 mark because that is the exact moment this whistle blows for the foul. At that moment, neither team looks to be in better position for the rebound - if anything, the Pistons look to be in slightly better rebounding position if you pause it there. If you let the video keep going another second or 2 after the whistle then yes, the Lakers player under the basket is in better position to get a rebound but it was way after the whistle at that point so why would the Pistons keep going for the rebound?
And no, if you think that magical game vs the Lakers was a fluke and if you think that was the only iconic performance by Isiah, you're wrong:https://theundefeated.com/features/pistons-isiah-thomas-dropped-16-points-in-94-seconds-1984-nba-playoffs-against-knicks/
The bigger the stage, the more pressure is on, the better Isiah delivers. Something you can't say about pretty much any player left on the board at this point.
McHale - did everything you could want from a PF. He could score (with more effective post up moves than just about any player ever), he could rebound and is also one of the best post defenders of all time. He beat opposing bigs down the floor and had defensive versatility (at times would defend the 3, 4 and 5)..oh yeah and he won 3 championships, 5 NBA finals appearances. I think a good comparison for McHale is Pippen. Both had really good team success while playing as the no. 2 guy alongside one of the best players ever (Bird, Jordan), neither has great longevity but both had a solid 3 or 4 years where they were arguably the best in the world at their position and a legit top 5 or 6 player in the league. I think who was better between McHale and Pippen is pretty debatable (McHale a better scorer, about even on D, maybe a slight edge on D for Pippen). Pippen got in several rounds ago in this poll, so right here seems about right for McHale.
Willis Reed - Frazier and Ewing both got voted in for this thing a long time ago. Yet Reed is arguably better than both of them. Reed was finals MVP twice, whereas Frazier (while playing on same team as Reed) and Ewing both won finals MVP 0 times.