Players of the past like to reminisce about how tough NBA players were back in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s and ESPN’s recent 30 for 30 documentary on the Bad Boys Detroit Pistons only serves to highlight just how much the NBA resembled the NHL during those two decades. However, what older fans forget is that modern players are not necessarily softer than players of the past, but they are softer because of the players of the past.
It was because of teams like the Bad Boys Detroit Pistons that the NBA had to crack down on its rules on the court. The level of contact has been reduced because of how incredibly physical it was in the past. Frankly speaking, many of the fouls that were committed were not basketball fouls, but NFL and NHL fouls. Driving into the paint on Charles Oakley was plain old stupid. Why risk ending your career because a blue-collar player wants you to stay outside of the paint? Since then, the NBA has wisely taken precautionary rules to protect players on offense, but this does not mean that modern players are that much softer than players of the past. The rules are softer, but not the players themselves.
The Bad Boys era began in 1981 when they drafted point guard Isiah Thomas and it extended until 1994. Isiah was always a flashy point guard dating back to his college days in Indiana, but he was also a tough and gritty point guard. His contagious smile fooled some in the beginning, but hidden within that smile was a lot of nastiness. The following year in 1982, the Detroit Pistons acquired Bill Laimbeer in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers along with Vinnie Johnson from the Seattle Supersonics, and the embryonic core of the Bad Boys Pistons were formed. By the mid-80’s a core of John Salley, Dennis Rodman, Rick Mahorn, Mark Aguirre and Joe Dumars formed the most physically intimidating team of all-time.
This begs the question, who are some of the modern players today that could compose a present day version of the Bad Boys? Who are some of the toughest and grittiest players that could hang with the Detroit Pistons in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s without backing down from them? This is a list of the Top 10 players that could make the Bad Boys simply just Boys.
10. Zach Randolph
Z-Bo may look polished and mature right now, but the physicality and grit of his youth has not gone away. During his younger days, Z-Bo was emotionally volatile, always looked unhappy, and made up for his lack of athleticism with dirty plays. The more mature version of Z-Bo is much more refined in his offensive game, but his mental toughness has not dissipated. Z-Bo likes to band and it is the reason why the combination of him and Marc Gasol form one of the toughest frontcourts in the NBA.
9. Steven Adams
Trained in the school of Kendrick Perkins, thus Kiwi is as tough as nails. Steven Adams never talks, but his tough play on the court speaks loudly. Adams is still very raw at this point in his young NBA career, but he already knows how to bang his body into people. Adams knows how to take elbows and how to give elbows with the best of them, and the most frustrating thing for his opponents is that he never says anything. He just quietly mums along and frustrates the heck out of you.
8. Tony Allen
This shooting guard cannot shoot to save his life, but Tony Allen is regularly on the first team All-Defense. Allen is ferocious on the perimeter on defense. Despite being only 6’5”, Allen makes up for his lack of size with his grit and toughness – just ask Kevin Durant. Even though Allen gave up 5 inches to Durant, he made his night a living hell as he tormented him with his on the ball and off the ball defense. There is always a screw loose with guys that love defense and could care less about offense, and it is what makes Tony Allen one of the toughest players in the NBA.
7. Matt Barnes
Matt Barnes will never be confused as a NBA superstar, but he has made a nice career for himself in the NBA. The in-your-face small forward has never been afraid to mix it up with anyone on the court and has never been shy about defending his teammates even if they never back him up (ahem…Blake Griffin). Barnes is one of those players that you want on your team, but not one of those players that you want to play against. This year, Barnes has already been ejected out of two games and his street ball mentality has made him one of the most feared perimeter defenders in the NBA. When Kobe Bryant personally asks you to join his team because of the way that you defended him, it says a lot. Barnes has never been afraid to guard anyone, even though most of the superstars in the NBA play at his position.
6. Chris Paul
In the words of Kevin Durant, Chris Paul is just nasty. Paul is pesty, he is annoying, and he is like a fly that is constantly buzzing around your ear. CP3 leads the league in steals almost every year and there is a reason why. Paul’s hands are quick and they are so quick, it is hard for the referees to know if he got all ball or all hand. When CP3 is guarding anyone on the perimeter, if you do not protect the ball like a mother hen protecting her newborn chick, in all likelihood, he is going to steal the ball from you. This season, CP3 accumulated 10 technical fouls. Paul’s in your face defense, his mental toughness, and his high IQ make him the toughest point guard in the game of basketball today. There is a reason why everyone compares Chris Paul to Isiah Thomas. They may both be small in stature, but they know how to make up for it with their tough grit.
5. Lance Stephenson
The up and coming fourth year player for the Indiana Pacers has brought his Brooklyn roots with him to the NBA. Sir Lance-a-lot had 14 technical fouls this season, including 1 ejection. When Stephenson plays, he plays with fire, passion, and a little bit of crazy. Whenever Stephenson has the ball at the top of the key, he looks like a NFL running back that is ready to bust through a vaulted door to get to the rim. Lance is anything but soft. He likes contact, he likes altercations, and he likes to make basketball a little bit more unprofessional. In fact, you can easily make the case that Stephenson is already crazier than Joe Dumars ever was. Dumars was always even-keeled and composed, but Lance is like a wrecking ball without any way of containing him.
4. Patrick Beverley
Patrick Beverley’s nickname should be “The Bulldog.” Ever since appearing on the NBA map by injuring Russell Westbrook’s knee a few years ago, Beverley has lived up to his reputation for playing 110% of every second he is on the court. Remember that Beverley injured Westbrook when he was simply trying to bring the ball up to the half court hashmark to call timeout. When Beverley is on the court, he only knows one speed, and that is going all-out. Beverley revs up his engine to the redline almost every play, which has even earned him the starting job over Jeremy Lin for the Houston Rockets. Combine that with his face mask and Beverley looks like Hannibal Lecter who is out for his latest kill. You think Beverly would be afraid of anyone on the Bad Boys Pistons? I think not.
3. David West
There is a reason why David West is known as one of the toughest guys in the NBA. This season, David West had 7 technical fouls and 1 ejection. He may not be the most athletic player in the paint, but his physicality and willingness to initiate contact make him one of the toughest players in the NBA. There is no way that David West would back down from the likes of a Bill Laimbeer or a young Dennis Rodman. West’s jumper maybe smooth, but his elbows are very sharp.
2. DeMarcus Cousins
DeMarcus Cousins has often been criticized for his volatile personality and his inability to keep his composure. The permanent scowl on Cousins’s face reveals just how irritated and grumpy he is as a player, which makes him a perfect fit to hold down the fort in the paint. Cousins is routinely in the upper echelon of the league for the most accumulated amount of technical fouls in a season. This year he led the league in technical fouls once again with 16 and was even ejected out of 1 game. He is dirty, he is physical, he is angry, and he is a sore loser, all of the ingredients to make this modern bad boys team.
1. Kendrick Perkins
Have you ever seen Kendrick Perkins smile? Me either. Perkins is never happy. Sometimes you have to wonder if he even likes playing basketball. But then you see the fire under his belly and his desire to do whatever it takes for his team win, and you’re reminded that even with his limited skills, Perkins makes up for it with his craftiness. Whether it is locking arms with Tim Duncan to box him out for a rebound or pushing Blake Griffin in the air so that he breaks both arms, Perkins looks like he is straight out of Motor City.