Despite his ability to score a lot of points, the Pistons drafted Dumars because they were looking for a role player who could play tough defense. "I wanted to score, but that wasn't what the Pistons needed," he says. "There was just no room for me to step in and score the way I had in college. I saw they needed a defensive player, so I focused on that as a rookie. That was when I realized it might take a little longer than I had planned before I got to do all the things in the NBA I knew I could do."
Dumars didn't really begin to assert himself offensively until this season, and even then not until his best friend on the team, Adrian Dantley, was traded to the Dallas Mavericks for Aguirre in February. The departure of Dantley's hefty scoring average (18.3 points) created a void Dumars was happy to fill. "Adrian was my idol," says Dumars. "He was my guy on this team. But I told him, "You're my friend and I miss you, but I'm glad you left.' I'm getting the ball a lot more since he was traded."
There was considerable speculation after the trade, much of it fueled by Dantley, that Thomas had engineered the deal because he and Dantley didn't get along. Dumars insists he has not let such talk affect his relationship with Thomas. "I had to play with Isiah every day," he says, "so I couldn't go out there resenting him."
Dumars is the first to acknowledge that he is not as "flashy" as Thomas, although you get the feeling that he doesn't lie awake nights worrying about it. In addition to being named MVP of the championship series, this year he was selected to the league's All-Defensive team, although his defensive statistics weren't overly impressive. "It was nice because I don't get a lot of blocks or steals," he says. "The media recognized that I play good position defense and work on containing my man."
Even if Dumars is not called upon next season to score as prolifically as he did in the Finals, he has certainly emerged as one of the finest all-around guards in the game. "What really burns me," said Thomas, "is that they talk about all the other guards in this league and never mention his name. But Joe is one of the best guards in this league."
For the past several seasons, whenever Dumars was asked by reporters—as he often was—how it felt to be so underrated, he would always answer, "How do you get rated?" He finally seems to have found the answer. "Every year, I was supposedly the most underrated guard in the league," he says. "Maybe now I won't hear that anymore."