"It used to be that he only went to his right and couldn't shoot." says the Pistons' Isiah Thomas, whose presence in the East makes it difficult for Rivers to become an All-Star. "But he worked hard and now he's as tough as anybody."
Shooting guard: Vinnie Johnson, Detroit Pistons, 6'2", 200, Baylor, eighth year.
Career stats: 12.0 points. 3.34 assists, 3.18 rebounds, 1 point every 2 minutes.
This season: 14.6, 3.5, 3.09, 1 point every 1.7 minutes.
Drawing more nominations than any other, the shooting guard position divided voters, inflamed emotions and kept us awake at night. Milwaukee's Ricky Pierce, Atlanta's Randy Wittman and Indiana's John Long were all possibilities. But it finally came down to a choice between Johnson, a sixth man. and Boston's Danny Ainge a marked man.
Forget his bad haircut, the result of a botched effort to look like Bruce Willis, and forget his pouty expression, which he'll be wearing at age 80. Ainge plays hard every minute at both ends of the floor. We even asked Rivers if Ainge would be a good choice to play alongside him. "Definitely." he said. "Guys don't like him because he does everything it takes to win." How about Vinnie Johnson? Rivers smiled and shook his head slowly. "Vinnie is tough, so tough. He'd be a good choice, too."
Vinnie leaves a lot of defenders shaking their heads. He comes off the Piston bench hotter than a microwaved sandwich. Detroit coach Chuck Daly calls it "a high-wire act." Get the ball, swing those long arms left, swing 'em right, dribble, lean, shoot that line-drive jumper. He's doing the routine so well this season that he's the early favorite for the NBA's Sixth Man Award.
And he's not just an offensive player. "He comes after you," says Lever, "and he's got the body to make you feel it. He's the little bear in a trench coat." Consider: Joe Dumars, who starts ahead of Vinnie is rightly considered a tough, athletic, all-around player. But in 25 minutes per game, compared with Dumars's 31, Johnson has one less steal (60 to 61) and more rebounds (170 to 110). Any day in Detroit is apt to be V.J. Day.
Given our criteria, there were only three serious candidates—New Jersey's Mike Gminski, Atlanta's "Tree" Rollins and Indiana's Steve Stipanovich—and we couldn't get anything resembling a consensus. Centers, we discovered, are rarely underrated or overrated. "What you see is pretty much what you get." said Nets coach Dave Wohl.