Born: February 28, 1956
Position: Small Forward
Professional Career:
Buffalo Braves (NBA): 1976-’77
Indiana Pacers (NBA): 1977
Los Angeles Lakers (NBA): 1977-’79
Utah Jazz (NBA): 1979-’86
Detroit Pistons (NBA): 1986-’89
Dallas Mavericks (NBA): 1989-’90
Milwaukee Bucks (NBA): 1991

One of the most unstoppable post players in the history of basketball stood a mere 6’5″ on a good day… in an extra thick pair of high knee socks.

That truth seemed like a doubtful assertion back in the 1970s when Adrian Dantley was routinely told time and again that he was too short to keep playing in the post. Or that he was too heavy and chunky to be any good in college, let alone the pros. And, yet, Dantley proved the naysayers wrong his entire career.

During his final two seasons at Notre Dame, AD dropped a shade under 30 points a night to go along with 10 rebounds and 56% shooting from the field. As his professional career unfolded, it turned out that Dantley’s rebounding would diminish but his scoring and, more remarkably, his FG% would not take a hit.

Despite winning Rookie of the Year in 1977, Dantley bounced from Buffalo to Indiana to the Lakers during his first three NBA seasons. His NBA per game averages to that point were 19.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, .515 FG% and .816 FT%. Not bad, but apparently not good enough for any team to retain.

Finally, though, Dantley found a home in 1979. The Lakers traded him to the Utah Jazz in exchange for Spencer Haywood. With the Jazz Dantley was given the freedom to fully unleash his devastation upon the NBA.

From 1980 to 1986, Dantley averaged an absurd 29.6 points a night. Despite the increase in usage, his FG% actually rose considerably to an insanely high 56% for those seven seasons.

He rarely dunked and yet he maintained that percentage on a series of shots around the rim.  He’d have remarkable control of his body no matter how much pounding or twirling he’d do in the paint.

And heaven help you, if you wound up fouling Dantley. He’d still probably make the shot thanks to his stocky strength and with his 80+ percent shooting from the foul line you were just giving him free points. Indeed, he led the NBA in free throws made four times in this span, in addition to winning the scoring title twice.

Dantley’s white hot streak peaked in 1984 when he led the league in scoring, win shares, PER, and WS/48.

Adrian Dantley drive

As often happens, though, a player’s most prodigious statistical seasons don’t coincide with his most successful seasons from a team perspective. The Jazz only made the playoffs three times during these seasons, but they managed to win two playoff series.

However, a trade to Detroit for the 1986-87 season gave Dantley a chance to be on a true contender. His scoring average dipped to 20 points a night, but with the Pistons having Joe Dumars, Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, and Vinnie Johnson, no one man needed to take a massive offensive load.

In 1987, the Pistons came within a mere three points of making the NBA Finals, but fell to the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals by a score of 117 to 114. Dantley was an uncontrollable from Boston’s perspective averaging 23.6 points on 57.7% shooting for the series.

The next season Detroit dispatched Boston and advanced to the NBA Finals. In Game 1 vs. the Los Angeles Lakers, Dantley was a man possessed scoring 34 points on 14-16 shooting from the field and 6-7 shooting from the charity stripe. The Pistons won that game and eventually took a 3-2 series lead. They likely would have won the Finals if not for Isiah Thomas’s severely sprained ankle in Game 6. The Lakers pulled out that game by a single point and eked by in Game 7 with a three-point victory.

Unfortunately for Dantley he’d be traded midway through the 1989 season to Dallas in exchange for Mark Aguirre. The Pistons new high-scoring 1980s forward would capture two titles, while Dantley’s career wound down on mediocre, losing teams. Sadly, that’s the way basketball bounces sometimes.

One man’s lucky break is another’s bad misfortune. Still, Dantley’s career was a marvel. What he did control, he controlled with an ability rarely seen. And he did it with fantastic style: gorgeous knee-high socks, awesome chops on his face, and a great corkscrew free throw shot.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdO_3iW5QAA]

Honors

Rookie of the Year (1977)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1981, 1984)
6x All-Star (1980-’82, 1984-’86)
All-Rookie Team (1977)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (955 games):

PPG RPG APG SPG FG% FT% PER WS/48
Career Average 24.3 5.7 3.0 0.99 0.540 0.818 21.5 0.189
Career High 30.7 7.8 4.0 1.49 0.576 0.860 24.6 0.235

Playoff Career Averages (73 games):

PPG RPG APG SPG FG% FT% PER WS/48
Career Average 21.3 5.4 2.3 0.95 0.525 0.796 19.3 0.172
Career High 32.2 8.3 4.2 1.67 0.571 0.863 24.7 0.209