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New Record Offers Chance To Praise Deserving Piston

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Hours after the Pistons had put the finishing touches on their conference semis match-up with the Orlando Magic this past Tuesday night, Columbia Missourian reporter Bill Powell had a question: "Do you think the Pistons end up raising Rip's number to the rafters in light of what happened tonight?"

'What happened' in Auburn Hills earlier this week was that Richard Hamilton broke Isiah Thomas' career Pistons playoff scoring record.  With a 31-point effort in his 110th playoff game, Hamilton reached 2,282 playoff points as a Piston, surpassing Zeke's mark of 2,261.  On an intriguing parallel, Thomas took 111 games to reach his total.  The pair also have remarkably similar shooting numbers.  Thomas averaged 20.4 points per postseason game on 44.1 percent shooting, including 34.6 percent on threes.  Hamilton has averaged 20.7 points per game on 43.9 percent shooting from the field and 34.3 percent shooting from deep.

All that said, whether Rip Hamilton will see his number 32 jersey raised to the rafters remains a mystery to me.  I've never been entirely sure what constitutes grounds for jersey-raising, and there doesn't seem to be a universal set of qualifications either -- each city has a style of its own.

Granted, it would appear that a guy who leads a rather storied franchise in career playoff scoring and was a key cog on at least one championship team and six Eastern Conference Finals teams would be able to get some post-career recognition.  This is especially true when one considers that, by setting the record in 110 games, Hamilton debunked the contentions of irrelevance of total playoff points records given the way the postseason schedule has expanded over the past couple of decades.

But ultimately, the 30-year-old swingman is still playing and looks likely to continue to do so for quite some time.  So the issue of Rip's jersey-hanging doesn't register with me as all that consequential at the present moment (although it remains a compelling question on Bill's part).  What does matter is that Hamilton's presence in the news provides ample forum to chat about a topic I've been waiting on for quite some time: my high admiration for this particular member of the hated boys from Detroit.

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Somehow, it seems that the three-time All-Star swingman is routinely one of the league's most overlooked players.

Then again, this a sport in which ten players are on the court at once with only one ball to share between them.  This means that simply watching the ball can lead to a spectator missing as much as 90 percent of what's occurring on a basketball court.

Put in those terms -- and considering how natural it is for us to watch the ball, since putting it in the basket is the objective of this game in the first place -- it becomes remarkably simple to comprehend the occasional underappreciation of Rip Hamilton's game.

Having spent the whole of his prime on a truly balanced team, Hamilton's scoring numbers have never been all that gaudy.  He has averaged at least 20 points per game just twice in his nine NBA seasons, and he has a career scoring average of 17.9 points per game.  Very good, sure, but not blowing anybody's doors off either.

But it comes in watching Hamilton -- and not the ball -- that one appreciates the beauty of his work.  This man is a professional.  In fact, when it comes to moving without the basketball, this is the man who in 2005 took the torch directly from the retiring hands of Reggie Miller, one of the greatest professionals of the last generation.

Rip Hamilton has made a living of moving off the ball.  He has the quickness and endurance to make life miserable for those burdened with the responsibility of stopping him on a night-to-night basis, but he also the intellect to take that misery to another level.  Rip does a fantastic job of seeing the floor as he moves, always looking for open seams to float toward.  He knows how to run his man perfectly off screens and has the precision in his footwork and motion to curl, fade or dive toward the basket in just the right way to put himself in great position to catch the ball and shoot.  This movement has been nearly as big a reason as Hamilton's well-honed shooting mechanics for his high shooting efficacy over recent seasons (he shoots 45.5 percent from the field for his career but has hit at 49.1, 46.8 and 48.4 percent clips over the past three seasons).  In a league that is too often dominated by the "everybody stands around while one guy isolates" mentality, it sometimes feels that fewer players than ever are worth paying to watch without the ball in their hands.  Rip Hamilton is one of those players.

We're talking about a player now who once said (though I'm currently having trouble tracking down the exact quote) that he enjoyed Flip Saunders' flex offense because it almost never required him to dribble.  As soon as he caught it, he was virtually always either in position for a good look at the basket or a smart pass to a teammate.  We're not sure how many NBA swingman would be remotely likely to say anything along those lines, but the prevailing guess here is a definitive "not many."

In addition to Hamilton's pretty offensive game, it doesn't hurt that on the other end of the floor, this is the guy renowned Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom once referred to as "the human water bug."  Hamilton's tenacity shines through on D as well, and he consistently uses his quickness, wingspan (he stands 6-foot-7) and deceptive strength to stick some of the best guards in the league. 

Richard Hamilton plays hard at both ends through every second of every game, and throughout his career, he has never shied away from stepping up to take the big shot or make a tough play defensively.  It is no coincidence that the man has managed to be a part of some excellent basketball teams over the past few years.

It might be easy to miss him because he doesn't dominate the ball in the manner that many modern stars do, but Rip Hamilton sure can play.   While it's hard to go too far in the direction of admitting to actually liking the guy so long as he wears the hated blue and red of Motown, it's just about impossible not to respect the man who now heads the Pistons' all-time playoff scoring list.

Well done, Rip. 

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