After finishing 21-61, the Detroit Pistons selected Isiah Thomas with the second overall pick in the 1981 NBA Draft. In a stroke of good fortune—or savvy front office maneuvering—the Pistons also selected 12th, acquiring Notre Dame superstar Kelly Tripucka as compensation for the Kansas City Kings’ 1980 signing of Leon Douglas.
The Thomas-Tripucka rookie duo led Detroit to an 18-game improvement in 1981-82. Slotting as two of the team’s three leading scorers, Tripucka (21.6) and Thomas (17.0) each made their All-Star debuts as rookies. Starting in the backcourt alongside Tiny Archibald, Thomas finished with 12 points, four assists, and three steals. Playing 15 minutes off the bench, Kelly Tripucka scored six points and delivered two assists in front of his homestate New Jersey crowd.