Chevette to Corvette No. 60: The 1965-66 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 22-58
  • Pythagorean record: 24-58
  • Points Per Game: 110.3 (9th of 9)
  • Opponents Points Per Game: 117.2 (6th of 9)
  • Arena: Cobo Arena
  • Head coach: Dave DeBusschere

Leaders

  • Points per game: Eddie Miles (19.6)
  • Rebounds per game: Dave DeBusschere (11.6)
  • Assists per game: Ray Scott (3.0)
  • Steals per game: N/A
  • Blocks per game: N/A

Top player

Eddie Miles

A young scorer who so admired NBA all-time great Elgin Baylor that he went all the way from Little Rock, Arkansas, to play college basketball at Baylor’s alma mater, the University of Seattle, Miles had a career year for the Pistons in 1965-66. That was no easy task, considering the Pistons were easily the NBA’s worst team at 22-58, a full eight games behind the next team up in the standings, New York.

Miles was selected by the Pistons picked fourth overall in the 1963 draft. According to the University of Seattle in 2009, Miles is the third best player in school history, behind Baylor and Johnny O’Brien:

Led three SU teams to NCAA post-season play. Attended Jones High in Little Rock, Arkansas where he was a two-time high school All-American. Third-leading scorer in school history with 1,874 points and 23.1 ppg in three years. A good rebounder, he nabbed 476 off the boards, averaging just under six per game. Known as “the Man With the Golden Arm,” his jump shot was one of the country’s best bets in the early 1960s.

Talk about an era when nicknames were epic — try living up to being dubbed ‘The Man With the Golden Arm.’ Miles steadily improved each of his first two seasons in Detroit (jumping from 5 to 13 points per game) before attaining All-Star status in that third season when his minutes increased to nearly 35 per game. His nickname, obviously, meant that his strength was shooting jumpers, but the key to Miles’ 1966 season was an increased ability to get to the line. He attempted 5.0 free throws per game, a career high and more than two per game more than he’d previously attempted in his career.

Miles was hurt during his NBA career by the fact that he never played with a 3-point line, something that would’ve assuredly boosted the scoring average of such a prolific shooter. Miles, who now lives in Seattle, told the Seattle Post-Inteligencer in 2005 that his golden shooting arm was still intact:

“If I had some legs, I could still play,” he said with a laugh. “If they had a position of standing guard, I could still play.”

Key transaction

Drafted Tom Van Arsdale in the second round

And you thought Pistons draft picks having their greatest successes elsewhere was a recent phenomenon. The Pistons drafted Van Arsdale, a 6-foot-5 wing player out of Indiana, with the third pick of the second round in 1965. Van Arsdale was solid as a rookie in Detroit, averaging 10.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists. His numbers hovered right around those rookie marks for another season and a half in Detroit before the Pistons traded Van Arsdale to Cincinnati with journeyman forward John Tresvant for Jim Fox and Happy Hairston. Van Arsdale blossomed with the Royals, becoming a three-time All-Star, while Fox averaged fewer than five points per game in 49 career games with the Pistons and Hairston had one solid season before he was shipped to the Lakers.

Trend watch

Will Pistons cut another coach loose?

After completing the 65-66 season, the Pistons had had just five seasons above .500 in 18 years. Charles Eckman, who took the Fort Wayne to back-to-back Finals appearances, was, to that point, the only coach in Pistons franchise history who got to start a fourth season with the team, and even Eckman didn’t make it through his fourth season.

The Pistons were coached in 1965-66 by DeBusschere, who was also a key player on the team. After tying the record for the worst season in franchise history, it was a good bet that a coaching change was considered, but DeBusschere’s clout as a high school and college star in Detroit, as well as the fact that he was a really good NBA player at the time, may have saved his coaching job, for better or worse. Although DeBusschere would make it through the season, it was clear the Pistons were still searching for the right person to help turn around a floundering franchise.

Why this season ranks No. 60

The Pistons were in the midst of a 10-year stretch that was their worst in franchise history (they made the playoffs only once in those 10 years), and this was the worst season of that period and tied for the worst in franchise history at the time.

Compounding matters, although it appeared they had a young star blossoming in Miles to compliment a fellow All-Star in DeBusschere and a promising rookie in Van Arsdale, the Pistons were no closer to escaping the basement. DeBusschere, who was also trying to play professional baseball during the early part of his career with the Pistons, came into his own as a player when he was freed from the coaching responsibilities that were taking away from his on-court abilities, as he admitted in Pete Axthelm’s book, The City Game:

Freed from coaching and with baseball far behind him, DeBusschere found himself focusing on one job for the first time as a professional. He kept improving, but the Pistons didn’t. And he began to hear the rumors that he would be traded.

DeBusschere also says in the book that the experience coaching helped turn him into an even better player because he began to understand all spots on the floor. Of course, these revelations came when he was becoming the missing piece on a Knicks championship team rather than as a member of the Pistons.

Van Arsdale had his best years after Detroit traded him, as pointed out above, and as for Miles, well, he wasn’t blossoming into a perennial star, he was actually peaking in 1966. Miles never again touched the 19.6 points per game he averaged in 1966 and he averaged more than 13 points per game only two more times in his career, which was cut short by an Achilles tendon injury that forced him to retire in 1972 at just 31-years-old.

Virtually all bad teams take solace in the fact that young, exciting players of the future received valuable development and took their lumps in lost seasons. Time, however, would prove that the ’66 Pistons were still many pieces away from being competitive.

Previously

63. 1979-80 Detroit Pistons

62. 1993-94 Detroit Pistons

61. 1963-64 Detroit Pistons

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