- Actual record: 28-54
- Pythagorean record: 22-60
- Offensive Rating: 105.1 (24th of 27)
- Defensive Rating: 112.9 (27th of 27)
- Arena: Palace of Auburn Hills
- Head coaches: Don Chaney
- Points per game: Grant Hill (19.9)
- Rebounds per game: Terry Mills (7.8)
- Assists per game: Joe Dumars (5.5)
- Steals per game: Grant Hill (1.8)
- Blocks per game: Oliver Miller (1.8)
Not since Isiah Thomas had a rookie been so prized as Grant Hill. Hill was a major gift for the Pistons. He played four years of college basketball at Duke, arguably the top program in the country over that span. He was a ready-made superstar by the time he reached the NBA. He quickly became one of the league’s most popular players, he was voted into the All-Star Game as a rookie and he shared the Rookie of the Year award with Jason Kidd. The Bad Boys era was clearly over in Hill’s first season as Joe Dumars was the only remaining player from those teams. The Pistons were not good, and Hill had the maturity and talent to not shy away from an undoubtedly difficult situation, trying to follow the act of Detroit’s most successful run of pro basketball ever and be the centerpiece of a group that the franchise hoped would once again reach those heights.
Drafted Grant Hill
This is a no-brainer for the reasons listed above, so we’ll go with a runner-up:
Signed Oliver Miller as a free agent
In the offseason prior to the 1994-95 season, the Pistons picked up Mark West in a trade with Phoenix. But the real heist, I thought, was signing young center Oliver Miller away from the Suns as a free agent.
When the Suns made the Finals in 1993, I became a huge fan first and foremost because I always rooted for the Bulls to lose. But I also liked two Suns rookies, Oliver Miller and Richard Dumas. Both guys gave great energy when they played. Dumas was an explosive athlete and really fun to watch running the floor and finishing. Miller, the portly center, certainly looked out of place on the basketball court, but he had such long arms and seemed to contest every shot when he was on the floor. I was really excited when the Pistons signed him and I thought it was strange that the Suns let two centers get away in the same offseason.
But the reason they both got away was pretty clear in Detroit. West simply was old. He was fine surrounded by better talent in Phoenix, but he was 34 in Detroit and journeyman, role-playing centers are pretty pointless on non-contending teams. Taking charges, toughness and rebounding in spurts are things that can help push a contender to another level for a few minutes a game. But when you’re playing with Rafael Addison and Johnny Dawkins instead of Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson, it’s harder to make that impact felt.
Miller simply just could never get in good enough shape. His numbers were good in Detroit — 8.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 55 percent shooting in about 24 minutes a game. But the Pistons needed Miller on the court more than that and they just couldn’t rely on him to play starter’s minutes, a problem that would plague the undeniably talented Miller his entire career.
The 1994-95 season would be the only time in Hills first three seasons that someone else led the Pistons in assists or rebounding. Hill didn’t cede the team rebounding title until Bison Dele’s arrival in 1997-98 and no one ever took the team assist title from him during the rest of his Pistons career.
Why this season ranks No. 55
I was pretty excited when the Pistons hired Don Chaney as coach in 1993. The reason I was excited is pretty stupid, but hey, I’m all about disclosure. I was 12-years-old at the time and when it was announced Chaney would coach the team, I remembered having a NBA Hoops basketball card with Chaney on it along with a ‘Coach of the Year’ emblem from when he was coaching the Rockets. If this guy was good enough to get coach of the year just a couple years prior, he must be a great coach, right?
Well, I certainly miscalculated. The 1994-95 season would be Chaney’s last. And although things were looking up because of Hill’s arrival, Chaney didn’t find much else that worked. He had no success getting Miller to buy into a conditioning program and consequently, Miller was exposed and selected in the expansion draft following the season. Veterans like West and Dawkins didn’t fit in. And young players Lindsey Hunter and Allan Houston didn’t take the desired steps forward, Hunter due to injuries and Houston due to the fact that Chaney buried him on the bench at times before a strong run by Houston to close the season exposed that he probably should’ve been playing all along.
Faulty reasoning or not, I think the organization thought it had the beginnings of a young nucleus in Hill, Houston, Hunter and Miller. When Chaney didn’t have much success developing three of those four players, his fate was probably sealed.