Chevette to Corvette No. 31: The 1997-98 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 37-45
  • Pythagorean record: 46-36
  • Offensive Rating: 105.3 (13th of 29)
  • Defensive Rating: 103.5 (9th of 29)
  • Arena: Palace of Auburn Hills
  • Head coaches: Doug Collins (21-24), Alvin Gentry (16-21)

Leaders

  • Points per game: Grant Hill (21.1)
  • Rebounds per game: Bison Dele (8.9)
  • Assists per game: Grant Hill (6.8)
  • Steals per game: Grant Hill (1.8)
  • Blocks per game: Theo Ratliff (2.3)

Top player

Grant Hill

This gets a bit redundant in this era, but the Pistons simply had no other player remotely close to as talented as Hill. As good as he was this season, his numbers slid a bit. His shooting percentage fell from 48 to 45 percent, his rebounding went down from 9 per game to 7.7 per game and his assists went down from 7.3 to 6.8 per game. Those slides were largely a result of more attention focused on Hill as his teammates couldn’t really command the attention of the defense or create shots on their own.

Key transaction

Traded Theo Ratliff and Aaron McKie to Philadelphia for Eric Montross and Jerry Stackhouse

This trade, quite simply, was horrible. Here’s what I wrote about it in Piston Devotion, which you can purchase here:

But the trade was as much a failure for what the Pistons gave up as for what they received. They sent Philadelphia Aaron McKie, a defensive-minded combo guard who was among the best defenders in the league and who would go on to win a Sixth Man of the Year award in Philly in 2001, and, more importantly, a young defensive-minded center in Theo Ratliff.

Now, Ratliff had a rough start to his career in Detroit. He was a project player drafted out of Wyoming in 1995. Doug Collins didn’t have much patience for Ratliff (or young players in general) so, despite Ratliff’s occasional flashes of energy, shot-blocking and defense, he was often in Collins’ doghouse for making (relatively minor) mistakes. Eventually, he was traded when it became clear the pairing with Collins wasn’t going to work out.

Ratliff quickly blossomed in Philly, becoming one of the best shot blockers in the league while anchoring Larry Brown’s defense. His minutes jumped from 24 per game in Detroit to 32 in Philly after the trade in 1997. By the 2000-01 season, he’d become an All-Star. He proved to be exactly the kind of player Detroit had needed the last decade, an athletic, defensive-minded center. And the worst part is, he was sacrificed for a coach in Collins who was fired just a handful of games after that trade was made in the 97-98 season.

Now, Stackhouse, who was terrible initially with the Pistons, eventually got better and became an important piece in their rebirth when he was traded for Rip Hamilton. But at the time, this was a terrible trade for the Pistons and another in a long line of examples of young players the Pistons draft developing into better players elsewhere.

Trend watch

Grant Hill didn’t quite do it all

The addition of Bison Dele and the emergence of Jerome Williams began to take some pressure off of Grant Hill on the boards. After leading the team in scoring, rebounding and assists for two straight seasons, Hill fell to second on the team in rebounding behind Dele this season.

Why this season ranks No. 32

As has been the case several times in their history, the Pistons appeared to be on the verge of a breakthrough only to fall apart. They won a surprising 54 games the previous season after losing Allan Houston to free agency and promptly underachieved in 97-98, and most of the blame can be placed solely on the guard play. Check out the shooting percentages for guards who saw big minutes for the Pistons this season: Joe Dumars – 41 percent; Malik Sealy – 42 percent; Aaron McKie – 41 percent; Jerry Stackhouse – 42 percent; Lindsey Hunter – 38 percent. It’s no wonder Hill’s assist numbers went down with so many low percentage shooters on the perimeter.

The lack of development from young players, particularly Hunter and Ratliff, and the fact that Bison Dele didn’t have as big an impact as the team hoped, also hurt. Part of this could be attributed to coaching — Ratliff immediately thrived, as mentioned above, when he got out from under Collins. But the point is, although the team looked ready to take another step forward, no one rose to the occasion to become the complimentary player Hill desperately needed, and it cost Collins his job.

Previously