Chevette to Corvette No. 19: The 1985-86 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 46-36
  • Pythagorean record: 44-38
  • Offensive Rating: 109.0 (7th of 23)
  • Defensive Rating: 107.9 (15th of 23)
  • Arena: Pontiac Silverdome
  • Head coach: Chuck Daly

Playoffs

  • Lost in first round to the Atlanta Hawks, 3-1

Leaders

  • Points per game: Isiah Thomas (20.9)
  • Rebounds per game: Bill Laimbeer (13.1)
  • Assists per game: Isiah Thomas (10.8)
  • Steals per game: Isiah Thomas (2.2)
  • Blocks per game: Bill Laimbeer (0.8)

Top player

Isiah Thomas

Thomas finished ninth in MVP voting and had 30 points, 10 assists and five steals to win his second All-Star Game MVP. Critics would use Thomas’ All-Star MVPs to criticize his  style of play, saying he could only excel in a freewheeling scheme that wasn’t conducive to winning in the playoffs. Unfortunately, this season would give them more evidence.

Key transaction

Drafted Joe Dumars with No. 18 pick

Pistons general manager Jack McCloskey coveted Joe Dumars entering the draft but never figured he’d land the McNeese State guard. Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

Pistons owner Bill Davidson and minority partner Oscar Feldman, not so long removed from his own duties as general manager, would sit in the draft room with McCloskey and his trusted scouts, Will Robinson and Stan Novak. McCloskey would brief Davidson and Feldman in the days leading to the draft on the handful of players he figured would be in his range.

“The owners would come in and they’d always want to know who were the potential people we would pick,” McCloskey recalled. “I gave them names. Now the draft starts off and we get down to Dallas, which had two picks in front of us. And I’m saying to myself, ‘Do we really have a chance to get this guy?’

“Sure enough, Dallas takes two big guys” – the Mavs picked 7-footers Bill Wennington of St. John’s and Uwe Blab of Indiana – “and I grab the phone right away and say to the NBA, ‘the Pistons take Joe Dumars.’ And both owners jumped off their seats and said, ‘Who the hell is Joe Dumars? You never told us about him!’ ”

Dumars went on to have a Hall of Fame career, all of it with Detroit, and still ranks first in Pistons history in games and 3-pointers.

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Step back

Entering 1985-86, the Pistons had spent half a decade mostly rising – 16 wins, 21 wins, 39 wins, 37 wins, making the playoffs, reaching the second round. But this season’s first-round loss to the Hawks represented a significant step back.

Why this season ranks No. 19

After an 11-5 start, the Pistons lost 15 of 19. Sitting 16-21 midway through January, the Pistons rallied to finish 46-36, secure the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference and earn a first-round matchup with the Atlanta Hawks.

The Hawks hadn’t won a playoff series in six years and had just one starter (Tree Rollins) and one other rotation player (Eddie Johnson) left from that 1979-80 team. Led by Dominique Wilkins, Atlanta had joined the Pistons as one of the East’s rising teams looking to join the Celtics, 76ers and Bucks on the top level.

The Hawks won the first two games of the series by 18 and 12, and although the Pistons won Game 3, Atlanta stole Game 4 in double overtime, 114-113.

The Pistons were no longer next in the East, ceding the role of premier upstart to the Hawks. Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

“All I know,” Isiah would say, eyes fixed straight ahead and locked on nothing in particular, jaw firmly set, amid the spartan if spacious locker room underneath the stands at the Silverdome, “is something has to change next year.”

Previously

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