Chevette to Corvette No. 14: The 2001-02 Detroit Pistons

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Facts

  • Actual record: 50-32
  • Pythagorean record: 48-34
  • Offensive Rating: 104.8 (12th of 29)
  • Defensive Rating: 102.4 (8th of 29)
  • Arena: The Palace of Auburn Hills
  • Head coach: Rick Carlisle

Playoffs

  • Beat the Toronto Raptors in first round, 3-2
  • Lost in Eastern Conference semifinals to the Boston Celtics, 4-1

Leaders

  • Points per game: Jerry Stackhouse (21.4)
  • Rebounds per game: Ben Wallace (13.0)
  • Assists per game: Jerry Stackhouse (5.3)
  • Steals per game: Ben Wallace (1.7)
  • Blocks per game: Ben Wallace (3.5)

Top player

Ben Wallace

In 2001-02, Ben Wallace broke out, leading the league in rebounding and blocks. He easily won Defensive Player of the Year, but he wasn’t the only Piston to win an individual award.

Corliss Williamson won Sixth Man of the Year, and Rick Carlisle was Coach of the Year.

Wallace finished second in Most Improved Player voting, and Jerry Stackhouse was fourth. Both also received MVP votes.

Key transaction

Traded Jud Buechler and John Wallace to the Phoenix Suns for Clifford Robinson

The Clifford Robinson trade was merely the best in a long line of subtle, yet effective moves, Joe Dumars made to build this team. Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated:

Like a discriminating buyer at a yard sale, he picked through other teams’ salary-cap liabilities, going after players deemed expendable because of the impending luxury tax. From the Phoenix Suns, Dumars plucked veteran forward-center Cliff Robinson, a proven scorer and savvy defender, for scrubs Jud Buechler and John Wallace. Dumars stole the gritty Barry and a future first-round draft pick from Sacramento, giving the Kings turnover-prone point guard Mateen Cleaves. Finally, by sending their second-round pick in 2002 to the Toronto Raptors, the Pistons got the rights to 29-year-old rookie center Zeljko Rebraca, a 7-foot Yugoslavian with a soft touch, a mean streak and a bad blond dye job.

Dumars’s most important move, however, came last May, when he hired Carlisle, a former NBA guard with a reputation as an excellent offensive strategist.

Almost every player on the roster came to Detroit not because he wanted to but because he was unwanted elsewhere. In fact, the starting lineup is composed of only two first-round draft choices ( Stackhouse and point guard Dana Barros)—one fewer than any other team’s—and a pair of players ( Wallace and forward Michael Curry) who weren’t even drafted.

Trend watch

Won first playoff series in 11 years

The Pistons had an excellent season, but they’d had strong regular seasons in the post-Bad Boys era. For Detroit to truly prove its progress was real, it had to win a playoff series.

The second-seeded Pistons took a 2-0 lead over the Raptors in the best-of-five first round series when, as had become the norm since the Bad Boys broke up, everything went wrong. The Raptors won both their games in Toronto, evening the series at two and seizing momentum.

In the decisive Game 5, Corliss Williamson, acquired for fan favorite Jerome Williams at the trade deadline the previous year in another on Joe Dumars’ shrewd moves, saved the Pistons with a game-high 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting in an 85-82 win.

Why this season ranks No. 14

This is my favorite Pistons season of all time. Full of underrated, effective veterans, the Pistons clobbered any preconceived notions about them by winning with toughness and hard work. Sports Illustrated predicted the Pistons to finish 14th in the Eastern Conference. Daniel G. Habib:

There’s no question Stackhouse’s one-man hardwood band will provide Pistons fans with some more memorable solo performances this season. If Wallace elevates his game and White lives up to expectations, Detroit, in a year or two, could be singing a playoff tune.

The brief mention of Ben Wallace notwithstanding, that couldn’t have been more wrong. Stackhouse became a team player, and Rodney White was a bust. Instead of relying those two scoring, Rick Carlisle oversaw a stifling man-to-man defense that made opponents miserable.

This season set the foundation of the next six years, and the Pistons did it with less talent they’d have in any of those next half dozen years.

For all their accomplishments, though, the Pistons fizzled in the second round, losing four straight games to the Boston Celtics in a 4-1 series defeat. The Pistons’ offense fell apart in the postseason, especially during losses in all four of their road games, revealing a team that lacked the firepower to beat the NBA’s elite teams deep in the playoffs.

For a team that won 18 more games than the year before, the season was still a resounding success.

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