Chevette to Corvette No. 17: The 1984-85 Detroit Pistons



  • Actual record: 46-36
  • Pythagorean record: 47-35
  • Offensive Rating: 109.6 (9th of 23)
  • Defensive Rating: 107.2 (9th of 23)
  • Arena: Pontiac Silverdome
  • Head coach: Chuck Daly


  • Won in first round vs. New Jersey Nets, 3-0
  • Lost in second round vs. Boston Celtics, 4-2


  • Points per game: Isiah Thomas (21.2)
  • Rebounds per game: Bill Laimbeer (12.4)
  • Assists per game: Isiah Thomas (13.9)
  • Steals per game: Isiah Thomas (2.3)
  • Blocks per game: Terry Tyler (1.1)

Top player

Isiah Thomas

In 1983-84, Thomas finished fifth in the MVP voting. In 1984-85, Thomas improved his free throw shooting from 73 to 80 percent, averaged three more assists per game (a league-leading 13.9 per game) than the previous season, maintained his scoring average and improved his assist-to-turnover ratio. But the Pistons fell from 49 to 46 wins, and Thomas slid to ninth in that season’s MVP voting.

Still, Thomas was in the midst of his most dominant individual stretch of his career. It was the second of four straight times he’d finish in the top 10 in MVP voting and the second of three straight All-NBA First Team appearances. Thomas also had another brilliant All-Star performance with 22 points and 5 assists, although he didn’t capture the game MVP like he did the previous season. But his performance wasn’t what was notable about that All-Star performance — 1985 was allegedly the year that Thomas orchestrated the famous All-Star Game Freeze Out of Michael Jordan. From Sports Illustrated’s Jack McCallum:

"Was Michael Jordan frozen out? Did the Beatles really fake McCartney’s death just for the hell of it? Who knows?In my opinion, there was a freeze-out. Maybe not for the entire game but for major parts of it.Jordan, flush with rookie success, Nike endorsements and unprecedented crossover appeal, came to his first All-Star Game ready to shine. He wore Swoosh paraphernalia, ignoring an unwritten rule that you wore All-Star stuff to the All-Star Game. Some of the All-Stars, particularly Eastern teammate Isiah Thomas and Western foe Magic Johnson, supposedly took umbrage at this. Or maybe they were just sick of Jordan’s popularity. Or maybe they didn’t care one way or the other, which is their story.At any rate, Jordan got only nine shots and seven points and, after the game, a source close to Thomas and Johnson whispered that the two superstars, bosom buds at the time, had conspired to keep the ball from the tongue-wagging Bulls star. When confronted, they denied it. But Jordan always believed it. Thus began a bitter rivalry between the two players, one that Jordan didn’t get the best of until his Bulls swept Thomas’ Pistons in the 1991 Eastern finals and later, when he spoke out against including Thomas on the first Dream Team at the ’92 Olympics."

Key transaction

Traded Antoine Carr, Cliff Levingston and two second round picks to Atlanta for Dan Roundfield

* Note: I was so tempted to put ‘drafting Flint legend Eric Turner in the second round’ in this space, but since Turner never actually made the team, I’ll resist my Flint bias. But trust me, people in Flint still insist that Turner was the greatest player the city ever produced — better than NBA veterans like Glen Rice, Morris Peterson and Charlie Bell.

Under Jack McCloskey, the Pistons made a lot of trades. McCloskey — ‘Trader Jack’ — deservedly gets credit for landing vital players like Bill Laimbeer, Vinnie Johnson and James Edwards in trades. But it’s important to note that McCloskey didn’t always make great trades. His brilliance was also in his ability to make up for bad ones. Carr and Levingston for Roundfield was a bad one. Carr, who was dealt after the Pistons drafted him in the first round of the 1983 draft, and Levingston both became solid rotation players for several years in their careers. Roundfield, who had averaged between 17 and 19 points per game for four straight seasons and made three All-Star appearances for the Hawks, immediately saw his average fall to 10 points per game and he only lasted one season in Detroit.

But, as McCloskey so often did, he corrected the mistake. In the following offseason, Roundfield brought back Rick Mahorn in a trade with Washington.

Trend watch

The defense starts to catch up

With Thomas, Kelly Tripucka, Laimbeer, Johnson and John Long, among others, the Pistons in the mid 1980s were among the best offensive teams in the league. In 1984-85, the defense started to catch up. The team still scored points and played at a fast pace, but the Pistons improved from 18th to 9th in defensive rating. It would still be a couple seasons before they started to look like the hard-nosed Bad Boys, but by 1984-85, it was clear the team was focusing more of its efforts on both ends of the floor.

Why this season ranks No. 17

After ending a six year playoff drought in 1983-84, the Pistons won a playoff series for the first time since 1976 in 1984-85. The team swept New Jersey in the first round and started what would become perhaps their fiercest rivalry by forcing the Celtics to six games in the second round.

The Pistons looked seriously over-matched, losing game one by 34 points. But after falling behind 0-2, the Pistons won both games at home and put up a fight in the final two games of the series. Boston would eliminate the Pistons in the playoffs one more time before the Pistons broke through.