The Detroit Pistons have had some great teams that came up just short, but they have also had teams that won more games than they had any business winning.
The Pistons lost in seven games in the 2005 NBA Finals, and fell short in the Eastern Conference Finals the next year after leading the league in regular-season wins.
It always felt like Detroit should have won at least one more title in that era, and I think you could argue that the 2005-2006 team underachieved by not at least making it back to the Finals.
That was not the case in 1996-1997, when the Detroit Pistons somehow won 54 games with a team that probably shouldn’t have been near the top of the East.
This was a fun group of overachievers that led to one of the most unlikely seasons in Pistons’ franchise history.
Detroit Pistons: A team of overachievers led by a Hall-of-Famer
If anything, the 1996-1997 Detroit Pistons showed the greatness of Grant Hill, as he didn’t have much help around him.
Here was the starting five for most of the 1996-1997 season for the Detroit Pistons:
- Lindsey Hunter
- Joe Dumars
- Grant Hill
- Otis Thorpe
- Theo Ratliffe
At this point, Joe Dumars was 33-years-old, though he did have a strong season, averaging over 14 points per game and shooting 43 percent from long range.
Lindsey Hunter was always more of a role player, though this was arguably his best all-around season for the Pistons.
Same for Thorpe and backup Terry Mills, who were both underrated, but hardly superstars at this stage of their respective careers.
Other than Hill, this team didn’t really have a star, but was a collection of solid role players like Mills, Aaron McKie, Grant Long, Michael Curry and Stacey Augmon.
They were led by coach Doug Collins, who I always felt was a bit overlooked, especially this season, when he won 54 games with a team full of role players, many of whom were in the latter stages of their careers.
You can never count out “old man strength” and skill, which is one of the reasons this team ended up being one fo the best in the Eastern Conference despite lacking the star power of their opponents.
The lack of star power eventually caught up with them in the first round of the playoffs, where they were beaten by the Atlanta Hawks in a five-game series (I don’t miss those).
The 1996-1997 Detroit Pistons will never be thought of as one of the great all-time teams, but they came out of nowhere to win 54 games behind one of the best players in the league and a whole lot of savvy veterans, which was really fun to watch for those of use who were alive.