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Chevette to Corvette No. 57: The 1971-72 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 26-56
  • Pythagorean record: 25-57
  • Points per game: 109.1 (10th of 17)
  • Opponent points per game: 115.9 (16th of 17)
  • Arena: Cobo Arena
  • Head coaches: B. Van Breda Kolff (6-4), T. Dischinger (0-2), E. Lloyd (20-50)

Leaders

  • Points per game: Bob Lanier (25.7)
  • Rebounds per game: Bob Lanier (14.2)
  • Assists per game: Dave Bing (7.0)
  • Steals per game: N/A
  • Blocks per game: N/A

Top player

Bob Lanier

After a strong rookie season, Lanier took a huge leap forward in his second season in 1971-72, improving his scoring average by 10 points per game and rebounding average by six per game. The Pistons had found a legitimate franchise big man. Lanier was an All-Star for the first time in 71-72 and an anchor on a young Pistons team that included fellow future Hall of Famer Dave Bing and big-time scorer Jimmy Walker. He’ll also forever have the claim to fame of being mentioned by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the movie Airplane:

Do you still get a chuckle out of being mentioned in Airplane by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ("Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes.")? "I always tried to show it to the kids and let them get a chuckle."

Key transaction

Changed coaches twice during the season

Coming off a 45-37 record in 1970-71 (the team’s first winning season in 15 years) and with young stars Lanier and Bing in the fold, expectations were understandably high for the 71-72 Pistons. As their final record shows, they didn’t come close to matching those expectations and, as is often the case, coaches got the blame. First, coach Butch van Breda Kolff resigned just 10 games into the season. He was briefly replaced by Terry Dischinger, a player on the team, and then replaced by Earl Lloyd for the remainder of the season. Interestingly, Lloyd had long been viewed as head coaching material:

According to Detroit News sportswriter Jerry Green, in 1965 Detroit Pistons General Manager Don Wattrick wanted to hire Lloyd as the team’s head coach. It would have made Lloyd the first African-American head coach in American pro sports. Dave DeBusschere was instead named Pistons player–coach.

Lloyd didn’t have much success as coach, going 20-50 and only lasting seven games into the next season before he was replaced, but he did stay on with the Pistons as a scout following his coaching career.

Trend watch

Perennial All-Stars

Although Bing missed the 1972 game due to injury, Lanier’s ascension as an All-Star gave the Pistons a second mainstay in the game. Both would make the All-Star team each of the next three seasons.

Why this season ranks No. 57

With Lanier’s stardom came a price: the Pistons legend developed a bit of a reputation as a coach killer early in his career, and the fact that he played for eight different coaches in 10 seasons would seem to back that up. With the coaching upheaval, the Pistons’ defense also failed them. The team went from fifth in the league in points allowed to 16th. They also had to deal with an injury to Bing that cost him nearly half the season.

It’s all in the expectations. Detroit sports have had enough losing teams over the years that fans, even if they aren’t old enough to have lived through it, should be able to relate to how disappointing this season must’ve been at the time. Losing is never fun, but if you expect the team to be bad, it’s much easier to deal with. This team had the look of a young, burgeoning contender. Instead, the team didn’t just take a step back, it slid all the way from 45 to 26 wins. I can’t imagine anything more frustrating.

Previously

63. 1979-80 Detroit Pistons

62. 1993-94 Detroit Pistons

61. 1963-64 Detroit Pistons

60. 1965-66 Detroit Pistons

59. 2010-11 Detroit Pistons

58. 1980-81 Detroit Pistons

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