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Chevette to Corvette No. 35: The 1957-58 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 33-39
  • Pythagorean record: 30-42
  • Points per game: 105.3 (5th of 8)
  • Opponent points per game: 107.7 (6th of 8)
  • Arena: Detroit Olympia
  • Head coaches: Charles Eckman (9-16), Red Rocha (24-23)

Playoffs

  • Beat the Cincinnati Royals in first round, 2-0
  • Lost in Western Conference Semifinals to the St. Louis Hawks, 4-1

Leaders

  • Points per game: George Yardley (27.8)
  • Rebounds per game: Walter Dukes (13.3)
  • Assists per game: Dick McGuire (6.6)

Top player

George Yardley

Yardley’s best season as a pro also happened to coincide with the franchise’s first season in Detroit. He led the league in scoring, averaging a career-high 27.8 points per game and also averaged a career-best 10.7 rebounds per game. Unfortunately, it would also be Yardley’s last full season as a Piston.

Key transaction

Traded Larry Foust to Minneapolis for Walter Dukes

The Pistons swapped centers with the Lakers before the season and, although Dukes certainly had some flaws (namely an anemic sub-40 percent field goal percentage) for a big man, he was a couple years younger than Foust and would go on to average four straight double-doubles for the Pistons. He also made two All-Star appearances as a Piston.

Trend watch

Parting ways with another coach

After having four coaches in the franchise’s first six years, it looked like the Pistons had some stability heading into the 1957-58 season with Charles Eckman, who was entering his fourth season on the job. But as Sports Illustrated’s Bil Gilbert reported, Eckman didn’t last long:

Fred Zollner, owner of the Detroit Pistons, performed what may be the most delicate and tactful coaching amputation of all time, the patient being Charley Eck-man. Under Eckman the Pistons played more or less as they had for other coaches, in other words not very well. In due time Zollner called Eckman and commented that things were going badly. Eckman agreed but said there was hope for improvement. Zollner said that even so he thought maybe some changes should be made in Eckman’s department. “I said, ‘Sure, O.K., Fred,’” recalls Eckman, “but then I remembered that I was the only one in my department.”

Why this season ranks No. 35

On the court, this season wasn’t much different than several others ranked below it on this list. The Pistons finished below .500 and fired another coach. But it gets a bit of a bump for a couple reasons. First, it was the franchise’s first season in Detroit after moving from Fort Wayne. And secondly, things appeared to be looking up for the Pistons with Yardley having his best season as a pro and Dukes and Gene Shue proving to be reliable young starters. The team was also the final NBA stop of the legendary Nathaniel ‘Sweetwater’ Clifton this season.

Fred Zollner, the team owner, was also proving to be an asset to the league, although the league was not doing much to repay that generosity according to Myron Cope of Sports Illustrated:

Indeed, to the NBA, Zollner has been square old Pop who always comes through when you write home for money. During the league’s years of growing pains Zollner helped keep it afloat by lending it large sums, while many clubs failed to pay their dues. He asked no concessions for his vote when the league gerrymandered its territorial draft to allow Philadelphia to select Wilt Chamberlain of Kansas University and to swing Ohio State’s Jerry Lucas to the new Cincinnati Royals. “I try to vote on what I think are the ethics of a situation,” he says.

In return for all his efforts his fellow owners have spit in his eye. With the excuse that the Pistons had a private plane in which to get about, the NBA awarded them the worst schedule, the tight, grueling trips that grind a team down. When the territorial draft was about to expire two years ago, Zollner pleaded for its extension in one form or another, so that he might satisfy local pressures and draft Michigan’s Cazzie Russell. He was voted down. “I asked for a special favor and didn’t get it, so I wasn’t wronged,” reasons Zollner.

Previously

2 Comments

  • Oct 26, 201111:23 am
    by tarsier

    Reply

    An all-time low!!
    33-396
    It’s like five and a quarter seasons at 6.3 wins a piece.
    Sorry, I just saw that number and it made me laugh.

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