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Archive → November, 2011

Austin Daye doesn’t project as a top junior

I ranked the NBA’s five best juniors for a recent 5-on-5, and unsurprisingly, Austin Daye didn’t make anyone’s list. But I picked two players the Pistons passed on in order to draft Daye:

Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: Jrue Holiday. Holiday progressed more than anyone not in discussion to win last year’s Most Improved Player (and more than several in contention for the award). Players’ growth curves tend to flatten each season as they approach their ceiling, but because Holiday spent most his time at UCLA playing off guard, he has more room to grow than average.

Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: Ty Lawson. Few players can match his speed and shooting ability, and he defends well for his size. If it weren’t for the last three words of the previous sentence, he’d probably be No. 1 on my list.

If it’s any consolation, the Pistons have a couple young point guards in Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Knight with the tools to be better than Holiday and Lawson.

Chevette to Corvette No. 26: The 1952-53 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 36-33
  • Pythagorean record: 34-35
  • Points scored per game: 81.0 (7th of 10)
  • Points allowed per game: 81.1 (5th of 10)
  • Arena: War Memorial Coliseum
  • Head coach: Paul Birch

Leaders

  • Points per game: Larry Foust (14.3)
  • Rebounds per game: Larry Foust (11.9)
  • Assists per game: Fred Schaus (3.6)

Playoffs

  • Lost NBA Western Division Finals (3-2) against Minneapolis Lakers
  • Won NBA Western Division Semifinals (2-1) against Rochester Royals

Top player

Larry Foust

Foust was the organization’s first franchise player, but he got a little bit of help in the 1952-53 season. His scoring and rebounding numbers dipped some, but he also had four teammates average double figures in scoring, compared to just two teammates the previous season. Foust was able to play five fewer minutes per game, which paid off as the season went on. He was an All-Star for the third time and finished fifth in the league in rebounding.

Key transaction(s)

Drafted Monk Meineke and Dick Groat

Adding two impact rookies to the lineup in the same season gave Fort Wayne’s attack more balance. Groat finished second in the team in scoring (11.9 points per game) and Meineke was third on the team in scoring (10.7 points per game) and second in rebounding (6.9 per game). Unfortunately, neither player replicated that season. Meineke never approached double-digit scoring again in four more NBA seasons and Groat gave up on basketball after one season because he also excelled at another sport:

A two-time All-America selection in both baseball and basketball, Groat played professional basketball for the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons while finishing his final semester at Duke. He was under contract with his hometown Pittsburgh Pirates at the time as well.

Groat left the Pistons after the season to serve in the military, then after his service ended, he returned only to baseball, even though basketball was reportedly the sport he loved most.

Trend watch

Playoff success

The Pistons had their best playoff showing in their brief history this season, advancing to the Western Division Finals where they stretched the series against the Lakers to five games (it was a five game series, not seven, in those days) before losing. It continued an upward trend, as the team got incrementally better each of the previous three seasons. The Pistons were swept in the Western Division Finals the previous season.

Why this season ranks No. 26

Unlike a few other young Pistons teams that appeared on the upswing only to fall off, the Pistons built on this 1952-53 the following season. Although they lost a good player in Groat, the loss of a young talent would be mitigated by the next season’s arrival of George Yardley.

Previously

DaJuan Summers may not have been prepared for a small role with his Italian team, plus updates on Austin Daye and Kyle Singler

Last week, Yahoo!’s Marc J. Spears reported that Pistons free agent DaJuan Summers didn’t have a positive experience playing professionally in Italy. Writing for Sheridan Hoops, Nick Gibson speculates why that could be:

On the one hand you’ve got Siena, fresh off a Euroleague Final Four appearance as well an Italian Championship, their sixth in as many years. On the other, DaJuan Summers, a 23-year-old whose physical gifts far outweigh any sprinkling of success he’s seen in an uneventful two years with the Detroit Pistons.

However, with the departure of Malik Hairston, Montepaschi needed a scorer; and with the departure of the NBA, DaJuan needed a job. So they ignored the blaring sirens of incompatibility, covered their ears and partnered up.

But when you’re an elite team whose only real need is a shot maker on the perimeter, your big acquisition is supposed to make shots on the perimeter. Instead of encouragement (“You’ll hit the next one, DaJuan!”), it’s an ultimatum (“You better hit the next one, DaJuan.”).

There’s no room for slumps or mental lapses on a club that views losing as a sickness. Once the staff identifies the cause of the infection, they’ll cut it out. Out of the starting lineup, out of the rotation, or out of the team’s plans altogether.

Gibson hints that culture shock and adjusting to situations where players could be forced into limited minutes or roles are things that agents should prepare clients for before choosing a team overseas.

Gibson also provides updates on two other Pistons playing overseas, Kyle Singler and Austin Daye. On Singler, who is playing in Spain:

Kyle Singler, the man Detroit selected to be DaJuan Summers’ replacement, has cooled down after an alarmingly white hot start in the Spanish League. He’s still among the ACB’s scoring leaders (16.4, 7th), however, and Lucentum Alicante is 4-1 and off to one of their best starts in years.

And on Daye, who is playing in Russia:

Daye’s putting up 5.5 points in nine minutes per game behind names like Sergey Monya (Trailblazers and Kings in 2005-06), Zoran Planinic (Nets from 2003-06) and the Denver Nuggets’ Timofey Mozgov, who is thriving in his return to Mother Russia.

Scott Perry allegedly talked to Kyle Singler, subjecting Pistons to fine if true

MARCA.com, as translated by HoopsHype:

Pistons vice president of basketball operations Scott Perry was caught speaking with Kyle Singler for some minutes at the end of the game between Lucentum Alicante and Gran Canaria, something that is forbidden during the lockout.

The going rate for NBA lockout fines for team personnel talking to or about players seems to be $1 million. In other words, more than Kyle Singler’s salary next year.

Chevette to Corvette No. 27: The 1972-73 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 40-42
  • Pythagorean record: 42-40
  • Points scored per game: 110.3 (6th of 17)
  • Points allowed per game: 110.0 (10th of 17)
  • Arena: Cobo Arena
  • Head coach: Earl Lloyd (2-5), Ray Scott (38-37)

Leaders

  • Points per game: Bob Lanier (23.8)
  • Rebounds per game: Bob Lanier (14.9)
  • Assists per game: Dave Bing (7.8)

Top player

Bob Lanier

In his first two seasons, Bob Lanier made the All-Rookie Team and then the All-Star team. His scoring went down just a bit from his second year to his third year in 1972-73, but that’s also when Lanier felt his game began to reach new heights. NBA.com:

With Lanier dominating the middle, the Pistons finally began to click in 1972-73. “It wasn’t until I was into my third year that I started playing the kind of basketball I felt I was capable of playing and had the kind of mobility I wanted,” he said in the Detroit Free Press.

Lanier would continue to be one of the game’s great centers, but his 14.9 rebounds per game in 1972-73 would be the best mark of his career in that category.

Key transaction

Traded Jimmy Walker to Houston for Stu Lantz

As tempted as I am to pick the team’s brief signing of Flint legend Justus Thigpen here, Mr. Thigpen just didn’t have much of a NBA impact. Instead, we’ll go with a trade that shook up a young group that at one time looked like it would finally turn the Pistons into a contender. Walker proved to be a capable scorer and made a couple All-Star games during his Detroit career, but after following up a 45-win season in 1970-71 with a 1971-72 season that saw the team fail to live up to expectations, Walker was one of the players who was shipped out. The Star News:

Pistons coach Early Lloyd grew disenchanted with Walker’s erratic performance last season and talked openly about wanting to trade the 6-foot-3 guard.

Of course, Lloyd himself wouldn’t survive the season either. He lasted only seven games before being replaced by Ray Scott.

Trend watch

That elusive .500 mark

The Pistons had finished above .500 just once in the past 16 seasons heading into the 1972-73 season. The came close to breaking even after Scott took over as coach, but would have to wait one more season before they finally got above .500 for the second time in that stretch.

Why this season ranks No. 27

Lanier had established himself as a dominate force, Dave Bing was still a reliable player and, according to Lanier, it appeared the team finally had a coach the players believed in after Scott took 0ver:

He credited part of the Pistons’ steady improvement to new coach Ray Scott. “He took over and we started playing collectively as a unit,” Lanier said in the Free Press. “We had a good feeling, and we related well with one another.”

The Pistons were never the most harmonious bunch during the 1960s and 1970s, so any coach that could help maintain any amount of positive feelings in the locker room had to be viewed as an asset. The team went 38-37 under Scott and would take a big step forward the following season.

Previously

Greg Monroe’s sophomore forecast

ESPN’s latest 5-on-5 ranks players who will be in their second year. All but one respondent had Blake Griffin and John Wall in his top two, and Greg Monroe slid into that open No. 2 slot:

Rob Mahoney, Two Man Game: Greg Monroe. One of the best kept secrets of the 2010-11 season will finally get the recognition he deserves in a yearlong role as the Pistons’ on-court leader. At 20, Monroe was a clever scorer, a strong rebounder and a natural defender. At 21, he’s poised to bring even more to the table, all while maintaining his trademark efficiency. Just a terrific — if understated — player.

Three of the other ranked Monroe third, and one picked him fourth.

I would’ve put Monroe third – behind No. 1 Blake Griffin and No. 2 John Wall.

Chevette to Corvette No. 28: The 1953-54 Fort Wayne Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 40-32
  • Pythagorean record: 41-31
  • Points scored per game: 77.7 (8th of 9)
  • Points allowed per game: 76.1 (2nd of 9)
  • Arena: War Memorial Coliseum
  • Head coach: Paul Birch

Playoffs

  • Lost in round robin to the Minneapolis Lakers and Rochester Royals, 4-0

Leaders

  • Points per game: Larry Foust (15.1)
  • Rebounds per game: Larry Foust (13.4)
  • Assists per game: Andy Phillip (6.3)

Top player

Larry Foust

Rodger Nelson’s “The Zollner Piston Story”:

The Pistons, in a season-closing promotion, had the fans vote on an all-time Piston team. There were more than 19,000 votes cast, selecting Bobby McDermott, Curly Armstrong, Mel Hutchins, Larry Foust and Andy Phillip.

McDermott and Armstrong were already off the team. The aging Andy Phillip averaged double figures for the last time, and Hutchins’ numbers fell short of Foust’s.

Not only was Foust an all-time great for the franchise, he was its best player in 1953-54.

Key transaction

Signed George Yardley

The Pistons drafted George Yardley in 1950, but they didn’t sign him until 1953. Even then, it was a struggle. Blake Sebring of The News-Sentinel:

Yardley finally signed with the Pistons in 1953. Because he hated training camp, Yardley ignored the Pistons’ offer of $6,000, playing beach volleyball in California and becoming the first rookie to hold out, until it reached $9,500. Yardley also had an engineering degree and figured he could make more money in that field.

Rodger Nelson’s “The Zollner Piston Story”:

He later said that dallying while the price went up may not have been as calculated as it seemed. In fact, he wanted to play at Fort Wayne, but he hated training camp. He spent a little extra time in California, playing volleyball on the beach, and by the time he was ready to head east he was earning some extra money.

Trend watch

Closest call

Since joining the NBA (called the BAA that first year), the Pistons finished 23, 11, 12, 12 and 11.5 games out of first place – held either by the Minneapolis Lakers or Rochester Royals.

But Fort Wayne finished just six games behind the Western Division-champion Lakers and two games behind second-place Rochester in 1953-54.

The Pistons matched a franchise-record with 40 NBA wins, albeit with four more games than 1949-50, when the previously set the mark. But more importantly, they appeared to be closing the gap with the NBA’s top teams.

Why this season ranks No. 28

By signing George Yardley, the rising Pistons – who had gone from 29 to 36 wins the previous two years – appeared ready to break through. Rodger Nelson’s “The Zollner Piston Story”:

The high hopes escalated when Fred Zollner bought the contract of Mel Hutchins from the financially strapped Milwaukee Hawks in August. It was believed to be the biggest player purchase in pro history to that time. He was later described by George Yardley as "the best defen- sive player in the league." Ben Kerner needed the cash, so he asked Fred Zollner which players he wanted. Fred said he wanted Mel Hutchins. "You can’t have him," Kerner replied. Fred shrugged. Hutchins was the only one he wanted. The deal went through, for an amount that is still not known. Kerner had promised Hutchins part of the price, but he did not receive it. Mel later said, "What they needed was someone to homogenize the team — rebound, give the ball up, play tough defence, someone to do that. That’s what Fred got me for." After he arrived in Fort Wayne, Fred and Carl Bennett had a meeting with Hutchins to explain his new place on the team. "Pull the team together and don’t worry about the statistics."

Mel Hutchins had a fine year in his first with Fort Wayne, as did George Yardley and No. 4 pick Jack Molinas. That trio combined with mainstays Larry Foust and Andy Phillip to form a strong foundation.

Unfortunately, it began to crumble mid-season. Rodger Nelson’s “The Zollner Piston Story”:

The Molinas bubble burst on January 10, when he admitted to betting on Piston games through a New York bookmaker. It ended a month-long investigation on Molinas. He had been named to the All-Star team only four days before his suspension. Don Meineke, Mel Hutchins and Molinas roomed together. Mel said, "Jack was raised with gambling. He would bet on anything. He wanted a place to gamble. But what he did had no influence on the way the game was played. No influence." While it was only a footnote in NBA history, Molinas’ suspension came as a severe blow to the aspiring Pistons. There had been no question of his fixing games, but he had to go. Aside from the personal shock — Frank Brian, for one, found him a personable companion — there was the waste of what everyone thought would be a dazzling career. Brian said, "He had everything, he was going to become a ball player. It was terrible." Some years later Molinas served a prison term in a college basketball scandal.

That was a heavy incident, but the seasons also had its lighter notes, like this one about third-year coach Paul Birch. Rodger Nelson’s “The Zollner Piston Story”:

He did have a reputation for expressing himself physically. He threw orange peels and liked kicking things to emphasize a point. The team knew this, in one game where they were losing at half time. They gathered in the locker room, ready for the peels to fly. Trainer Stan Ken worthy always carried an oxygen mask in a small bag, ready for emergencies. The bag looked like any player’s kit bag, so the team placed it in the middle of the floor, knowing that Birch would not be able to resist it. Sure enough, he kicked it, but the oxygen tank inside resisted more than a bagful of clothes would have.

Birch overcame his injured foot to lead the Molinas-less Pistons into the playoffs. In an experiment that lasted only one season, three teams made the postseason per division and played a round robin.

The three-team round robin was a de facto two-team series. The Lakers and Royals swept the Pistons in four games, a pretty disappointing end to a promising season.

After it ended, Birch was forced to resign. Rodger Nelson’s “The Zollner Piston Story”:

Dike Eddleman summed up Birch’s difficulties with his players by saying, "Birch didn’t see eye-to-eye with anyone, not even himself"

Previously

Video: Will Bynum’s Above the Rim commercial

Via SLAM, here’s Will Bynum‘s new commercial for Above the Rim. Matt Watson of Detroit Bad Boys summed it up best:

For some reason I don’t doubt that Bynum is actually spending the lockout playing pickup ball in some musty old gym.

Former Pistons Dave Bing, Bob Lanier added to NBA 2K12 Legends roster

One Piston — Isiah Thomas — made the initial list of 15 NBA legends in the new NBA 2K12 video game. Now two more have been added, via Ball Don’t Lie: Dave Bing and Bob Lanier.

There are actually a couple other former Pistons on the list, but Adrian Dantley (Jazz) and Cedric Ceballos (Lakers) are featured on teams where they spent the bulk of their careers. Several players with ties to the state of Michigan are on there as well — Flint’s Glen Rice, Detroit’s Steve Smith, Jalen Rose and Spencer Haywood and Traverse City’s Dan Majerle. Current Pistons assistant coach Dee Brown was also added to the game from his Celtics days.

Larry Brown wants one more chance to coach

Former Pistons coach Larry Brown has made it known ever since he and the Charlotte Bobcats parted ways that he’d still like a chance to prove he can coach. He’s reportedly been interested in several NBA and college openings and has even kicked around the notion that he’d be happy as an assistant on someone’s staff. Joanne C. Gerstner of the New York Times recently caught up with Brown:

The jones to be an N.B.A. coach is still in the well-traveled Brown’s blood, and he doesn’t hide his desire to officially be back in the game soon. He said he has chatted with Rivers about what’s open with the Celtics — both now and in the future.

“I’d go help Doc in a minute, but he wants to help the people he’s evolved with,” Brown said to the Boston Herald. “He’ll try rewarding the guys who have put in their time with him. It works. Two of his assistants (Lawrence Frank and Tom Thibodeau) have become head coaches. We talked about it, and he wants to help the people who have been with him.

“I have no problem with being an assistant coach, but I really want to get back to coaching again, or even move into management. That was a one-time thing we talked about, with the understanding that if he ever had another opening, we would talk again.”

The height of Brown’s professional career came in Detroit when he guided the Pistons to the 2004 title, then coached the U.S. Olympic team. But it all crashed down pretty quickly from there. That Olympic team was a disaster that caused USA Basketball to blow up their whole model and start over, Brown infuriated Bill Davidson by talking with other teams during the 2005 season, lost his job with the Pistons, took over a terrible Knicks team that no one could’ve succeeded with then had modest success in Charlotte, turning the Bobcats into a playoff team for the first time and a stout defensive unit before team management gave away the anchor of that defense, Tyson Chandler, in a cost-cutting trade before Brown’s second season.

I don’t know if it would make sense for any team to hire Brown as a head coach at this point. The man obviously knows how to teach the game, but in order for him to succeed, I think he needs a hungry, talented and, most importantly, mentally tough roster like that 2004 Pistons team he inherited. Unfortunately, those types of jobs don’t open up too often.