Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Detroit Pistons - Then and Now

I was pondering the Pistons' recent string of very good teams, which includes one NBA title and six consecutive trips to the conference finals in the last six years. They are undoubtedly a steady and very good team, but they have taken advantage of a relatively weak Eastern Conference. The best team during their recent run has been maybe the Miami Heat in 2006 (?). The Bad Boys era, however, was an era of strength in the Eastern Conference. During the years the Pistons were good (late 80s/early 90s), the Bulls were on the rise with MJ, the Hawks were always good with Dominique and Doc Rivers, the Cavs had Price, Daugherty, and Nance, the Sixers had an old Dr. J and a young Barkley, and of course the Celtics still had Larry and the gang. The late 80s/early 90s were arguably the NBA's last era of supreme competitiveness. They had to be great just to get through the Eastern Conference. Recently - not so much. Let's look at a position by position comparison between the current Pistons and their Bad Boy Era counterparts:

Point Guard - Isiah Thomas vs. Chauncey Billups
Don't get me wrong. I think Chauncey is in maybe the top five point guards in the league right now. But Isiah was probably the best point guard ever: 25 points in the fourth quarter. Against the Lakers. In the NBA finals. On a broken ankle. This is a clear advantage to the Bad Boys. Sorry Chauncey - you are "Mr. Big Shot," but you've got "No Shot" in this contest.
Bad Boys-1, New Boys-0

Shooting Guard - Joe Dumars vs. Richard Hamilton
This is a close one. Joe D was a great defender and a very good shooter. Rip is a great scorer, a relentless off-the-ball motion guy, and an underrated defender. I love watching Rip come off screens and bury 15-footers, but I think Joe D gets the nod here. He is a Hall-of-Famer, after all. This one could swing the other way in a few years if Hamilton keeps up his current production.
Bad Boys-2, New Boys-0

Small Forward - Mark Aguirre vs. Tayshaun Prince
This is another tight contest. Aguirre was a great player at one time (6 straight seasons averaging 22+ ppg), but his role with the Pistons was reduced. Tayshaun Prince is a great defensive player and a pretty good offensive player. He even plays somewhat of a "point forward" position at times. I think Tayshaun gets the nod for his defense. Aguirre, a pudgy, undersized slow small forward by the time he was a Piston, was often not on the floor late in games because of the tremendous defensive skills of Dennis Rodman.
Bad Boys-2, New Boys-1

Power Forward - Rick Mahorn vs. Rasheed Wallace
With all due respect to Rick Mahorn, this is no contest. Mahorn was in the game for his defense and rebounding, but was not known for his offensive skills. Rasheed is a great all-around player who may end up in the Hall of Fame someday. Sheed can score from anywhere on the floor. Mahorn could score if he was within a small three foot radius of the basket. And even that was not a certainty.
Bad Boys-2, New Boys-2

Center - Bill Laimbeer vs. Antonio McDyess
This is a pretty easy one. Laimbeer was a fierce competitor - some might even say he was a dirty player. He would whine after every foul ever called on him. He couldn't jump onto a metro Detroit phonebook. But he was a great outside shooter and a great rebounder. McDyess is a good player, but in fairness to him, he's kinda playing out of position. Laimbeer takes this one.
Bad Boys-3, New Boys-2

Bench - Bad Boys vs. New Boys
This is the biggest landslide of all. The Bad Boys had Vinnie Johnson coming off the bench to spell either Isiah or Joe D and provide instant offense. They had James Edwards to provide the only semblance of a post game the Pistons had (also instant offense). And they had pre-crazy Dennis Rodman and John Salley to provide energy, rebounding, and defense. The current Pistons bench has rookie Rodney Stuckey, who's actually playing rather well, but is not exactly Vinnie Johnson. They have Jason Maxiell, who's an undersized power forward. And they have Theo Ratliff and Lindsey Hunter, who provide a little defense but not much else. Strong advantage fo the Bad Boys.
Bad Boys-4, New Boys-2

Closer than I thought it would be. But two of the positions in the Bad Boys' favor (PG and Bench) were complete landslides, so it's not as close as it looks. Anyway, the Pistons need to summon some of the old Bad Boy karma to get past the Celtics this weekend. If they can make it to the finals, they've got a good shot to take down whatever Western Conference foe they come up against.


Taxman said...

More comparisons:
Coaching: A Hall of Famer in Chuck Daly who was truly a master of controlling a bunch of headstrong personalities - versus Flip - a guy in his 4th conference final who has yet to make it to the Finals. Flip has had 3 #1 seeds advance to the conference finals as favorites only to lose every one. Big Edge in coaching to the Bad Boys - Yes i am calling out Flip as an underachiever.

Mental toughness: The Bad Boys learned how to close teams out. They climbed the ladder of success rung by rung. In '86 they lost a competitive 6 game series to the greatest Celts' team of the 80s. In '87 they advanced to the conf finals only to lose in brutal fashion on the Isiah pass in Game 5and the dramatic game 7 where Vinnie & A.D. collided. They lost but learned to get tougher. In '88 they took the Lakers to 7 but couldn't get over the top (even with the bullshit Game 6 touch foul called on Laimbeer); They took those lessons and ran roughshod over the league in 89 & 90. The New Boys win an improbable title in '04 but instead of having learned how to win and applying that toughness in future years, they give away series as heavy favorites in '06 & '07.
I do love this Pistons team for reasons previously articulated but the differnece in mental toughness between these two teams is striking. In a 7 game series, the Bad Boys would prevail big time.

All of that said, if the New Boys can rally to win the East and beat the Lakers (and i do like the east champ to beat the Lakers), this team would have two titles and a game 7 loss in the Finals, just like the Bad Boys and could ultimately be compared favorably by many.

Assman said...

I thought about putting the coaches in there too. You're right - Chuckie could coach circles around Flipper.