Many of you may not know that the Detroit Pistons are once again having a fabulous season.
Amidst the revelry of LeBron, Kobe, CP3, KG and all the other stars glamorous enough to have an acronym or single name describe them, the boys in Motown just keep winning baby, having locked up the second seed in the East.
Many of you may not realize that the Pistons have put together their seventh consecutive 50-win season and have thoughts of reaching their sixth consecutive Eastern Conference Final.
Many of you may not remember that the Pistons are NBA champions, having ended the Shaq/Kobe dynasty in dominating fashion.
Many of you might not know much about the Pistons at all. Why would you? Nobody talks about them.
How can a team having enjoyed this much success be a perpetual afterthought?
Recently, John Barry described the Pistons as the “Atlanta Braves of the NBA” touting an unrivaled streak of success with only a single championship to show for it. He meant this as an insult.
Believe me, as a Lions fan I’ll take what the Pistons are doing.
Others like to point to the supposed illegitimacy of the Eastern Conference, but a quick look at the stats shows that Detroit’s six-year winning percentage against the East (.695) is only marginally better than against the West (.647).
Based on this year’s record against the West (21-9), and extrapolating to an entire season, Detroit would be the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference come playoff time.
Unless, of course, Boston were in the West. Then, these Eastern Conference “inferiors” would be seeded one and two.
And so for those of you who might not be familiar with one of the most successful teams in league history, I thought I’d run down the cast of characters, giving them the accolades they deserve.
MBG: Mr. Big Shot. Chauncey Billups, the engine that makes this team run. Brutishly strong at the point, Chauncey can back down smaller guards and punish any point with his low post game and clutch shooting.
One of the league’s best in assist/turnover ratio, the Pistons are at their best when the ball is in his hands.
Rip: Richard Hamilton. Long and lean at the two, Rip has cultivated a reputation as a relentless motion man with a dagger mid-range game.
Though he shoots the three well, he prefers to run his man off screens for the automatic fifteen footer. He’s also aggressive on the defensive end, and his length can cause problems in the passing lanes.
Sheed: Rasheed Wallace, the most infamous Piston. When on his game offensively, Sheed is one of the most versatile and dangerous players in the league.
With a nifty back-to-the basket game, a mid-range fade away, and a 3-point game that places him among the league leaders in accuracy, Sheed can be a matchup nightmare.
Oft-maligned for his on-court outbursts, Sheed is a stand up guy in the community and unilaterally loved by teammates past and present. He also brings defensive effort capable of neutralizing the likes of KG, Tim Duncan, and other elite power forwards in the league.
Tay: Another one of Joey D’s enlightened draft picks, Tayshaun Prince is a stat filler that any team would want in its starting lineup.
A lockdown defender, Tay can shoot the three, finish at the rim, rebound, and initiate the fast break. If Sheed is the most versatile Piston, Tay can’t be far behind.
Many feel he could be a go-to-guy on many NBA squads.
Dice: Long removed from his days as an All-Star with the Denver Nuggets, Antonio McDyess brings everyday consistency to the power forward/center position.
Still athletic enough to be a good defender, and capable of dropping the 15-footer and finishing at the rim, Dice is a solid starter, and an offensive improvement over the skill-deficient Ben Wallace.
These are the guys you may be familiar with, then again, maybe not. Outside of Detroit they don’t get much press. And while the core of this winning machine is ignored, they’ve silently grown a cast of compliments.
This year the Pistons have a bench.
Comprised of mainly mid-to late-round draft picks, and seasoned with a couple veterans, this group makes the Pistons perhaps the deepest team in the league. By the end of the playoffs, they’ll have their own acronyms. Introducing...
The Zoo Crew:
Rodney Stuckey: Another abnormally strong point guard, at 6’5”, Stuckey has the size and quickness to finish.
He’s shown a knack for running the offense and pushes the tempo when he’s on the floor. When given minutes, he produces, averaging over 14 points per game in the last month.
Jason Maxiell: A third year beast out of Cincinnati, Maxy is strong with long arms and good hops that make up for his lack of height at the PF.
In a recent explosion against Washington, Maxiell scored 28 displaying an improved low post game with a tenacious attitude around the rim.
Amir Johnson: Drafted out of High School, Amir Johnson spent some time in the D-League until he earned his promotion this year.
Though sharing time behind Sheed, McDyess, Maxiell, and veteran Theo Ratliff, Amir blocks shots, rebounds, and generally fills the stat sheet when he’s on the floor.
Another high-energy guy, Joey D has turned down good trade offers to keep him on the squad. It's starting to pay off.
Aaron Afflalo: Detroit loves physical guards and Afflalo is no exception. He’s already distinguished himself as a lock-down defender with the ability to hit the jumper and finish.
Joey D and others in the know think he has the potential to be an All-NBA defender.
Jarvis Hayes: The smooth former first round draft pick of the Washington Wizards, Hayes has a scorer’s mentality and bolsters the second unit with the ability to shoot the basketball.
Though streaky throughout the season, Hayes has found it of late and has the ability to put up 30 if he’s left out on the court.
As listed above, the Detroit bench averages under 23 years of age, meaning they have a lot of room for improvement, but also bring a manic energy and defensive intensity.
Add in veterans like Lindsey Hunter and Theo Ratliff, and this group is as formidable as any bench in the league.
So there you have it. A cast of winners, bolstered by a young athletic bench.
Though they may not have the best record in the East, and in deference to the Boston Celtics who are having a great year, Detroit has already been the best team in the regular season. The result was a playoff run that was lackluster and flat.
With veterans rested, the potential for this team seems very real, and if they hold the trophy once again the pundits will say, "where did they come from?"
The answer, of course, is that they're here now.
They've been hear for quite some time. They don't sell shoes. They don't squabble with their teammates, and they don't get in trouble off the court. They just win, and they are my pick to take it all the way.
An afterthought? Maybe. But it's the shine of the trophy that matters and it just might be that we're talking about these Pistons, not all the fakes, decades from now when history separates the great teams from the hype.