Ah, the Detroit Pistons. The NBA's Bad Boys of the 80s and 90s were dominant teams led by NBA legends Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn, Dennis Rodman, and their head coach, the late Chuck Daly. Those powerful squads, which were defined by physicality, tough defense, a deadly offense and superb team play helped the franchise win their first two championships.
The team from the Motor City is rich in history and tradition. They used the same formula in the early and mid 2000s when they won their 3rd Larry O'Brien Trophy in 2004 and were a constant championship contender for much of the decade. Those teams were lead by the likes of Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, Richard "RIP" Hamilton, and Hall-Of-Fame head coach Larry Brown.
The success that the organization had become accustomed to, started coming to an end, as horrible trades, (see: Iverson, Allen), bad signings (See: Smith, Josh), sub-par coaching, a shift away from their philosophy, and a general lack of direction and competent decision-making by the team's front office was a huge reason why the franchise missed the playoffs for the last six seasons.
New hope however emerged for the franchise this season, as head coach Stan Van Gundy and GM Jeff Bower who were both in their third season with the team, have finally steered the ship in the right direction with better coaching, and a series of smart personnel moves, that were absent from the previous regime. The change has seen the team return to the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, although they were outmatched against the Cavaliers.
The losing and negativity that surrounded the franchise is still not all far in the rearview mirror. A major cause of it, besides the reasons I listed above, is because of bad drafting. While the team has had a total 10 Hall-Of-Famers who have called the Palace of Auburn Hills home,this is also an organization that blown a lot of draft picks, and passed up on a ton of superstars as well.
With that said, we here give you our Top 15 Worst Draft Mistakes of the Detroit Pistons.
15 Scot Pollard
Pollard isn't here for being a bust, but rather for the way the Pistons handled him.
During his 11-year career in the NBA, Pollard was known as an energy player who brought hustle, grit, and even comedy due to his bizarre hairstyles. The former Kansas Jayhawk is just another example of a high draft pick the Pistons gave up on too soon (you'll start to see a trend), as they traded the 19th pick of the 1997 draft to the Atlanta Hawks for another first round bust in Christian Laettner.
After leaving the Hawks, he went on to find success as a key part of the Sacramento Kings' bench unit. After five years of playing on some entertaining Kings teams, Pollard would play for the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers, before spending his final season with the 2008 Boston Celtics where he would win a championship.
14 Randolph Childress
In the 1995 NBA Draft, the Pistons had back-to-back first round picks. With the 18th overall pick, the team chose Wyoming center Theo Ratliff. While never becoming a superstar, Ratliff would still go on to have a very solid 16-year career. With the 19th pick, the Pistons took Wake Forest point guard Randolph Childress.
Surprisingly, Childress would only go on to play one season with Detroit (you'll notice a trend here), and only two NBA seasons, before an ACL injury ended his career in the league prematurely. He would end up continuing his career overseas, with stops in Turkey, France, Italy and Australia. Instead of taking the current Wake Forest assistant coach the Pistons had other guard options in the '95 draft like Travis Best, Eric Snow, All-Star Michael Finley, current Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg, and UConn head coach Kevin Ollie.
13 Austin Daye
The former Gonzaga Bulldog is a perfect example of a player that should have stayed in school a little bit longer. After his freshman season in which he averaged just under 11 points per game, and 5 rebounds, the small forward boosted his stats as a sophomore to just under 13 and 7 respectively. With two years of eligibility remaining, Daye still chose to enter the 2009 NBA Draft, where he was selected 15th overall. Just like he did in college, Daye improved from his rookie to his second as he saw an improvement in his points, assist, rebounds, and steals per game. However he soon hit a wall and during his fourth season in Detroit, he was traded to the Memphis Grizzles.
Daye currently plays in Italy. The Pistons had several better options to choose from other than Daye. Those names include Jeff Teague, Danny Green, Wesley Matthews, Patty Mills, and Patrick Beverley to name a few.
12 Arron Afflalo
In 2007, Arron Afflalo was the second of two 1st first round picks that the team had in the draft (the first was Rodney Stuckey). The UCLA shooting guard was supposed to be an eventual replacement for fan favorite Richard "RIP" Hamilton. While Afflalo possessed a lot of the superior skills that Hamilton did on defense, he didn't come close to matching him on the other end of the court.
In two seasons in the Motor City, the man who had a song named after him by rapper Kendrick Lamar, averaged less than 5 points a game. Since leaving, Detroit, Afflalo has bounced around the NBA playing for Denver, Orlando, Portland, and now New York. In taking Afflalo, the Pistons passed on a future superstar in Grizzles center Marc Gasol, who ended up being drafted with the 48th pick of the second round.
11 D.J. White
This entry on the list is a little unique due to the fact that D.J White was traded to the Seattle SuperSonics for Walter Sharpe, chosen with the 29th pick of the 2008 draft. Since the Pistons were picking so low, I can't penalize them for missing out on late 1st round gems like George Hill, Serge Ibaka, Ryan Anderson, and Nicolas Batum, but I can call them out for missing out on a ton of talent who went in the second round. Some of those big names are include Goran Dragic, DeAndre Jordan, Mario Chalmers, and Omer Asik. The team even whiffed on undrafted players like Timofey Mozgov and Anthony Morrow.
10 Lance Blanks
The 1990 draft was funny in the sense that besides of future Hall-Of-Famer "The Glove" Gary Payton, Jayson Williams, Tyrone Hill, and the draft's top pick Derrick Coleman, the majority of the players picked in the first round didn't pan out. The same was true of Lance Blanks who the Pistons took with the second to last pick of the 1st round (26th overall). In three NBA seasons, two of which were spent in Detroit, and one with the Minnesota Timberwolves, the combo-guard averaged 2.0 points per game, and less than 1 assist and 1 rebound per contest.
The second round of the '90 draft however, was full of good players who would turn into difference-makers, and in some cases All-Stars. Some of those names include Toni Kukoc, Antonio Davis, Cedric Ceballos, Bimbo Coles, and Tony Massenburg.
If you guys at home, or the Pistons are stubborn about wanting to stick with a 1st rounder, look no further than the player who was taken one spot after Blanks. Elden Campbell went on to have a very underrated 15-year career, and was a member of Detroit's 2004 championship team.
9 Mateen Cleaves
If production in college automatically translated into professional success, Mateen Cleaves would have at been an NBA All-Star, and maybe even potential Hall-Of-Famer. The former Michigan State Spartan was a key member of Tom Izzo's 2000 National Championship team and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the March Madness tournament. During his five-year tenure at the school, he was voted an All-American three times, and became MSU's leader in career assists and steals.
Unfortunately for Cleaves, his college success didn't translate into the professional ranks. After being selected by Detroit with 14th pick of the 2000 draft, he would go on to average just 5.4 points, and 2.7 assists in his rookie year. In typical Pistons fashion, the team dealt him the following offseason, when he was traded to the Sacramento Kings. Hedo Turkoglu, Michael Redd, Speedy Claxton and even Cleaves' MSU teammate Morris Peterson would have all been better picks.
8 Al Eberhard
The Pistons took the Missouri forward with the 15th overall pick of the 1974 draft. The uncle of current NBA players Cody and Tyler Zeller, Eberhard would only play four years years in the league, all with Detroit, where he averaged just under 7 points and 4 rebounds. With ABA and NBA All-Star Billy Smith, scoring machine John Drew, and Hall of Famer George Gervin, still there for the taking, it's safe to say Detroit whiffed on their pick.
7 Antoine Carr
With his goggles, hard defense, and fierce rebounding, Antoine Carr was a fixture on Utah Jazz teams that battled Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls teams for the Larry O'Brien Trophy in the late 90s. The Wichita State product was taken 8th overall in the 1983 draft by Detroit. Carr, would never play a game for the Pistons, as he instead elected to play in Italy for Olimpia Milano.
Acquiring a top-10 pick and never actually getting a game from that player must be a hard pill to swallow for any organization. It must be even harder considering that players like Doc Rivers, Dale Ellis, and Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler were all still available.
6 Roy Hamilton
The Pistons took Hamilton with the 10th overall pick of the 1979 draft. Like more than a few players on this list, Hamilton's time with the franchise, and with the NBA was extremely short. After playing a year in Detroit, and a season with the Portland Trail Blazers, he briefly played in the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) before calling it a career. One year of service is the bare minimum you would expect out of such a high draft choice.
For those of you wondering, I was going to include the Pistons' 4th overall choice in Greg Kelser, but he at least played two seasons for the team, and more importantly was traded for Vinnie "Microwave" Johnson who would go on to play a big part on the '89 and '90 Detroit championship teams.
5 Terry Driscoll
With the 4th overall pick of the 1969 draft (yes, the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar draft) the Pistons selected Boston College's Terry Driscoll. Despite finishing the previous season with only 32 wins, Detroit let Driscoll play his rookie year in Italy. When he finally did come to the NBA for the 1970-71 season, he averaged less than 5 points a game.
The small forward would only play that one season in Detroit. A year later he would leave to play for the Baltimore Bullets (Washington Wizards). He would be one and done there as well, before playing two years for the Milwaukee Bucks, and a year for the ABA's Spirits of St. Louis. Driscoll would finish out his career playing the next five years in Italy. While the '69 draft was short on superstars outside of Lew Alcindor, Abdul-Jabbar, and Jo Jo White, you have to imagine the Pistons could have done a lot better than Driscoll.
4 Bob Nash
The Pistons selected the Hawaii forward with the 9th pick of the 1972 draft. Nash would go on to have a nine-year career, in which he suited up for two other teams besides the Pistons. Detroit passed up the likes of Paul Westphal, Don Buse, Jim Price, Brian Taylor and Mr. ABA himself Julius Erving. No offense to fellow Hall of Famer Joe Dumars, but could you imagine a more devastating back-court than "Dr. J" and Isiah Thomas?
3 Leon Douglas
In a sign of how much the game has changed over the years, the Pistons selected the 6'10 230 pound center out of Alabama with the 4th overall pick of the 76' Draft. Could you imagine somebody playing the position at that weight in this day and age? Nevertheless, Douglas put up respectable, but not franchise player-type numbers for the Pistons. This is just another example of the team's bad drafting, as franchise, and even Hall of Fame numbers were put up by the likes of Robert Parrish, Dennis "DJ" Johnson, Adrian Dantley, and Alex English, all of who were taken after Douglas.
2 Rodney White
One year after wasting their first round pick on the aforementioned Mateen Cleaves, the Pistons did the same thing by picking Rodney White. The PF out of the University of North Carolina was part of a very deep and talented 2001 draft that included multiple future All-Stars. Despite the fact that he was a top-10 pick, White barely played his rookie season (16 games) due to defensive deficiencies and a lack of production.
Just like Cleaves before him, White was shipped out after his rookie campaign, as he was traded to the Denver Nuggets. He would spend three seasons in Denver, and one year with the Golden Sate Warriors, before playing in Europe, Asia, and Israel. Some of the aforementioned big names who were available to the Pistons at number 9, included Joe Johnson, Zach Randolph, Richard Jefferson, Gerald Wallace, Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson and Tony Parker. Ouch.
1 Darko Milicic
Who did you think was going to end up at the top of the list? With the second overall pick in the historical 2003 NBA Draft the Pistons took the Serbian. After LeBron James went to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit had 57 others players from which to choose from, including multiple-time All-Stars Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh. Even if the team had still stuck with a center, big men like David West, Chris Kaman, Kendrick Perkins, and Zaza Pachulia were also available.
In 96 games as a Piston, Milicic averaged less than 2 points per game (1.6). During the 2006 season, he was traded to the Orlando Magic along with Carlos Arroyo for Kelvin Cato and a 2007 1st round pick that would end up being Rodney Stuckey. After playing a year for Orlando, he would sign with the Memphis Grizzles as an unrestricted free agent, before also spending time with the New York Knicks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Boston Celtics before retiring in 2012 to pursue a career in kickboxing. In his career he would go on to average 6 points and 4 rebounds per game.