Shooting guard Richard (Rip) Hamilton was roughly one minute
into his first intrasquad scrimmage with his new team this fall
when he grasped the essence of Pistons basketball. Attempting to
drive, he was slowed by a hand check from his defender, Jon
Barry. When he then tried to dump an entry pass to a teammate
underneath, 6'11" Zeljko Rebraca cut off his passing lane.
Frustrated, Hamilton chucked a 20-foot jumper that clanged off
the rim. "Man," he muttered as he headed upcourt, "that's some
Thanks to that sclerotic D, Detroit enjoyed unexpected success
last season. A team of mostly ego-deprived castoffs and role
players held together by first-year coach Rick Carlisle, the
Pistons won 50 games and prevailed in a playoff series for the
first time since the Bad Boys era. Not only was 6'9" Ben Wallace
a near unanimous choice for Defensive Player of the Year, but
also 6'10" Clifford Robinson was named to the all-defensive
second team. "No question it was a good year--a defining
year--for the organization," says Wallace. "But when you play
the right way, you don't feel like you're overachieving, you
feel like you deserve to win."
There was, nevertheless, little sense of satisfaction over the
summer. First, the Pistons upgraded at point guard, signing free
agent Chauncey Billups, who is likely to take the starting role
from Chucky Atkins. Then Detroit really tempted fate, trading
its best player, guard Jerry Stackhouse, to the Wizards for
Hamilton, guard Hubert Davis and Bobby Simmons, whom the Pistons
released. At first glance the deal was a head scratcher:
Stackhouse was the team's top scorer and locker room leader. But
it made sense considering that Stackhouse's contract is up after
2003-04. The team was unwilling to commit max money to
Stackhouse, and he was unwilling to rule out playing elsewhere.
"There were no hard feelings on either side," says team
president Joe Dumars. "And when you can get a young guy with
Rip's talent, you can't pass that up."
In the 24-year-old Hamilton, the Pistons obtained an athletic
6'6" player armed with a velveteen mid-range jumper who put up
20.0 points per game in 2001-02. Unlike his predecessor,
Hamilton doesn't fire much from long range--he hit only 16 of 42
last season--nor is he going to attract double and triple teams.
But so too is he unlikely to shoot a frigid 32.1% over 10 games,
as Stackhouse did in last year's playoffs. Hamilton is also
quick to volunteer that his defense, while worse than
Stackhouse's, is underrated. "There's room to improve," he says.
"But my D is good, man."
Still, he knows that should Detroit fail to improve on last
season's breakthrough, "rip Hamilton" could become a pastime
among the team's growing fan base. "Being the new guy, there's
pressure, but it's a fun kind of pressure," he says. "You play
hard, you stress defense and you win games."
Sounds like a plan. --L.J.W.
Ben Wallace is the first Piston since Bob Lanier in 1974-75
to finish in the top 10 in both rebounding and shot blocking.
COLOR PHOTO: ALLEN EINSTEIN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES RIP ROARING Hamilton brings a snazzy mid-range game to Motown, but he's going to need to make noise on D as well.
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Pistons
"They traded Jerry Stackhouse because he was going to demand
maximum money, and they feel--as I do--that he's not a max
player. If you forget about the contract issue, it was a
lopsided trade. You can say that Stackhouse dominated the ball,
but when times were tough he was the guy who could get to the
basket and get to the line. They're going to need to find
somebody to do that this year. The player Detroit got in return,
Richard Hamilton, is inconsistent, and it's easy to disrupt his
drives because he's so skinny.... Joe Dumars has taken an
interesting approach by building up his bench and putting a
system in place before he gets a superstar. If they bring in
that guy in the next year or two, he will have to conform to the
team. Usually it works the other way--the rest of the team
conforms to the star.... They'll be swinging Hamilton and
Chauncey Billups around screens to try to make up for the loss
of Stackhouse's offense. Billups has fallen in love with the
jump shot; he was better as a rookie at driving and getting to
the line.... You have to focus as much on their reserves as on
their starting unit. They can bring in Hubert Davis cold, and
he'll hit two or three big shots in the fourth quarter to beat
you.... Even though they had Ben Wallace, their rebounding
numbers weren't good. If Zeljko Rebraca starts at center, he'll
have to be a better rebounder than Cliff Robinson was last year.
If Rebraca doesn't work out, then we might see rookie Mehmet
Okur.... If Robinson plays more as a three, he'll lose the
matchup advantage that he had when he was shooting over centers
from the perimeter.... In one season Rick Carlisle established a
disciplined system with consistent offensive execution. The
Pistons might not score a lot of points, but they're
surprisingly fun to watch."
2001-02 record: 50-32 (first in Central)
Points scored: 94.3 (18th) Points allowed: 92.2 (6th)
Coach: Rick Carlisle (second season with Pistons)
STARTERS PVR* 2001-02 KEY STATS
SF Michael Curry 211 4.0 ppg 2.0 rpg 1.5 apg 0.57 spg 45.3 FG%
PF Ben Wallace 19 7.6 ppg 13.0 rpg 3.48 bpg 1.73 spg 53.1 FG%
C Clifford Robinson 77 14.6 ppg 4.8 rpg 1.19 bpg 42.5 FG% 37.8 3FG%
SG Richard Hamilton50 20.0 ppg 3.4 rpg 2.7 apg 0.60 spg 43.5 FG%
PG Chauncey Billups58 12.5 ppg 2.8 rpg 5.5 apg 42.3 FG% 39.4 3FG%
BENCH PVR* 2001-02 KEY STATS
F Corliss Williamson 82 13.6 ppg 4.1 rpg 1.2 apg 0.63 spg 51.0 FG%
G Jon Barry 169 9.0 ppg 3.3 apg 1.15 spg 48.9 FG% 46.9 3FG%
F-C Zeljko Rebraca 201 6.9 ppg 3.9 rpg 0.99 bpg 50.5 FG% 77.1 FT%
G Chucky Atkins 227 12.1 ppg 3.3 apg 0.91 spg 46.6 FG% 41.1 3FG%
F-C Mehmet Okur (R) 247 12.1 ppg 6.6 rpg 0.9 apg 47.2 FG% 38.93FG%
 New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics from EuroLeague)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 92)
BILLUPS HAS FALLEN IN LOVE WITH HIS JUMP SHOT; HE WAS BETTER AS A
ROOKIE AT DRIVING.