The downward spiral had commenced.
Just four years removed from NBA championship glory, that was the Pistons’ regular season record in 1994. The likes of Dennis Rodman, James Edwards, and John Salley had quickly given way to Pete Chilcutt, Olden Polynice, and David Wood. While Joe Dumars was still going strong, Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer had both retired mid-season. The Pistons were in shambles.
Then came Grant Hill.
Despite his apparent game-changing talent, Hill slipped to the third pick in the 1994 NBA Draft. That tends to happen when the two players selected ahead of you are Jason Kidd and a man who’d averaged 30 points per game as a sophomore at Purdue (Glenn Robinson).
Still, Detroit knew they’d found their game-changer. Hill made his presence known immediately, lighting up the Palace nightly right off the bat with electrifying plays and dunks.
The transition as a team remained slow, as the roster didn’t fully bottom out until 1995, when Eric Leckner, Oliver Miller, and Rafael Addison were stealing starts. But it was clear something was happening. Hill was named an all-star his rookie year, averaging close to 20 points per game while earning Co-Rookie of the Year honors alongside Jason Kidd.
By 1996, Hill was carrying the Pistons to the playoffs, leading all players in all-star voting and being named to Dream Team III along the way. While the overachieving Pistons never quite reached contender status (some would argue the Pistons’ mid-90’s roster was never quite as well-rounded as necessary), Hill’s revitalization helped bridge the gap between the Bad Boys era and the Going to Work crew that won a title in 2004, led by center Ben Wallace, who was originally brought to Detroit in exchange for Hill in 2000.
This year, Justise Winslow, Stanley Johnson, and Mario Hezonja are all possible gap-fillers in Detroit. But since 1994, no Pistons draft pick has lit up the city like Grant Hill.