How different is today's NBA than the one where the Goin' to Work Pistons played in six straight Eastern Conference Finals and took home the title in 2004?
Last year's NBA champs, the Lakers, scored 113.4 points per game. The 2003-04 Pistons barely cracked 90. The Lakers threw up about 32 three-pointers per game. The Pistons averaged about 12. The lowest-scoring team in the NBA last season would have ranked second in 2003-04. It would have led the league in threes.
How bout this? The Pistons cracked 100 points just three times in 23 playoff games in 2004, and not once in the final two rounds. The Lakers cracked 100 points 19 times in 21 playoff games in 2020, including every game of the final two rounds.
And the Lakers of last year were actually sort of an outlier. They had the lowest scoring average and lowest three-point percentage of the last five NBA champs. They were the first champion in 10 years to rank outside the top 10 teams in the league in points per game and outside the top 20 in three-point percentage.
You get the point.
So here's the question: how would the Goin' to Work Pistons hold up today?
"We would win a championship," Rip Hamilton told the Stoney & Jansen Show. "We would be the best team in the league, what do you think?"
Sure, the 2003-04 Pistons were built for a different game. But talent is talent, and that team had plenty of it. It also had a defense that would stand the test of time.
"Listen, the thing about us, we were great at every position," Hamilton said. "I don’t feel like we had a weak link on our squad. But the thing that we were able to do that would kind of relate to the game today is, defensively we were able to switch at every position. Ben and Rasheed were able to guard the point guards and the shooting guards. If we needed them to switch out on LeBron James, they could do that."
Of course, it was LeBron who ultimately ended Detroit's reign. Still, Hamilton would take those Pistons teams against any team today -- and he'd be out there jacking threes with the best of them. Known for his mid-range game, Hamilton points out he led the NBA in three-point percentage in 2005-06 when he decided to hone that part of his game.
He said he "would have shot more threes" if he played today.
"Larry Brown always thought I had one of the better mid-range jump shots in the game, so he would say, 'Alright, Rip, don’t ever settle for a three.' The next year I was like, man, screw that. I want to add something to my game, I’m gonna add the three-point shot. And I ended up leading the NBA in three-point percentage," Hamilton said. "But he was pissed off every day that I shot them. I feel like in today's game I would shoot more and I think coaches like Coach Brown would be willing to accept it more knowing that the game is more wide open than when we played."
And who knows. With that defense and a few hot shooting nights from Rip, Tayshaun and Chauncey, maybe the Pistons would beat the Lakers now just like they did back then.
As for the Pistons of the present, Hamilton has been mightily impressed with Jerami Grant, who's earning every penny of the $60 million contract he signed in the offseason.
"Jerami Grant has been playing out of this world," he said. "I love the pickup. I think a lot of people were a little surprised about the money when we first picked him up. But I knew, just the way that he was playing in Denver, he’s long, he’s athletic, he can play both sides of the floor. He’s really elevated his game from a scoring standpoint, averaging over 20 points.
"But he fits the Detroit Pistons mold, guys that can play both sides of the ball. And I think he’s doing a great job of showing the world what he can do on the floor."