1992-1993 Stats: 70 GP, 38.0 MPG, 22.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 51.8 FG%, 44.9 3P%, 87.0 FT%
1992-1993 Advanced: 60.5 TS%, 55.1 eFG%, 17.8 PER, 116 ORtg, 109 DRtg, 8.4 WS
All-Star Team? No
Team: 43-39, lost in first round to Cleveland Cavaliers (3-2)
When you think of “great” Nets season, the 1992-93 campaign is not one that normally jumps out at you. A year after finishing 40-42 under coach Bill Fitch, the team only won four more games and got knocked out of the first round of the playoffs (again) to the Cleveland Cavaliers, despite featuring future Hall of Famer and two-time champion Chuck Daly on the sidelines, along with a young core consisting of two top draft picks in Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson.
And yet, it’s a season I hold near and dear to my heart – not only because it was my first-ever as a Nets fan, but because of the all-star caliber play of Croatian SG Drazen Petrovic.
“Petro” as he was affectionately called, joined the Nets mid-way through the 1990-91 season via Portland, where he was languishing on the bench of the perennial NBA title contender. He earned a starting spot on the Nets essentially by default, but made the organization’s front office’s look like geniuses for the acquisition. In his first season with legitimate playing time, Petro averaged 20.6 points per game, shot 44 percent from three-point land. He also was known for his aggressive defense, and an overall “nobody can beat me” “it” factor, that made him an instant fan favorite, and a renown nuisance to many of the league’s more “established” stars.
Petro’s 1992-93 campaign was even better. He improved his scoring (22.3 points per game), his field goal percentage (52 percent), his three-point percentage (45 percent) and his free throw percentage (87 percent). After a middling start to the season, Petro carried the team on his back during a six game winning streak in late November/early December, which included road victories over the Lakers, Jazz and Kings, as well as a home game at the swamp against the San Antonio Spurs where Petrovic starred and made me fan of his for life. Petro led the team in scoring with 34 points, including 5-7 from three, but he also demonstrated what a complete offensive player he was with the game on the line.
In the past, I’ve called Petro’s heroics the moment that defied the laws of time for me as a young fan. With less than five seconds to go and the Nets down two, Petro received a pass from the top of the three-point line, dribbled into the lane past the Spurs’ Sean Elliot and David Robinson, and miraculously found the space to lay the ball in.
Granted, this was my first season of watching the NBA, but as someone who followed other sports and was quickly embracing basketball’s history, games like the one Petro had are what inevitably define a player. Petro was and continues to be described as having the heart of lion, and a possessing a high basketball IQ – well this moment against the Spurs was heart/IQ in action. He willed his team to victory that night. And he would go on to will his team into the upper tier of the Eastern Conference playoff picture that season.
It seemed obvious that Petro would make the All-Star game that season. He averaged 23.4 points per game at the halfway point. He was shooting an absurd 47 percent from three point land – remember this wasn’t a guy who was just a stationary shooter a la Steve Kerr or Anthony Morrow. Petro was all over the court, making things happen on both ends. He played SG in an era where guys like Michael Jordan and Clyde Drexler were at the position. And it’s because of that competition, Petro was snubbed. The Eastern Conference’s all-star backcourt that year featured Jordan, Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Mark Price … you know, some Hall of Famers and a very, very good point guard who was probably the league’s best pure shooter post-Larry Bird. You want to make a case that Larry Nance or Detlef Schrempf shouldn’t have gone in as reserves in the frontcourt? It’s a valid one. I think he should have been there, but the timing just didn’t work out – which is made all the more tragic, because of what happened from that point on.
The second half of Petro’s 92-93 was marred with a knee injury he sustained in early March. After already losing Kenny Anderson for the season thanks to the cheap shot to end all cheap shots from John Starks of the Manhattan Knickerbockers, Petro’s injury was too much for the team to sustain. He only played in 21 games, and was never quite right upon return. After hold the 4th seed for the bulk of the season, the Nets slipped to 6th where they ended up losing to the Cavs in the first round.
And then, just like that, it was over. Petro died on June 7, 1993, in an automobile accident in Germany. There was talk that Petro was going to return to Europe to play ball. That part of his Nets history almost always gets glossed over when we talk about how amazing this player was. But the fact is, the sniping and back-biting all proved to be tremendously irrelevant and silly in retrospect.
If Petro had lived – if he stayed in the NBA – I have no question that he would have only gotten better. He was that focused. He was that tenacious. His grit, his desire, and his aptitude, made me fall in love with the NBA and the Nets.
He didn’t make the 92-93 All-Star game, but he should have, and he would have certainly made future ones. Now it’s your chance to rectify that. Vote for Petro.