Essay: The Resurgent Rodney Stuckey
In last Sunday’s dismantling of the Boston Celtics, Rodney Stuckey’s stat line didn’t come close to emphasizing just how unstoppable he was. In 37 minutes Stuckey took 10 shots. He made two of them. As Detroit’s starting shooting guard, Stuckey missed his only three-point attempt, had twice as many turnovers as assists, and, for good measure, grabbed three rebounds. But even though he shot a woeful 20% from the floor, Stuckey was like a bull with blinders on. Throughout the night his mission was getting to the basket and he did so at a relentless pace, attempting 15 free-throws and making 12 of them. (For reference, the Boston Celtics made 11 free-throws on the same number of attempts.) He finished with 16 points, second to Greg Monroe’s 17 for a team high.
It was the type of performance a superstar might have on an off night. One that opened various opportunities for teammates and dictated the entire game’s pace, flow, and, ultimately, final score. But of course this wasn’t the performance of a superstar. This was Rodney Stuckey; a guard who’s had brief flashes of dynamic brilliance overshadowed by noticeable flaws. Games like this one (where nothing appears to be going right but before you know it everything does) were above his pay grade, but this season they seem to be popping up all over the place. What’s changed?
Not to state the obvious, but this is really the first time Stuckey’s situation has blended well with his skill set. There’s no more squabbling with a head coach (he’s been through four in five years), and no pressures that come with playing out of position. For reasoning behind that, we look to last year’s draft.
When the Pistons decided to make Kentucky’s Brandon Knight their point guard of the future, an obvious declaration was made—Stuckey wasn’t the man for the job. It was Joe Dumars reluctantly admitting a mistake, and so far, despite his team holding an 11-24 record (seven wins in their last 10 games), the decision is looking to be a correct one. At the beginning of the season Stuckey was starting at point guard with the casually disinterested Ben Gordon at the two. After a groin injury by Stuckey opened up the door for Knight at the point, Gordon conveniently injured his shoulder, allowing Stuckey to slide into his more natural position of shooting guard after recovering from his groin issue. Since, he’s been joined in the backcourt by a pass-first, play making athlete for the first time in his career. On Knight, Stuckey said this: “He can create, get his own shot, get anywhere on the court, so it opens up a lot of things fo me and vice versa.”
Good news for the growing Pistons.
The change has been eye-opening. According to 82games.com, this season Stuckey’s per-48 minute PER as a shooting guard has been three points higher than when he was running the point. His eFG% went from 33.1% to 49.7%, and while he averaged one more shot per-48 minutes as a point guard, he’s averaging 5.4 more points nestled into his more comfortable situation. Overall though, this isn’t about how Stuckey’s numbers are soaring through the stratosphere. He’s averaging a career low in shot attempts per-36 minutes, with the worst assist and rebound numbers since his rookie year. But on the other end of the spectrum he’s attempting over seven free-throws per-36 minutes, a career best. His usage rate has dropped to the lowest it’s ever been but his TS% is a personal best. Seeing a theme here? This is a celebration of restraint and temperment. In the case of Rodney Stuckey, less means so much more. He’s shooting threes in flow with the offense and attacking in transition at one of the most efficient rates in the league
A few months after the draft, the Pistons made another smart decision when they signed Stuckey to a three-year, $25 million contract. This sets up motivation for him to make everyone forget those first four years and focus on the few in his future. Should he perform like the mini-Dwyane Wade scouts likened him to when he was at Eastern Washington, he’ll hit free agency at the ripe age of 28, primed for a huge payday.
A Knight, (rejuvinated) Stuckey, Greg Monroe core is definietely something a fan base can rally around. (And things would look even brighter had the Pistons selected someone like Taj Gibson instead of Austin Daye in the 2009 draft. But as we’re beginning to see with Stuckey, before we judge a young player who’s yet to find his way let’s not jump to any conclusions.)