Having been thrown into the fire as the Detroit Pistons starting PG in just his second NBA season, Rodney Stuckey has lately been burned by the heat.
It’s hard to believe the 6-5 Stuckey could have so much impact on a team laden with All-Stars and at least one future Hall of Famer, but as his game has gone south, so has the Pistons’. After being inserted into the starting lineup shortly after Chauncey Billups was traded to Denver, Stuckey burst onto the NBA scene in his first two months in this new starring role, averaging 16.4 points on 50% FG, 5.6 assists, 3.8 boards, and 1.2 steals. That included a dazzling 40-point effort on December 23 against the Chicago Bulls.
The Pistons are banking on Stuckey developing into the new face of the franchise. The talent and potential to be a special player are there, but there’s denying that he’s run into a brick wall.
Over his past 10 games, Stuckey’s production and effectiveness have dipped dramatically. In terms of raw stats, he’s averaged just 8.7 points (on 36% FG), 3.7 assists, 3 rebounds, and 0.4 steals; he’s not going to the free-throw line, either, attempting just 2.3 per game. Getting to the hole and drawing fouls was one of his greatest strengths coming out of Eastern Washington, so that’s just as troubling a statistic as the rest of them.
Head coach Michael Curry has repeatedly said that Stuckey is the engine that makes this team go. He’s called on him to be more aggressive, and to worry less about getting his teammates involved and more about playing his style of basketball. Well, it doesn’t seem like anybody on the Pistons is listening to anymore: it’s been 2 weeks since he attempted 10+ shots.
So what’s going on? I think the gravity of being the point man on a team going nowhere is getting in his head. The point man on a team that’s been a traditional powerhouse but is coming up alarmingly low in the wins department for the first time in a long time. Filling the shoes of an All-Star floor general like Billups is not an enviable task, especially with expectations set so high.
It’s more than that though. He’s playing more minutes and more games than he ever has, and like most young players it’s catching up to him; learning to better deal with that and prepare himself for the mental and physical grind of an 82-game regular season should come in time.
The more pressing concern is that opposing teams have figured out how to guard him, how to limit his penetration and force him into settling for difficult shots or jumpers (and he’s still not a great jump-shooter). It’s a lot more difficult to score at a high efficiency when there’s a game plan focused on stopping you rather than one largely zeroed in on your teammates.
This may sound strange, but I think Stuckey will benefit from a clean roster slate. This in-between transition period in Motown is an awkward one for all parties: the vets, the youngsters, the management. Gone next year will (probably) be Rasheed Wallace, Allen Iverson, and Antonio McDyess; maybe even Tayshaun Prince. And though GM Joe Dumars will likely seek new All-Star talent to bring in, this team will be even deeper in Stuckey’s pocket than it is now.
For now, however, the education of Rodney Stuckey, starter, will continue to be a learning experience with mixed results.
Rodney Stuckey Photo Credit: Icon SMI