Rodney Stuckey is making it abundantly clear why GM Joe Dumars felt comfortable sending Chauncey Billups to the Denver Nuggets.
With All-Star shooting guard Rip Hamilton already firmly entrenched in the Pistons’ starting lineup, it looked like the 6-5 Stuckey might have to wait another year before logging big minutes with Allen Iverson, a guy accustomed to demanding anywhere between 36 – 40 minutes a night, joining the mix.
But with two guys in the backcourt whose strong suits aren’t exactly running a team and distributing the ball, head coach Michael Curry made the move to “small ball,” a decision that shifted some guys around and allowed Stuckey to step in as the team’s starting point guard.
At this point it’s safe to say he’s there for good.
The last lottery pick of the ’07 draft, Stuckey has now scored in double digits in 11 of his last 13 games, a stretch in which he’s averaging 14.7 points, 7 assists, 3.7 rebounds, and about 2 steals per; he’s also totaled four double-doubles and narrowly missed a fifth. He capped it off with an absolutely dominating performance on Tuesday night at home against Chicago, bulling his way into the lane at will against whichever hapless defender coach Vinny del Negro threw at him, drawing fouls, hitting open and contested jumpers, and more than making up for poor shooting efforts from Iverson and Hamilton.
The second-year pro’s final tally on the night: a career-best 40 points (15-24 FG), 4 assists, 2 boards, and 4 steals in just under 42 minutes. The number of feeds is a bit low, but he was strictly in scoring mode from start to finish and wasn’t being asked to do anything more than that this time.
It was a thrilling performance by yet another rising star in this league, and it won’t be the last. Coming out of unheralded Eastern Washington, Stuckey was commonly likened to the Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade because of their similar size, small-school collegiate background, and ability to flat out get to the hole and put up points in bunches. It was important then not to get carried away with such lofty comparisons and it’s important now, but we’re starting to see the 22-year-old’s promise and potential already bubble up in the early stages of his run as a full-time starter.
The Pistons may suffer some in the interim in Billups’ absence, but it’s clear that Mr. Big Shot would have been moved at some point in the near future anyway; Stuckey is clearly a cornerstone of the Pistons’ future and he needs and deserves as many minutes as he can handle now, not in a season or two.
There will be some growing pains and false starts along the way, like his less-than-stellar outing against Deron Williams and the Utah Jazz earlier this week when he finished with just 7 points (3-8 FG), 5 assists, 3 boards, and 3 steals before fouling out in his team’s 120-114 double-overtime loss. Make no mistake though: this kid has the skills to become an elite player in this league before too long. He has excellent court vision, delivers crisp passes, has made remarkable strides with his three-point shot, plays solid man-defense, and already has shown great reactions and awareness in the offensive pick-and-roll game.
There promises to be some great one-on-one battles over the years between the Pistons’ Stuckey and the Bulls’ first-overall pick from last summer, Derrick Rose. Give Stuckey an emphatic win in round one.