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Myth: The Detroit Pistons need a pure point guard to be an elite team again

I don’t want to be known as the Randy Orton of PistonPowered, so I’ll move away from the ‘legend killer’ reputation I may have established for myself a couple days ago with my first foray into this little ‘myths‘ series, and focus on a more contemporary topic: the Pistons point guard situation.

I’ve already weighed in this offseason with my argument that Will Bynum should start over Rodney Stuckey. But this post isn’t so much about who plays that "position" but rather whether that "position" even exists.

Point guards are romanticized so much. The greatest masters of the position are guys like Magic Johnson or John Stockton, who we associate with unselfishness, with leadership, with a poetic fluency in the offenses that their teams ran. They are guys who were fully capable of taking over a game with their ability to score, but instead they sacrificed so that their teams’ offenses had more fluidity, everyone stayed involved and the ball kept moving. Their styles of basketball were beautiful to watch, so it’s completely understandable why fans want their team to always be looking for that pure point guard. Pistons fans are no different, which is why Stuckey has faced an almost constant storm of "he’s not a point guard!" comments since he moved into the starting lineup after the Chauncey Billups trade.

The problem is, outside of the nearing-extinction Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, true points don’t really exist anymore. And while my preference would certainly be seeing Bynum in the starting lineup, I also believe that a team with Stuckey as its starting point guard can be an elite team. It would just require an upgrade in the talent surrounding him.

Isiah Thomas redefined the position

Isiah Thomas played point guard for the Pistons, but he very often was a scorer first. He took over games scoring the ball the way Johnson or Stockton never or very rarely did. Isiah could go out and get 15 assists on a given night, and on the next night he’d go out and score 40 points aggressively looking for his shot. And if that sounds familiar to current NBA fans, it should.

Look at some of the young crop of guards today — Brandon Jennings, Tyreke Evans, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Jameer Nelson — all of these players are at different times distributors and primary scoring options. They are budding star players, undefinable by the worn out positional definitions that we insist on giving players in NBA basketball, just like Thomas was. Thomas wasn’t Magic Johnson or John Stockton. He also wasn’t Michael Jordan. He was an extremely unique player whose success fluctuating between scorer and facilitator is the basis for how the position is played in today’s NBA.

Great point guards don’t = rings

If you were to count up the total number of rings Nash and Kidd, the two purest point guards of this era, have won, you’ll see that traditional point guard play doesn’t necessarily translate to championships. They are both winning players, leading their teams to several playoff appearances. Kidd has played in two NBA Finals (albeit in two of the weakest years in modern Eastern Conference history) and Nash has led his team to the Western Conference Finals four times. Stockton was clearly the best point guard of the 1990s, and he has zero rings to show for it. Teams whose franchise player is a pure point guard just haven’t won titles, not since Magic Johnson (remember: guys like Thomas and Chauncey Billups don’t count as "true" point guards in the traditional sense, since they both were responsible for large portions of the scoring load for their teams).

NBA Finals point guards over the last 20 years have included names like Derek Fisher, Ron Harper, Eric Snow, Kenny Smith and John Paxson. Guys like Mark Jackson, Jason Williams and Avery Johnson were "pure" pass-first points, although none would have been considered among the top three players on their respective Finals teams. Jameer Nelson and Tony Parker are guys who can be described as "shoot first" sometimes. Rajon Rondo is not definable by a position because his skillset is so extremely unique.

Having good point guard play isn’t the key to winning. Having a player who dominates some facet of the game, surrounded by a bunch of very good players, is the key to winning. There’s not a recipe anymore that says your point guard has to distribute, shooting guard/small forward have to score, bigs have to rebound and be strong post-up players in order to win. Those responsibilities are spread out all over the place — look no further than Billups, who was arguably the Pistons’ best back-to-the-basket player during their run of ECF appearances.

Many will point to the 2004 Pistons as evidence you don’t need a dominant star to win big. I disagree — Ben Wallace was as dominant as it got. He dominated defensively, altering shots and rebounding, but it was still total dominance of a facet of the game. He was their franchise player, he controlled games routinely, and he was surrounded by a bunch of very good players who did different things well.

In order to win big, teams absolutely need competent players starting at this theoretical point guard position. They need guys who are good spot-up shooters or good defensive players or good ball-handlers. But they do not necessarily need guys who are traditional point guards. Some of these teams have won with "point guards" who spend virtually no time running the offense.

Rodney Stuckey can be that guy

As I said above, it would require an upgrade in the talent around him, but Rodney Stuckey could be the starting point guard on a championship-contending team. He has a unique skillset. He’s a big guard who is potentially one of the better perimeter defenders in the league (he made great strides in his commitment to defense last year).

He handles the ball well enough to initiate the offense. He attacks the rim well enough to be an offensive threat while he’s on the floor (i.e. a guy that the defense can’t completely ignore). He’s versatile enough to defend either guard spot in case his backcourt mate isn’t a strong defender.

For him to fill this role, the Pistons obviously need a guy who they can run their offense through. That person is currently not on the roster (with apologies to Greg Monroe, who I think they will be able to run the offense through for stretches). If they are able to upgrade the roster via trade (assuming that trade doesn’t involve Stuckey) and bring in a go-to offensive player, the criticisms of Stuckey as a point guard would disappear.

Point guard is the new center

In the 1990s, when teams like the Knicks and the Heat were mastering the physical clutch-and-grab defense (and the thrilling 72-66 final scores) the league was known for at the time, big men were all the rage. It’s why stiffs like Eric Montross, Sharone Wright, Yinka Dare, Todd Fuller, Vitaly Potapenko, Adonal Foyle and Michael Doleac were high draft picks. It’s why guys like Jim McIlvaine got $30 million contracts. Teams were willing to gamble and gamble big on size, because if it paid off, the reward was handsome. Of course, what resulted is few teams uncovered hidden big man gems and instead ended up wasting picks and millions of dollars on guys who were good for not much more than 6 fouls a night.

In the current NBA, where zone defenses have made things harder on big men, and tightened hand-checking enforcement on the perimeter have made the league a slasher’s dream, the search for point guards is becoming a trend. It’s why guys like Randy Foye who can maybe kind of learn to play point guard get traded for Brandon Roy on draft day. It’s why Avery Bradley, another guy who occasionally flashed some PG-like skills, shot up draft boards despite a not great one year of playing college basketball. The trend is still relatively early in its stages — the 90s run on big men lasted a good nine years or so. It’s the same principle though.

Because these players only exhibit a skillset that partially resembles how the point guard position was traditionally conceived, I think it’s time for fans to stop thinking about the position traditionally. If you don’t have Nash or Kidd or Paul or Williams, just think of your team as having a couple of starting guards. Just like the big men of the 90s didn’t magically turn into Patrick Ewing or Alonzo Mourning, the point guards of the 90s aren’t going to be Williams or Paul (Or Billups, who Stuckey-as-PG-defenders frequently like to compare him to. BTW, I’m guessing within the first three comments on this post, someone will say, "Well, Chauncey Billups took a few years to become a PG, so Stuckey deserves another year too." It’s going to happen.).

Rodney Stuckey is Rodney Stuckey. He’s not exactly a point guard, but most teams in the NBA could describe their starting PG that same way. Barring a trade, the Pistons have to focus on finding a way to get enough point guard-like skills out of their collective five-man units to become a more cohesive team rather than worrying about whether Stuckey is a full-time point guard or full-time shooting guard. He’s just a guard. Live with it.

23 Comments

  • Sep 17, 20106:53 am
    by Kris

    Reply

    Great post, especially when everybody seem to repeat “Stuckey is not a true PG” mantra. I generally agree, we do not necessarily need classic PG. Late finalists, Fisher, Nelson, even Rondo are not classic PG at all.  You mentioned Isiah swayed between scorer and facilitator night to night. If Stuckey posesed better court vision, that would allow him to switch the way he plays, with greater benefit for him and the team.  However he still has unique skill set and one cannot put all the blame for lack of ball movement on him. I’m more worried bout Kuester now.  Really hope Monroe emerges as franchise player and we’ll have young hungry team, that competes!!

  • Sep 17, 20109:28 am
    by brgulker

    Reply

    A few thoughts, just my opinion. I’ll preface this by saying I realize Patrick’s post isn’t a defend Stuckey post, but that’s how much of it read to me. And I’ll also admit I’m not a very big Stuckey fan, which inevitably gives me some bias.
     
    I think what’s left out of this piece is why so many fans are harsh with Stuckey, namely, that Dumars appeared to hand the reigns from Billups to Stuckey (and in the view of many prematurely, no hindsight bias). Obviously and naturally, trading Billups created certain expectations for Stuckey, which Dumars has only reinforced time and again in interview after interview. However, Stuckey hasn’t come remotely close to matching Billups’ productivity, and even at nearly 34, Billups is much, much more effective.
     
    Some may say that it’s not fair to judge Stuckey by Billups, and that may be true, but it’s awfully hard not to when you consider the logic and chronology of the team’s deconstruction. As a result, people don’t see Stuckey as just Stuckey; they see him as Stuckey who’s not becoming the next Chauncey Billups.


    I also believe that a team with Stuckey as its starting point guard can be an elite team. It would just require an upgrade in the talent surrounding him.
     
    Well, sure. Give me James, Wade, and Bosh, and I’ll stop criticizing Stuckey so much.
     
    Sarcasm aside, to what extent do you think the roster needs to be upgraded in order to become elite with Stuckey still on it? How good do you think Stuckey is? What role would he fill on an elite team? What resources do we have to bring in the type of talent that would make our team elite while retaining Stuckey?
     
    This is just my opinion, but it seems to me that unless a realistic answer to those questions can be provided, it’s tough to make the case that Stuckey can be an important piece (however that’s defined) of an elite Pistons team.
     
    but Rodney Stuckey could be the starting point guard on a championship-contending team. He has a unique skillset
     
    This is probably where I fundamentally disagree. I don’t think Stuckey’s a very good basketball player overall. I haven’t seen any real progression in Stuckey’s game from rookie season until now, and as a result, he’s not more than a mediocre combo guard. That’s just subjective observation, I realize, but I don’t see it in the stats at all either. His shot chart remains atrocious. He’s getting to the line more, yes, but proportionally with the amount of shot attempts he’s taking. And on down the line with things like Ast%, Reb%, etc.
     
    Sure, he manages to put up a lot of points but only by putting up lots of shots. There’s nothing particularly special to me about that. Honestly, combo guards who shoot a lot are a dime a dozen.
     
    Again, I think Rodney can improve, and I think there are two ways he could improve that would dramatically help the team. First, improve his outside shooting, particularly his 3PT shooting (that or simply stop taking so many jumpshots). Second, get to the line more often. But those aren’t just switches that can be flipped on … I hope he makes those improvements, because as hard as I’ve just been on him, there’s no question he has physical tools and talents. The question will be how long the Pistons can afford to wait.
     

  • Sep 17, 201010:40 am
    by detroitpcb

    Reply

    If you compare Stuckey’s numbers with Billips at the same time in his career, Stuckey is far more advanced and productive.

  • Sep 17, 201011:14 am
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    @Kris:
    I think if the team is healthy, they’ll be at the very least competitive. Hopefully, if Monroe shows promise and works hard, Kuester will play him consistent minutes every night. That’s all I’m hoping for from Monroe — hard work and improvement as the season goes on. All I’m hoping for from Kuester is that, if the team is healthy, he picks a rotation that makes sense and sticks with it.

  • Sep 17, 201011:27 am
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    @brgulker:
    I appreciate your dislike of Stuckey’s game. I freely admit that my admiration for his game isn’t really based on something that can be backed up with stats. I love his toughness. He didn’t have a good season shooting the ball last season. He often took atrocious shots. He often didn’t finish shots that someone his size and strength should finish inside. And you already mentioned his shaky jumper.
    But he also took a pounding last season. There were a lot of times when he was the team’s only real scoring option on the court with the others out. It’s true that a lot of his attempts inside were forces, which isn’t good, but I like the fact that he kept going in.
    I certainly would hope that he could either finish more of those or get to the line more this season.
    As far as the types of players he could be really successful playing next to, there might be one on the roster right now in Monroe. I don’t know how good Monroe will be, but if his high-post passing is as good as advertised and the Pistons can run parts of their offense through him, it gets the ball out of Stuckey’s hands and lets him take advantage of one of his underutilized strengths: moving without the ball.
    I remember watching a preseason game last year as well as the Pistons open practice scrimmage, where Kuester experimented with a Bynum/Stuckey backcourt. Stuckey was a monster running his man off screens. He looked like Rip Hamilton, except instead of catching and shooting, he would catch, take a power dribble and get to the basket.
    I don’t have a good answer for who I’d like to see him play with. I’m a realist and know the roster isn’t going to change much in the immediate future. But if they play him at point guard, if that consists of him dribbling up the ball, quickly passing it to Monroe or Prince (or even Wallace, who’s a decent enough high post passer) and letting them be the focal point of actually running the offense, Stuckey will be much more successful. He’s still the “point guard”, he still guards opposing point guards, he’ll still have some of the responsibilities to call out plays and set up the halfcourt offense at times, ideally, he’d just be getting a lot more help in that aspect of the game from others, freeing him up to use his speed and athleticism without the ball.

  • Sep 17, 201011:29 am
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    @detroitpcb:
    The like and don’t like that comparison. It’s apt because, although Stuckey has been on the same team for three years, like Billups, he’s played in a number of different systems for a number of different coaches, which would confuse the hell out of any point guard.
    But unlike Billups, Stuckey doesn’t have a jumpshot and while Billups was a scorer in college, he was still basically a point guard for Colorado. Stuckey played off the ball a lot more at Eastern Washington. I think Billups might have been more comfortable with the idea of being a PG than Stuckey was coming into the league.

  • Sep 17, 201012:42 pm
    by Laser

    Reply

    sigh. ugh.
     
    i’ve been trying to shift the discussion on this topic for what feels like forever. it’s not about a PURE point guard. it’s about someone who can run an offense and makes good decisions. stuckey does neither. until he does one or both of these things on something resembling a regular basis, his physical tools aren’t enough to warrant him running the point on ANY team, let alone an elite one.
     
    “pure” point guard is one of the biggest straw man arguments in the game. there may be only two “pure” point guards in the league, but there are plenty who can run a respectable offense. and stuckey is NOT one of them. these guys are capable of dropping ten dimes on any given night, where you can safely pencil stuckey in for 3-4 and consider any additional production a christmas present. it’s not about pure point guards; it’s about making your teammates better. stuckey has never made anyone better. he’s a scorer, and when he’s not actively looking to score (if you can find these rare moments) he looks lost and confused and dribbles in circles before passing it to tayshaun to make a decision.
     
    with all due respect, this is the worst myth yet by a long shot. say we didn’t get a pure point guard but added pau gasol, dwight howard and lebron, sure we’d be elite, so i take issue with the phrasing of the myth. but more importantly, this team is just not going to be able to add the pieces that would be necessary to be highly competitive as long as the ball’s in stuckey’s hands.

  • Sep 17, 201012:51 pm
    by Laser

    Reply

    @hayes: ok hayes i just read your response to brgulker’s post, which i loved (+1 brgulker). you like stuckey not based on stats or production but based on his toughness. god, give me a break.
     
    guy took a pounding last season because his go-to move is to attack the paint, draw five defenders, put up a bad shot (ignoring his wide open teammates), create contact, NOT get whistles, and make a confused face about what just happened. recipe for disaster. keep your toughness. i’ll take someone who makes good decisions with the basketball.
     
    and if, ideally, you’d like to see him freed up to use his speed and athleticism off the ball, YOU ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT A POINT GUARD. that’s not what a point guard does. i’d love to see the guy play off the ball, too. because the only thing he does well (or even thinks of doing) is scoring. that’s not an “impure” point guard, or whatever you’d call it; that’s a scorer. a pure scorer.

  • Sep 17, 201012:53 pm
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    @laser:
    Chin up man.
    You are right, there are plenty of players in the league who can run a competent offense, and several of those guys don’t even play the PG position.
    The Pistons have three guys, between Stuckey, Prince and maybe Monroe (who should be a starter at some point in the season I think. I hope.) who can have the offense run through tem. I wouldn’t trust any to do it solely over the course of a game, but dividing the work should make all of them more effective.
    The Pistons don’t really have other options. Positions are pretty much locked in right now, gotta go with a non-traditional view of what each position on the team should do.

  • Sep 17, 20103:53 pm
    by dkelly5050

    Reply

    solid write up and solid defending of stuckey, even if that was not your intent.
    i think that the problem most pistons fans have with this topic, which, in turn, brings the question of whether stuckey can be a starting pg on a championship team, is not whether we need a traditional point guard, though. the problem fans have is that each of the young point guards you mentioned, including rose, rondo, williams, paul, westbrook, wall, jennings, nelson, evans, and others, are all perceived as superior players to stuckey, both at this point in their careers and in the near future.
    therefore, though stuckey may have the skill set and talent to succeed as a point guard on a contender, even at his best he appears destined to be an above average point guard in a league stocked with more talented players. and most fans believe that each of the pgs listed above would out perform stuckey in whatever contending situation they could be hypothetically placed on.
    that, combined with the fact that stuckey has been presented to fans as one of the main cogs in the rebuilding effort, has led to the frustration fans feel about the position, in my opinion.
     
    apologies for the lack of correct typing. im writin on my cell phone with no way of using capital letters apparently.j

  • Sep 17, 20105:07 pm
    by Kris

    Reply

    @hayes:
    the need of non-traditional view of each positions really worries me, in terms of Kuester’s input. It’s hard to judge based on such injury plagued season, but as initially I had thought Q would have been very creative on offense, I kind of lost my belief in the process. I Just don’t wanna see the situation where Stuckey dribbles and all the rest is just standing and waiting. It really sends chills down my spine. You can put it on Stuckey (+injuries, lack of low post scoring threat etc.), but I’m worried it was often lack of general concept. Sure Stuckey does not pass well. You could see the difference when Bynum was coming in and still Bynum is far from elite passer. But is Bynum (who I really like) better than Stuckey? Can,t say. Both have some skills and are valuable, fierce players. My point is, that players like Stuckey, Charlie V, Ben Gordon, Austin Daye and probably Greg Monroe lack some strenghts at their positions but also poses skills, that would allow them to outplay their opponents. Talent-wise  this is really good team. But first you have to figure out how to put the pieces together. I’m not that sure Q could do that. Surely not writing him off, but still not being that optimistic. And Brian Hill does not convince me at all.  I don’t follow college basketball here in Poland so it’s just a thought but wouldn,t someone like Tom Izzo be a good Pistons coach? Of course many NBA teams tried to pursue him, but just hypothetically.

  • Sep 17, 20106:21 pm
    by detroitpcb

    Reply

    Chris, that is a good point. Q’s offense looked stagnant all season, other than that first game. He got a free pass because of all the injuries but if the coaching isn’t improved this season…….he should be out of here.

  • Sep 18, 201012:51 am
    by C-Foe

    Reply

    @Hayes:  If you’ve read my comments in the other posts then you know that you and I see eye-to-eye on the points you have presented.  Good post.

  • Sep 18, 20104:01 pm
    by nuetes

    Reply

    I’ve said this a million times, but what the Pistons need is not an elite PG, they need an elite player. It doesn’t matter what position he plays. It could be a PG, or it could be a SG, SF, PF, or C. It doesn’t matter. Stuckey takes some unfair criticism because the Pistons lack an elite talent, and for some reason Stuckey was expected by most fans to become that type of player. It didn’t pan out and it seems the organization made quite the investment hoping for that outcome by trading their star PG in Billups to let him take the reigns. They could win with Stuckey, then again they could also win without Stuckey, but they can’t win anything without an elite player.

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    Sep 19, 201010:54 am
    by Friday Bullets | Your NBA News

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    [...] defending Rodney Stuckey as an NBA point guard, Patrick Hayes of PistonPowered says you don’t need a great point guard to be great: “NBA Finals point guards over the last 20 years have included names like Derek Fisher, Ron [...]

  • Sep 20, 201012:06 pm
    by Quick Darshan

    Reply

    I think the question with Stuckey is should he be at the top or on the wing.  On the wing and in the post, he’s near impossible to stop.  But, when he attacks from the top, he seems to get in trouble and has trouble finishing.  It’s probably because he’s a straight line driver.

    As to the question of who the Pistons can run the offense through, I think Austin Daye will be that guy.  He’s a great ball-handler and passer and with his size he can see over the defense.  Plus, with his stroke, he’ll probably be a deadly outside shooter to keep defenses from sagging down the way they do with Stuckey.

    I see Daye at the top feeding the likes of Stuckey, Hamilton and Gordon coming off screens.

  • Sep 20, 20108:07 pm
    by David

    Reply

    personally i think this team will miss the playoffs. here are my reasons.
    1. t-mac will only play 35 games due to injury.
    2. lack of real defense. (especially when gordon & charlie v are in the game).
    3. charlie v. he’s never passed on a 3 pointer he couldn’t hit.
    i would rather see the young guys get lots of playing time and let them learn too play together. then in the next year or 2 sign a big name FA and make a run for the playoffs. we have some decent young players on this team ( jerebko, monroe, daye, white and summers). with stuckey, and he becomes a take over kind of player, these guys could mesh in the future for a really nice young team with lots of future.

  • Sep 21, 201012:06 am
    by nuetes

    Reply

    @ david – i honestly don’t see how t-mac playing or not playing is going to impact the win total. whether he plays every game or zero games it really doesn’t matter. if he plays he’s taking minutes away from someone that is most likely as productive as he is, and if he doesn’t play than those players that are as productive as he is get his minutes. that sounded confusing i’m sure. the pistons are stacked with players as productive as t-mac, therefore, not productive enough. if he doesn’t play someone else will and the production won’t suffer.
     
    that being said yeah i agree the pistons are most likely not making the playoffs. the other two reasons are valid, but t-mac’s impact is not imo.

  • Sep 21, 201011:39 am
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    @dkelly5050:
    “the problem fans have is that each of the young point guards you mentioned, including rose, rondo, williams, paul, westbrook, wall, jennings, nelson, evans, and others, are all perceived as superior players to stuckey, both at this point in their careers and in the near future.”
    I definitely agree that those guys are all superior players, but I would also argue that each of those guys is the first or second best player on his team. I would view Stuckey as a very good third or fourth best player on a team. Of course, for this to happen in Detroit, the Pistons would need three players who are significantly better than him, and I’m not sure they currently have that. They have a bunch of guys who are either a little better or a little worse than him.

  • Sep 21, 201011:41 am
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    @Kris:
    I agree with your take on Kuester. He’s not a non-traditional coach by any stretch. And while I had great hope he would be, I probably shouldn’t have expected otherwise.
    His offense in Cleveland was basically a bunch of guys standing around LeBron. Now, the ball moved b/c LeBron is a great passer and very unselfish superstar, so perhaps Kuester’s offensive schemes there looked better than they actually were as a result of LeBron James running them so well.

  • Sep 21, 201011:43 am
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    @nuetes:
    “They could win with Stuckey, then again they could also win without Stuckey.”
    That is probably the best way Rodney Stuckey has ever been described.

  • Sep 21, 201011:48 am
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    @Quick Darshan:
    “As to the question of who the Pistons can run the offense through, I think Austin Daye will be that guy. ”
    I agree with your take on Daye’s skillset. I have serious questions as to whether or not he’ll be on the floor much. At least initially, all of the wing minutes will go to Rip/Prince/McGrady/Gordon. Not much room for Daye in there.

  • Sep 21, 201011:52 am
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    @David:
    “then in the next year or 2 sign a big name FA and make a run for the playoffs.”
    If it were only that simple. First, the Pistons are capped out. Even with Prince and eventually Hamilton’s deal coming off the books over the next couple seasons, they will have nowhere near enough cap room to sign the “big name” free agent you crave.
    They are invested in Gordon/Villanueva long term. Stuckey is eligible for an extension and raise. They will have to make decisions on whether to sign Jerebko and Daye long term over the next two offseasons.
    And on top of that, there’s a chance that the team won’t be very good the next two seasons, making it less likely a big name free agent would consider Detroit.
    Your scenario is not impossible, but it would be much more practical if the Pistons could find a way to be competitive with many of the guys they have now, since there will probably be no getting rid of them for a while.

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