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Rodney Stuckey sets career high in assists, ties career low in field goal attempts in win over Toronto

I don’t know what happened to Rodney Stuckey Wednesday night.

For the first time since his first career playoff game as a rookie, Stuckey only attempted one field goal in the game. In fact, he didn’t even look for his shot at all, as that field goal attempt came on a breakaway with less than four minutes to go in the game where he didn’t really have the option to pass to anyone. Stuckey was solely a distributor, tallying 14 assists (and it could’ve been 17, but Rip Hamilton, Charlie Villanueva and Austin Daye all missed wide open jumpers in the fourth) and just two turnovers in what was one of the strangest performances of the season in a season full of strange occurrences.

Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News speculated that Stuckey could’ve been on some type of shooting strike. Dave Hogg of the Associated Press tweeted that John Kuester implored Stuckey to shoot after he passed up an open shot for a low percentage pass. Stuckey greeted Eli Zaret’s question about what, exactly, he was trying to do out there with a huge smile before giving the typical, canned athlete-speak response about “just playing ball.”

Watching it, I didn’t really know what to make of Stuckey’s performance. On the one hand, he proved beyond a doubt that it’s not a question of whether or not he has the court vision or awareness to be a good passer. He fit the ball into tight spaces, he saw cutting teammates from all over the court, he drew defenders in the lane and kicked at the right time. His passing was brilliant. It was by far the best he’s ever passed the ball, by far the most he’s ever looked to pass.

But the problem? He has to shoot. They need him to shoot. Kuester was right to scream at him to shoot. He had several plays in the second half where he passed up good shots to set up attempts at worse ones for teammates. He had opportunities to get all the way to the rim that he passed up, including an alley-opp pass that he caught and instead of finishing, fired to Villanueva to attempt a corner three.

Stuckey’s night was both incredibly selfless and a little selfish at the same time. No one should want Stuckey to pass up good looks. No one should want him to quit attacking the basket ferociously considering one of his best skills is drawing contact and getting to the line. Everyone should want Stuckey to see the floor better and pass more, but that can’t come at the total expense of other things he does well.

He’s proven that he can independently look for his shot or create for others well. The key is whether or not he can do those things together. He’s not a traditional point guard, but neither are a lot of elite level PGs in the league. If Stuckey can in some way figure out how to mold the best elements of his game tonight with the aggressive Stuckey who can get to the rim at will against most defenders, today’s roundtable discussion will quickly become a moot point.

Stuckey has the physical tools to be one of the top all-around guards in basketball. What he’s never exhibited before is an ability to make those around him better by setting up easy shots. He did that in spades Wednesday. Greg Monroe, Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince all scored more than 20 points, none of them attempted more than 17 shots and none of them shot below 50 percent. Villanueva and Chris Wilcox were the beneficiaries of dump-off passes inside. Daye didn’t have big minutes or a good shooting night, but he had open looks.

And a funny thing happened because of Stuckey looking to pass: his teammates looked to pass as well. The ball moved. More often than not, the ball ended up where it should have. There were very few isolation plays that sucked the air out of the ball.

Part of this can be accounted for by the fact that the Raptors are perhaps the worst defensive team ever assembled. But don’t discount Stuckey’s play encouraging his teammates to look for each other more. This season, virtually every Piston has played inconsistent minutes and seen major fluctuations in what their role is on a game to game basis. The team has a large number of players whose immediate future is up in the air, either because of pending free agency or constant trade rumors. Those personal situations all conspire to, intentionally or unintentionally, breed selfishness. Guys want to play, and if they feel like they never know when their next minutes are going to come, they’ll go into get-mine mode, especially with a coach who seems like a lame duck.

In reality, the guys who are most likely to stay and be considered pieces the team can use are the ones who do what Stuckey did tonight. Whether he was trying to prove a point or not, he sacrificed scoring opportunities, he played with effort and he played as intelligent a game as he’s ever played. It’s frustrating that Stuckey seemed to finally get what the team needed from him all along this late in the season, but you never know when any young player is finally going to get the message. Hopefully, this was part of Stuckey’s learning process.

23 Comments

  • Mar 16, 201111:35 pm
    by gordbrown

    Reply

    Let’s not forget the three golden opportunities at the beginning of the fourth that Wilcox cacked away or wide open shot in the first that Hamilton missed. Or the turnover that was charged to Stuckey that was really a foul. Why Stuckey is coming off the bench is a complete mystery. The fact that the Pistons shot distribution is also completely random and has no rhyme nor reason (much like the player rotations). Stuckey can be the starting point guard on a championship team although maybe not its best player. I have maintained and will maintain there are a lot o problems on this team much bigger than Stuckey. Does not mean I think he should be resigned to a maximum contract, but the team is better off keeping him than not, especially as the price will likely be reasonable.

    • Mar 17, 20111:39 am
      by gmehl1977

      Reply

      Maybe the reason Stuckey is starting from the bench is so his value drops. This way the pistons can resign him to a lower deal. Not a bad way to achieve this if other teams aren’t willing to over pay either. it’s only a hunch so don’t shoot me down.

    • Mar 17, 20118:42 am
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that Stuckey signs long-term this offseason. I don’t think he’s done much to cause a team to give him an overwhelming offer the Pistons wouldn’t match. I’d bet he’s back next year on the qualifying offer, and then can become an unrestricted free agent the following season.

  • Mar 17, 201112:51 am
    by rick

    Reply

    I have to strongly disagree that Stuckey needs to shoot, or that the team needs him to score. Yeah, he should take more than 1 shot obviously, but he can score whenever he wants, so there is no need for him to score at all if his teammates are knocking down shots instead. The more all his teammates around him score, the better they will be as a team. So, no, he doesnt need to score, and they dont need him to score, as long as his teammates are getting it done. I’ve said for a long time that he would be at his best, by using his scoring as a decoy, and just focusing on setting up his teammates, rebounding, and defending. Then score if necessary, but its already documented on film for 4 yrs now that he can score, so defenses will always have to honor his scoring ability. Which he should be using to his advantage by setting up his teammates. Thats how he should be playing from now on. Passing up wide up lay-ups for 3′s? No I dont agree with that, but I’m just saying he would be at his best as a pass-first PG as would the team. Just because a players greatest strength is scoring doesnt mean thats what they should do the most. Its always better to do the opposite of what the defense expects.

    • Mar 17, 20118:43 am
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      I’m not saying he needs to shoot a lot. I’m saying he needs to take good shots when they’re presented to him, and a few times last night, he passed those up.

    • Mar 17, 20119:18 am
      by jack

      Reply

      I agree with you.  The team has so many other great scorers that Stuckey does not need to score a lot.  He can be a pass first point guard in the mold of rondo.  There are games when rondo has 5 or 6 points but 20 assists and 5 rebounds and is still averaging 10+ points for the season.  Stuckey should play like this all the time and only score when it is the best option.  Trust me he can rack up 10/12 points in a hurry, he has proven that but with the offensive fire power this team has there is no reason he should not be racking up double figure assists most nights.

  • Mar 17, 20111:56 am
    by gmehl1977

    Reply

    I will not get too excited until Stuckey shows he can play like this for 4-5 games in a row and especially against bad defensive teams. I kind of liken his passing performance to a guy that gets hot and starts seeing the rim like a hula hoop and can’t miss. Racking up assists like he did tonight can be attributed to being hot in the sense of seeing your team mates better and open a lot easier. Stuckey was unlucky in the fact that the PG he replaced (Billups) was the kind of guy that made his team mates better a will. I am pretty sure Billups only became the player he was after about his 4-5 season so he still has time to evolve into a better passer.

    • Mar 17, 20118:47 am
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Well, he’s averaging 7 assists and 2 turnovers per game in seven games in March playing fewer minutes than he was earlier in the season. He’s also shooting 45 percent. I think this has been one of his better stretches of games from a passing standpoint.

    • Mar 17, 20114:27 pm
      by Tim

      Reply

      He can do this 4-5 games in a row. That’s how he has managed to win two Player of the Week awards in his career. I want to see him do it for most of a season.

  • Mar 17, 20112:43 am
    by dontsignsucky

    Reply

    rodney sucky dont need to shoot he sucks cant finish at the rim and dont have a jumper sum times get the call but not really good from the line if he can give 14 dimes a night and never shoot the ball i say keep him but it will never happen because he really thinks he is the best scorer on the team lol yeah right rodney look what happens when he dont shoot or even better dont even play WE WIN! DONT SIGN RODNEY SUCKY

    • Mar 17, 20118:48 am
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      I think you misspelled his last name. It’s actually ‘Stuckey.’

    • Mar 17, 20119:23 am
      by jack

      Reply

      Tell that to Chicago when he dropped 40 points on them or Sacramento when he dropped 39 on them during the same week.  Don’t tell me he can not score.  If he got up 20 shots he could easily be scoring 20+ a night.  He just does not need to.  I think he can do this against any team.

  • Mar 17, 20118:20 am
    by Alan

    Reply

    The Pistons are not a very good team.  Fortunately, there are about 5-7 teams that form a group that are even worse than Detroit.  Whenever Detroit plays one of these teams, and Toronto is definitely one of these teams, Stuckey has the opportunity to shine.
     
     

    • Mar 17, 20118:26 am
      by Steve K

      Reply

      Have to agree with Alan here.
       
      Let’s see Stuckey crack ten assists with Rajon Rondo on his back.
       
      And is there any doubt Stuckey reads this blog or listens to sports radio? It’s like he set out last night to answer all his critics that say he’s no point guard. I suppose players respond to adversity in different ways. And I’m happy he has the ability to pass. But PH is right… it comes off as selfish. When there’s nothing left to play for, I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise.

      • Mar 17, 20118:49 am
        by Patrick Hayes

        Reply

        Sure, let’s take credit for it. Rodney Stuckey is improving as a passer solely because of PistonPowered. I like it.

        • Mar 17, 20111:21 pm
          by Jeremy

          Reply

          Now could you improve Charlie V’s defense, please?

        • Mar 17, 20114:30 pm
          by Tim

          Reply

          Also, could you make Ben Gordon into the first-round-of-2009-playoffs-Ben-Gordon please?

    • Mar 17, 20118:49 am
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Alan:

      I agree, it’s kind of too little too late this season. But hopefully, it’s a sign that he’s finally understanding what the team wants/needs out of him and making an effort to improve as a distributor.

  • Mar 17, 201112:50 pm
    by Glenn

    Reply

    Here’s an unfounded theory:
    Stuckey was sent to the bench and approached Kuester about it.
    “Yo coach, why am I coming off the bench now?”
    Kuester walks away, because he doesn’t respond to this question.
    An assistant: “Mac is doing a better job of distributing the ball right now.  You need to get your teammates easy shots and make better decisions on the shots you take.”
    Stuckey to self: “I’ll show them what happens when I don’t shoot, just like Kobe did!”
    Unfortunately for Stuckey, this ends up being a good strategy…

    • Mar 17, 20114:35 pm
      by Tim

      Reply

      Somehow, I’m guessing Kuester would respond to a player who asked him a direct question. At least if the player didn’t cus him out and insult him extensively prior to asking. But it is an entertaining theory.
      In general response to the game: Stuckey needs to find a better balance. But it’s nice to see that he can be a pretty good distributor if he so chooses.

  • Mar 17, 20111:37 pm
    by Jacob

    Reply

    I’m going to take the focus off Stuckey for a minute and focus on the elephant in the room. Rip is playing far better basketball than Ben Gordon. I’ve been saying this for a long time. When the Pistons signed BG I didn’t get it because we already had an all-star SG. Now 2 years later after everybody says Rip is washed up and wants to trade him for almost anything and make room for BG but guess what? Rip is still playing better than Gordon. The thing that BG does best Rip does better plus a host of other skills that BG doesn’t do as well (i.e. move without the ball, defense, passing). This summer we’ve got to try to trade BG, make amends with Rip (if it’s not too late) and let him finish out his contract and retire a Piston. You may all think I’m crazy but someone answer me this – how many times this season has BG scored 24 points or more and shot over 50% in a Pistons’ win?

    • Mar 17, 20115:39 pm
      by Laser

      Reply

      i was saying for a while that rip’s not finished. every time PP started talking about how rip was washed up unless he was “on a mission,” i was there with evidence to the contrary. he’s spent the last three years fighting with a bunch of other guys for shots and minutes on a team light on strong pick-setters and virtually devoid of passers.
       
      among dumars’s plethora of mistakes over the past three seasons, perhaps his single greatest mistake was locking the team into major long-term commitments to gordon and rip. if either one of these guys was off the roster right now, we’d have enough cap space this summer to make a legitimate contract offer to zach randolph. but with absurd commitments to both of these guys, we’re completely handcuffed. they can’t coexist, and they’re both already overpaid to a certain degree, so being forced to share minutes and shots– keeping them from playing consistently– has made their values plummet even further. the team would be better off with either one off the roster completely. but we can’t even showcase them because there just aren’t enough minutes.

  • Mar 17, 20116:30 pm
    by 2Tough

    Reply

    Good article Patrick.  As a well known Stuckey lover, I appreciated this thread, but the criticism of him not shooting enough and finding the right balance is certainly very valid.
     
    I do think Stuckey is playing with a sort of chip on his shoulder right now and it’s evident in that post game interview.  No, not because of anything someone has said here or on sports talk radio.  But because of his diminished role on the team, and being taken out of the starting lineup during one of his best stretches in his career.  Even last night, he only played 27 minutes.

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