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Rodney Stuckey continues to impress/frustrate as Pistons beat Bobcats for third straight win

The exciting thing about Rodney Stuckey is that, still not yet 25-years-old, he’s capable of having many more performances like his 24 point/11 assist effort off the bench to help the Pistons erase an early double-digit deficit and beat Charlotte on the road Sunday. The maddening thing about Stuckey is that he’s been capable of this all along.

Stuckey mentioned in his postgame interview that he just wants to close the season strong, and who could blame him? He’s headed into restricted free agency after a season in which he’s lost both the starting point guard job and the starting shooting guard job. He was suspended a game early in the season for insubordination and he was benched for two games late in the season for insubordination. If anyone needed to make an impression the final two weeks of the season, it was Stuckey. To his credit, he’s doing that.

In three games since returning from that last benching, Stuckey is averaging 23.7 points, 8.3 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game. He’s getting to the free throw line nearly eight times per game. He’s shooting 48 percent from the field. His turnovers are a bit higher than you’d like from a PG — 4.0 per game — but I think most fans would gladly trade a slightly higher turnover total if it means getting a Stuckey that plays in attack mode the entire game on offense.

Against Charlotte, Stuckey scored using an array of skills. He got to the basket. He had three really nice mid-range moves where he took a hard step in, as if he was going to the hoop, causing his defender to bite hard each time and giving Stuckey space to nail a step-back midrange jumper. He even confidently knocked down 2-for-5 3-pointers.

His passing was a result of playing faster and slower at the same time. Throughout the last two seasons, Stuckey has been begging to play at a faster tempo. John Kuester has wanted him to run a competent halfcourt offense. The philosophies were treated like the two wanted totally opposite things. What Stuckey appears to be learning (granted, over a very small sample size of games) is that excelling in the halfcourt doesn’t mean playing at a snail’s pace. Last season and this season, he’d walk the ball up, make a pass and often disappear the rest of the possession as the Pistons ran an iso for someone else. Or sometimes, he’d dribble the ball around for most of the shot clock before attacking and forcing a tough shot in the lane.

Playing so slow often caused Stuckey to play too fast when he did get opportunities to run, rushing passes or forcing his way to the basket when pulling the ball back out top would’ve been the better option. The Charlotte game showed that Stuckey is grasping that you can run the ball up in a halfcourt offense. You can drive inside without having to commit to taking a shot or make a pass even if one isn’t there. The result is he’s creating a few extra opportunities by catching the defense sleeping when he runs it up and he’s seeing a play more fully develop by exhibiting some patience if his first option isn’t there.

In the late first half against Charlotte, Stuckey had the ball at the top of the key with Tayshaun Prince calling for it on the wing. That’s a familiar scenario for the Pistons predictable offense, an iso for Prince, and Stuckey looked to get him the ball. But instead of just mindlessly tossing it to Prince and getting out of the way, as has happened so many times, he waited a second longer. He saw Kwame Brown down low cheating to Prince’s side and he saw Greg Monroe slipping to the basket. Stuckey hit Monroe with a no-look pass for a layup as Brown couldn’t recover quick enough.

This isn’t the first time Stuckey has put together a few games where he’s played great, only to fall back to Earth. So although it’s admirable that he recognizes the need to close the season strong, the true measure of how much growth he’s making as a player will come with how seriously he takes this offseason and what he does next season. It’s too late for him to change the impression he’s made this season — he’s the same inconsistent yet promising player he was to start the season, just a year older now. He really could’ve only responded two ways to the benching — he could’ve done exactly what he’s doing right now and playing his best basketball or he could’ve mailed it in, assuming he’d either be on a new team or have a new coach next year, so his performance down the stretch wouldn’t matter much.

His production is largely symbolic, but it’s clear he chose the better option.

Pistons could get to .500 against Central Division

The Pistons play Cleveland tomorrow, and they have a chance at something unexpected, via Chris Iott on Twitter:

Random fact: Pistons went 2-14 against division foes last season. A win Monday would — shockingly — make them 8-8 this season.

I would’ve never guessed the Pistons would have a .500 division record this season. It’s not really data that points anything relevant out, just another example of how absurdly strange the team has been this season. And sidenote: If you’re on Twitter and not following Iott already, just do it. We gotta get him to stop the shameless begging.

Charlie V at the three

It didn’t last long, but Kuester tried a lineup I don’t think I’ve ever seen before: Charlie Villanueva playing small forward with Monroe and Chris Wilcox up front.

It’s not odd that Villanueva played the three. Despite being a tad slow to play that position on a regular basis, Charlotte often featured lineups that had natural power forwards Boris Diaw or Dante Cunningham at the three. I’m just surprised that in a season that has seen virtually every lineup combination possible that one that I hadn’t noticed before could slip by me in game 80. That tricky John Kuester.

I don’t like Villanueva as a three. At all. But I do like the sentiment. If Villanueva is still on the roster next season, whoever coaches the team is going to have to figure out how to get production out of him. I think the best way might simply be moving him around. Treat him as a positionless scoring threat. Bring him off the bench to exploit smaller backup bigs in the post. Or to bring shot-blocking bigs out of the lane and force them to extend their defense. Or, like against Charlotte, take advantage of a team that has a really bizarre roster and put Villanueva on the court with two other bigs.

The results from the Charlotte game were obviously good ones: Villanueva was engaged and scored 20 points on 8-for-15 shooting. Villanueva will be the same story heading into next year as he was heading into this season: he has the talent to score 15-20 points per game. It’s just a matter of finding a role for him that allows him the freedom to freelance and do that. That obviously isn’t him playing solely a traditional big man role.

A hint for the bigs: PLAY DEFENSE

The latest Pistons big man to show up and have a good game after months of inactivity was Jason Maxiell, who had 10 points and 7 rebounds against Charlotte.

Maxiell has largely been an afterthought this season, but as is happening all over the court for the Pistons, guys are trying to audition for jobs next season. Wilcox has been doing it, Villanueva has been doing it and the guards have been doing it. The Pistons frontcourt is particularly vital, though, as it has been the team’s most obvious weakness for two straight years and could get even weaker if Ben Wallace retires.

But although the scoring of Maxiell or Wilcox or Villanueva has been nice, something notable has been missing: defense. All three have played as if their future either in the organization or with the team rests on whether or not they can score the ball. All three have had decent scoring games of late. Unfortunately, when you’re part of a rotation that allows Kwame Brown and Boris Diaw to combine for 39 points on 17-for-23 shooting, I’d suggest that perhaps that makes your own scoring numbers a tad hollow.

The fact that Brown and Diaw looked like All-Stars is nothing new. The Pistons have made a habit out of allowing limited big men to have career nights this season. What is surprising, however, is that no one seems to be catching on. The Pistons need interior players who exhibit some toughness, some willingness to contest shots and some ability to not cede post position. So far, no big on the roster is grasping that concept. Monroe gets a pass because defense is often the toughest skill for young bigs to pick up, but the other three who played big minutes Sunday have no excuse. All three are big enough, strong enough and have been in the league long enough to understand how to put up some minimal resistance inside, and if none can show any remote interest in doing that, the Pistons are going to have to bring in a whole new crop of players at that position next season if they weren’t planning to anyway.

20 Comments

  • Apr 10, 20119:51 pm
    by qm22

    Reply

    Thanks for the article, it does somewhat give hope for a Stuckey fan.

    I just want to stick up for him when you pointed out: “I think most fans would gladly trade a slightly higher turnover total if it means getting a Stuckey that plays in attack mode the entire game on offense.” And a few paragraphs later noted how sometimes he slowly comes up and then dumps the ball off for an iso.
    That is 100% accurate and been driving me crazy all season long, but this appears to also be 100% what Kuester wants. I have observed Kuester is always coming out and shouting orders to Stuckey when he wastes time coming up the court slowly, and when that happens someone (almost always Tay) is waiting to catch the ball and at those times there is no other movement. That looks completely like Kuester’s call and I’m sure Stuckey wishes he could have been in attack mode.
    Hopefully we will see this change permanently under a different regime next season.

    • Apr 10, 201110:16 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      I agree that it could be Kuester, but I’m not ready to definitively say that it’s all Kuester.

      Stuckey, even if I like some aspects of his game, has never played with a high basketball IQ, even before Kuester took over as coach. He’s always been erratic. Perhaps it’s Kuester trying to get him to think through the game more, point out things he should be watching, etc. I don’t think it’s been helpful to Stuckey’s development, but I also don’t think Kuester is content to have him just walk the ball up. It’s probably a mix of Kuester over-coaching and Stuckey not seeing everything a point guard should see, causing the coach to frantically try and point things out to him all the time.

  • Apr 10, 201110:08 pm
    by rick

    Reply

    I think CV is a 3. He reminds me of a taller Al Harrington, offensively. I think his best chance for success is at the 3 too, because offensively, he would have the size advantage in the post in pretty much every matchupm as well as from behind the arc where no one outside of Turkoglu would be able to contest his 3′s.

    And then defensively, he would be a liability just the same, probably worse, but the effect not being able to defend the paint has on a game is much more crucial than defending a perimeter position, imo.

    In other words, with CV guarding the 3, you could hide him more, and still have 2 true bigs in there defending the basket.

    At PF, he sticks out like a sore thumb and its too hard on the Center to guard the whole paint by himself because of CV’s terrible defense. And it makes playing consistent defense almost impossible when you cant defend the paint.

    If we have to keep him next year, I say move him to the backup 3, start JJ at SF, and use Daye at SG, exclusively. Which is another debate in itself (I believe Daye is best suted as a SG). He cant defend 3′s and 4′s, or really 2′s, but at least at SG his length gives him some kind of advantage over his matchup, defensively. And offensively, he would be able to post up every 2 in the league.

    The moral of the story – go big, not small. I always think its better to play a tweener at the smaller position, and be oversized, than be undersized playing at the bigger spot.

    • Apr 10, 201110:19 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      He’s not a three defensively at all. As I said, if a matchup dictates him moving to the three for a few minutes here and there, I’m OK with that. But it’s bad enough watching Villanueva caught on an island trying to defend Boris Diaw. Imagined him getting stuck one-on-one against Lebron or Durant or Melo or any of the other quick wings in the league. It would be a nightmare. Villanueva has some of the slowest feet I’ve seen.

      I think you’re right that his offensive skillset is much more like a three than a four though.

      • Apr 11, 201111:10 am
        by Jason

        Reply

        That’s one way of looking at it, but i’d counter – who in the league are you really comfortable seeing guarding Lebron, Durant, or Melo? I think its safe to say that there are very FEW people in the league that can consistently defend these guys successfully.
         
        That’s not to say Villanueva would be better suited at the 3 in every situation, but I agree with the premise.. He’s a liability defensively at any position, I agree that the 3 spot would be the lesser of evils. Think about it, his length – if nothing else can help him at least contain opposing SF’s, until one of the Two bigs on the floor can step in to help.
         
        Is Tayshaun really going to guard Lebron or Durant better then Vilalnueva? Well of course, but to what extent? Same as if Daye takes over the position, is Daye really going to be better defensively against these guys then Villanueva? Barely, if any..
         
        More importantly, if Daye is at the 3, that puts Charlie likely at the 4.. Now we’re really in trouble.. If Lebron/Melo/Durant get by Daye, we got Monroe/Villanueva – or whoever else to offer help.. Not going to get too far. With Daye at the 2, Charlie at the 3, and two actual BIGS on the floow – we now have length, and IMO will do a little bit better on defense.. Of course we won’t be ranking in the top 5 defensively, but we’d be in a better situation overall.

  • Apr 11, 201112:09 am
    by jayg108

    Reply

    I like the assessment of Stuckey’s conundrum.  It does give hope for the young man.  I hope he learns exactly what you outlined about pacing, and he might be an all-star one day.  Next year, I expect a really big year from him.

    • Apr 11, 20115:57 pm
      by Tim

      Reply

      It is probably just about impossible for Stuckey to ever be an all-star. There are just way too many phenomenal PGs in the league right now.

  • Apr 11, 201112:10 am
    by rick

    Reply

    yeah, definitely agree offensively. I just thought his poor defense would be less of a liability guarding the 3, than it would guarding the basket. Off the basis that giving up pts on the perimeter usually hurts you less than giving up pts in the paint. Plus, I was talking about as a backup 3, so he probably wouldn’t be matched with LeBron or any of the great 3′s that much.

  • Apr 11, 201112:12 am
    by rick

    Reply

    ***My last commentt was in response to the CV topic, not Stuckey.

  • Apr 11, 20111:12 am
    by justwin

    Reply

    The question should not be how well Stuckey performs but it should be if he should be rewarded for bad behavior? Having his cake and eating it too is contrary to conventional wisdom especially if a business is committed to keeping high standards of ethics in the workplace. I’m an excellent and productive worker, better than most, but if I insubordinate the boss, all is for naught.  If indeed the young man returns, the burden should be on management to correct this flaw, immediately.  It’s a poison that can present irreversible consequences, and, it may have already.

    • Apr 11, 20118:42 am
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Well, he is still coing off the bench, and he’d actually be playing less right now if Bynum were fully healthy. Something seems up with McGrady too actually. He didn’t play the second half last night and hasn’t done much for the last week and a half or so. They don’t really have anyone else who can play PG  minutes, so Stuck has to play a lot right now.

  • Apr 11, 20111:29 am
    by Tiko

    Reply

    Stuckey is an enigma…
    OT: can you do a draft dream for Bismack Biyombo?  this dude is getting hyped up big time

  • Apr 11, 20112:43 am
    by Tom Y.

    Reply

    I’d love to see a piece on him too, I’ve been hyping him myself for a while now… for good reasons I think. And I think he’s just the player we need in our frontcourt to turn things around as far as defense, rebounding and toughness. Here’s a quote from Draftexpress:
    “Even in a loss, the story from this game was 6’9” Congolese big manBismack Biyombofrom the World Team, who recorded a triple double with 12 points on 5-7 shooting, 11 rebounds, and 10 blocks in 28 minutes of play. NBA scouts were buzzing about him all week during the practice sessions, but seeing him excel in the game against the athleticism of Team USA even further solidified his legitimacy as an NBA prospect.”
    and,

    “Biyombo will likely always be a somewhat limited player on the offensive end, and he showed some of his flaws tonight with 4 turnovers, but his intensity, toughness, and length make him a beast on the interior, reminiscent ofBen Wallacein his prime”
    Personally, though I suspect he may be a little older than the 18 he’s listed at, I think his offensive game may grow to be at least a little more diverse than Wallace’s (he’s only been playing BB for a couple of years or so)

  • Apr 11, 20114:37 am
    by jack

    Reply

    I do not understand why Greg Monroe needs to be given a pass as a defender. He may not be the best shot blocker but is second among rookies in steals per game and is averaging 2 in April.  Plus he is already an above average post defender, and an excellent pick and roll defender.  Have you seen how he cuts of guard penetration during pick and roll plays by moving his feet extremely well and getting in front of them.  Then there is his rebounding.  He is averaging 9 + since the all star break and nearly 9 as a starter.  I can see his averaging a solid double double next season.  Plus there is more to defense than shot blocking.  Tying people up, altering shots and deflecting the ball are all important aspects of defense that Monroe does really well.  Another thing I like is he has gotten the best teacher to learn how to play defense in Ben Wallace.  So he will get better defensively.  And don’t forget about Jerebko who was also an excellent defender at both forward spots his rookie season.  With Monroe and Jerebko out there together I can see them creating havoc for the opposing teams offense ala mike james and hunter just like in 2004.  Personally I think they should make Bill Lambier or Ben Wallace the head coach and emphasize defense and let stuckey run an up tempo offense.
     

    • Apr 11, 20118:45 am
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      He was terrible against Charlotte.

      He bit hard on the slowest pump fake I’ve ever seen from Boris Diaw, he was abused when he was matched up with Kwame Brown and he’s had several games like that.

      He’s smart enough that he’ll get it eventually. But to even call him an average defensive player right now is a stretch. You’re right, he has great hands and that will help make up for his lack of shot blocking, but he’s still got to get stronger. He often gives up position inside against even mediocre bigs.

      A summer in the weight room will correct his deficiencies. My point was just that Monroe can improve at that end of the court and it’s a good bet he will. The other guys I don’t think will ever get to be useful defensive players up front.

  • Apr 11, 20117:21 am
    by Jakob Eich

    Reply

    Why can’t CV be a three offensively and guard the 4 defensively? I mean, it would only make sense if we have another 3 and 4 tweener who is more athletic than Charlie!

    • Apr 11, 20118:48 am
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      He can some. I worry that he doesn’t handle the ball well enough to consistently play minutes at that position though. It worked vs. Charlotte because Diaw was playing some three for them, and that’s a favorable matchup for Villanueva. I doubt he’s going to beat most threes, starters or backcourt, off the dribble. If he showed more willingness to get in the post more often, I’d be more confident he could take advantage of his size as a backup three, but as we’ve seen, he just won’t stay down there consistently.

  • Apr 11, 20118:32 am
    by vic

    Reply

    @ Rick- you are right on the money.
    I made that proposal a couple of weeks ago. Joe needs to stop putting square pegs in round holes. CV should be the backup 3 for instant offense. Jerebko should start at the 3 for good defense. Defense first! Daye is either starting 2 or backup 2 depending on his defensive improvement over the summer. Btw Bismack is a beast, I would draft him at 7 if Enes, Jonas, aKyrie, and Derrick Williams were gone. Perfect Pistons… Now we just need Ben Wallace to stay 1 more year or hire him as a big man coach. Then hire laimbeer as head coach!

    • Apr 11, 20118:49 am
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      If Dumars is staying, I’d bet against Laimbeer as coach. Dumars has resisted hiring him in the past mainly because I don’t think he ever wants to be put into a position where he’d have to fire his friend and teammate, and with the way Joe D blows through coaches, it’s a good bet he’d have to fire Laimbeer at some point.

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