With all due respect to Mel Farr, there is a new superstar in Detroit. Rodney Stuckey is blowing up. He is the sort of coveted asset that can score easy buckets going to the rim and score even easier baskets at the free throw line. If he continues to progress the way he has over the last year and a half, he could end up looking a lot like Dwyane Wade. In the meantime, he’s still pretty damn good.
The Pistons have been bounced from the playoffs the last three years by Wade, LeBron James, and Paul Pierce. All three are among the NBA’s elite at getting to the rim and drawing fouls. I probably don’t have to remind anyone that against those players the Pistons settled for jumpers while those guys attacked the rim. It’s no wonder why they lost. Stuckey is the antidote to those players. He attacks the rim with even more fervor than LeBron and Wade. He takes 45% of his shots in the paint. That’s more than LeBron, D-Wade, and Kobe Bryant. Heck, that’s more than Tim Duncan and Amare Stoudemire! He’s also among the league leaders in “and-1s” which is somewhat obscure but certainly speaks to Stuckey’s ability to get to—and finish in—the paint.
Stuckey’s presence in the paint has rejuvenated a franchise that has struggled to score for the better part of a decade. The Pistons had won seven in a row before giving away a “W” in Portland last night. Three of those games were without Rasheed Wallace and Rip Hamilton. In previous years, that would’ve meant disaster. This time around, it just might have given us a glimpse of what the Pistons will look like beyond this season. I’m not suggesting that this team is better off without Rasheed and Rip right now. The Pistons don’t have enough depth to succeed without them. Rasheed and Rip do a lot of things well. Unfortunately, they sorely lack two of the fundamental responsibilities that their positions require. Rasheed is a power forward who is afraid of making a move towards the basket. Rip is a shooting guard who can’t get to the rim. Those deficiencies could be masked on separate teams. They are exacerbated on the same team. That’s one of the reason why I think Rip should be coming off the bench for the remainder of the season but that’s as likely as Michigan winning a basketball game at Assembly Hall. Wait, I can’t use that one anymore!
Since entering the starting lineup for good on December 9, Stuckey has averaged 19 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game. More importantly, Stuckey’s field goal percentage over that time is a whopping 50% (103-204). That is astronomical for a guard. Clearly, that shooting percentage is not sustainable for the long term. However, Stuckey’s presence in the paint should keep that percentage in the upper 40s as his jumper improves. Stuckey is a budding superstar. He hasn’t been around long enough for the rest of the league to take notice but it won’t take long. The Pistons are unlikely to challenge Boston for supremacy in the east because Boston still scores too many easy buckets. However, the Pistons are clearly a different team now that they have a go-to player. They are 13-4 with Stuckey in the starting lineup this year and 7-8 without.
I can’t end this post without giving serious props to the guy who unearthed Stuckey. Joe Dumars deserves perhaps the highest accolades of his brilliant front-office career for taking a chance on Rodney Stuckey with the 15th pick of the first round in the 2007 NBA Draft. Seriously, was anyone happy with that pick at the time? Stuckey has already established himself as one of the premier penetrators in the NBA. His ability to get to the hole is a breath of fresh air for a Pistons team that has made scoring look like quantum physics over the last few years. He will keep the Pistons competitive while they undergo a considerable transition over the next two years. Stuckey is one half of the championship equation. The other half comes down to whether Joe D can convince one (or two) of the dynamos from the ’10 free agent class to come to Detroit.
P.S. How did the Red Sox get John Smoltz for $5.5 million?