Player to Watch: Rodney Stuckey
The trade of Chauncey Billups was purportedly meant to clear the path for the "too-good-to-come-off-the-bench" Rodney Stuckey, but the dreadful 2008-09 Pistons season really never allowed Stuckey to blossom. Now in his third season, with Billups gone and Allen Iverson exiled to Memphis, Stuckey really does have the room he should need.
Not that there isn't still pressure. When you replace a former Finals MVP dubbed by fans as "Mr. Big Shot," you have your hands full. And while Detroit seems to adore Stuckey, there's a lot of talent competing for minutes around him.
Ben Gordon, the high-price free agent who (we can only assume) wants to eventually be in the starting lineup but currently sits behind Stuckey and Rip Hamilton. Will Bynum, the whiplash-inducing lead guard who forces himself into conversations you didn't know you were having. There's Hamilton himself, who bristled at coming off the bench last season when Iverson started alongside Stuckey. And it isn't as if new coach John Kuester can push full throttle on a three-guard lineup, given that Hamilton lacks size to defend small forwards, Gordon even lacks size to defend two-guards, and Detroit happens to have a host of promising small forwards (including Austin Daye). There's pressure to perform for every one of the guards.
But there's also a sort of internal need for aggressive play from Stuckey. In gauging Stuckey's preseason play, Kuester has noted that he's looking for Stuckey to be aggressive more often and attack the defense. But Kuester can help Stuckey reach a comfort zone on offense.
Statistics show that Stuckey was far better last season when allowed longer stretches on the court. One easy way to see this is through Stuckey's quarterly three-point shooting. On the season, Stuckey was a below-average deep shooter. But there is a pretty big divide between his shooting in the first and third quarters (where he tends to play more minutes) and the second and fourth quarters (where he may be coming in for only a possessions).
According to 82games.com, last season Stuckey averaged 8 minutes, 53 seconds of playing time in the first quarter. He shot 35 percent on threes during the first quarter. He averaged only 6 minutes, 47 seconds in the second quarter, and shot 17% from three. In the third quarter, he averaged 9 minutes, 21 seconds, and shot 57% from three. In the fourth quarter, he averaged 6 minutes, 30 seconds, and shot 6% from three.
These sample sizes are small, but it paints a picture that Kuester reinforces: Stuckey needs to assert himself quickly. With so many guards to play, the Pistons can't wait for Stuckey to get into a flow in order to perform. If Stuckey pops into the second quarter with only four minutes left, he needs to play like he's been in the game from the start. Maybe that's not entirely possible -- we tend to see leaguewide trends that support greater efficiency for players who get long stretches of opportunity as opposed to short, stop-and-stop stints. But Stuckey can certainly improve his initial aggressiveness, which should help him be at his best on the court ... no matter the rotation situation.