And not just any kind of love, but cold, hard, objective love from ESPN stat-guru John Hollinger, who tabbed Bynum his starting point guard on his All-Underrated Team:
Fans in Detroit already are wondering why Bynum isn't starting, which is pretty amazing considering he began the season as the fourth guard in a three-guard rotation. Believe it or not, the 6-foot powder keg led the Pistons in PER last season, and early this season he's shown that it was no fluke.
Bynum is averaging a point every two minutes and shooting 50 percent from the floor, and while his instincts are as a scorer, he's found the open man enough to keep defenses honest. Another big surprise is all the time he's spent at the free throw line this season, which is an added source of easy points that has helped raise his PER considerably.
While I'm happy to see Bynum get the attention, calling him "underrated" is still an extreme understatement -- intentionally or not, it sounds an awful lot like "best overachiever," a backhanded compliment if I ever heard one. No, Bynum is more than "underrated," he's also the best bargain in the entire NBA. How many other players are earning the league minimum while essentially* leading their team in PER?
*[His 17.4 PER was tops among all Pistons who played more than two games last year (Chauncey technically posted a 17.5 PER in two games), and his 20.0 PER is tops among all Pistons who have played more than one game this year (Rip's small-sample-size inflated 29.6 PER is technically first).]
He also leads the team in assist percentage while ranking fifth in usage, which should help dispel the myth that his game revolves around dominating the ball and breaking down defenders one-on-one.
Stuckey, meanwhile, looks to be regressing -- especially in regards to getting his teammates involved. Through 14 games, his assist percentage is down to 19.0, down from 23.9 as a rookie and 26.1 last year. Perhaps he's felt more pressure to score with Hamilton getting injured, or perhaps he simply misses having the two veterans help facilitate the offense.
Either way, his point guard skills aren't improving. Maybe forcing a combo guard to man the point is a bad idea? Trouble is, his shooting has substantially declined, as well, as Brian Packey noticed at Motown String Music:
On the season, Stuckey is now shooting 39%, four percentage points lower than what he finished with last year, his second season in the NBA.
[...] Next, I looked at his shot chart to try and get an idea where Stuckey's poor shooting totals were coming from. I was pretty surprised to see that his struggles are actually with what should be the easiest shots. He's shooting a head scratching 39% on shots near the basket and a respectable 42% from mid-range.
[...] Again, what's most bothersome to me is that he's making just 40% of what are essentially layups. For comparative purposes, Lebron James is hitting those shots at a 71% clip and Will Bynum is making 56% this year. I honestly believe, with his size and strength, Stuckey should be somewhere in the middle of those two.
Brian was using stats from NBA's Hot Spots, but HoopData can break the data down even more: Stuckey is shooting 45% at the rim (4.6 attempts per game) but just 29% on his remaining shots within 10 feet (2.4 attempts per game). [Note: there's no overlap here, these are two separate sets of attempts]. The league average, meanwhile, is 60.8% and 43.2%, respectively.
[And, since I'm sure you're curious, Bynum's numbers are 61% (4.2 attempts) and 18% (0.8 attempts). Not great, but not horrible considering he either attacks the rim or backs off to beyond 10 feet, where he's surprisingly solid.]
Maybe it's a fluke thing that will correct itself? Last year Stuckey shot 50% at the rim; as a rookie, he shot 49% -- both a good 10 percentage points below league average. Clearly this year's numbers will matter a whole lot more once we have a better sample size, but historically speaking the data backs up what I've seen with my own eyes: Stuckey's marvelous ability to slice through the paint is at least partially handicapped by his inability to finish at the rim on a consistent (read: league-average) basis.
Part of this is certainly due to athleticism (everyone isn't born with Bynum's hops, but when's the last time you saw Stuckey dunk in traffic?) but some might just be technique (to my untrained eyes, it seems Stuckey tends to square up for a two-handed shot, often shooting on his way down, instead of leaning in with a finger roll or floater).
Whatever the case, I hope Stuckey soon learns that, despite his superb driving ability, he's not a natural-born scorer in the paint, and finding the open man upon penetrating might be the better option than forcing a shot. Of course, that's easier said than done with the marvelous pass-catching ability of Ben Wallace and Kwame Brown in the low post, but still, that should be taking into account before taking off with a head full of steam for the basket.
There's still plenty to like about Stuckey's future -- he's making great use of his size and strength rebounding the ball, and John Kuester is on the record as saying Stuckey has the potential to be one of the top defensive point guards in the league -- but it's still a bit worrisome to see that, 14 games into his third year, he's nearly as unpolished offensively as he was his rookie year.
I haven't seen him comment on this specifically, but I suspect this is a big reason why Kuester has the Pistons playing at a snail's pace (87.7 possessions per game, slowest in the league) yet again -- every time the Pistons try to run, they fail. Eventually getting two playmakers in Hamilton and Prince back in the fold will help ... but so would playing Bynum 37 minutes a game instead of Stuckey.
For whatever it's worth, I didn't intend for this post to be so long -- I already linked to Patrick Hayes' excellent (and more structured) comparison of the two last week. I simply wanted to mention Hollinger's article while briefly mentioning Motown String Music's post, but, well, I'm wordy -- and lack the ability to self-edit, especially at un-godly hours of the morning.
But seriously, why can't Bynum be the real prize? For all the talk about Stuckey being the franchise cornerstone, let's not miss the fact that he's had more chances to prove himself -- by far -- and has come up wanting. Stuckey has 171 NBA games (regular season and playoff) under his belt; Bynum, just 90. The disparity in terms of minutes played is even more drastic: Stuckey has 4635 career minutes; Bynum, 1430.
At what point do you re-consider which player is the future? I'm not saying we're there yet, but we have to be getting close.