Stuckey's struggles a headache for Pistons

Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Rodney Stuckey is dealing with migraines and his shooting woes are about to give Pistons fans a collective heart attack. The Pistons have only a few options -- wait for him to return to normal, bench him or trade him.

Rodney Stuckey has attempted 23 shots in this young NBA season. One hundred nine players have attempted more this season. Rodney Stuckey has made one shot. Two hundred eighty five plays have made more shots this season. His 4.30 field goal percentage ranks 316th in the NBA.

Obviously, something is going very very wrong here.

An unpleasant surprise

Of all the wild cards on the Pistons roster, Stuckey is the last player you would expect to be surprised by. For better or worse he has been remarkably consistent in his NBA career, showing incremental improvement every season. You could pencil him in for shooting around 42 percent, 84 percent from the line, a sub-par jumper and an excellent ability to get to the charity stripe. Every year the Pistons try to craft a winning version around those strengths and those weaknesses.

Three games into the season, Stuckey's numbers are horrible and unsurprisingly the team is unable to accommodate for this loss in production. Coupled with Greg Monroe's so-far pedestrian offensive production and poor defense, it is no surprise the Pistons are winless. We can talk about Monroe's struggles at another time, but right now I want to focus on Stuckey.

The logical answer is that the Pistons need to be patient. His headaches will go away, his shots will stop rimming out and he'll get back to his usual production eventually.

But I'm not so sure it is going to be that easy.

Vincent Goodwill talked to Stuckey and Tayshaun Prince and both point out that the issue might be related to taking the ball out of Stuckey's hands in order to facilitate that development of Brandon Knight.

Said Prince:

"Whenever a player is struggling, it's up to the team or the staff to get him involved, find ways to get him out of it," Prince said. "At the same time, Stuckey has to be aggressive. We haven't put it in his hands enough, and he hasn't had a flow or rhythm to each game."

Said Stuckey:

"I feel like I'm not in a rhythm at all," Stuckey said. "I was having the ball in my hands, creating in transition. Coming in the second quarter and being able to use my post position on smaller guards, I'm not using that right now.

"I'll find my rhythm. I know I'm struggling, but I'll find my rhythm."

The problem with that, of course, is the aforementioned Stuckey consistency. He's shown that he isn't a legitimate point guard. He's also shown that he has a poor outside shot and I don't see any reason that he should be, as he says in the article, standing in the corner ready to launch 3s.

That is not his game. It will never be his game.

Who get's the ball?

At the same time, the Pistons need to ride out the occasional ups and frequent downs of second-year player Brandon Knight as point guard. Simply put, the Pistons need as much evidence as possible that he either will or will not be able to turn into a reliable point guard in the NBA.

The Pistons have set themselves up nicely down low with Monroe and Andre Drummond. The team has the ability to get significantly under the cap after this season to address any needs. It also is more likely than not that the team will keep this year's expected lottery pick and forfeit their pick the following year to the Bobcats (courtesy of the Ben Gordon - Corey Maggette swap).

If Knight continues to prove he can't reliably run the team's offense, the Pistons need to be prepared to pull the trigger on drafting a guard next year. Likewise, if Knight shows significant growth in his second year, the team will be better prepared to know what kind of point guard role they need to fill via free agency.

That means that the Pistons must prioritize keeping the ball in the hands of Knight -- even if it's at the expense of Stuckey.

Options

There are a few avenues the team can explore to confront this issue.

1. Status Quo. The team is obviously most likely to ride out the Knight-Stuckey backcourt and hope things at least get to the level of effectiveness of last season when they both passed a little and scored a little, with Stuckey specializing in getting to the line and Knight adept at hitting the 3-ball. If and when Greg Monroe grows into the facilitator role the team is crafting for him, this option has less obvious drawbacks -- at least on the offensive end of the floor.

2. Bench Stuckey. Many clear-eyed Pistons fans see the most successful role for Stuckey (or Knight) as a offensive-minded sixth-man off the bench who can distribute somewhat effectively and score in bunches. If the lack of flow in the starting lineup continues Detroit might be forced to consider benching Stuckey in favor of either Kim English or Will Bynum.

Of those two it makes more sense to start English and go with a three-man guard rotation. English can space the floor, play defense and largely defer to the ball-dominant Knight. It could be beneficial to have a quality long-range threat to play alongside Knight because it provides a simple, consistent kick-out opportunity for Knight.

3. Trade Stuckey. Even before the season I have been thinking an in-season trade of Stuckey makes more and more sense for the Pistons. The trouble, and the thing that makes this scenario unlikely, is finding a trade partner that makes sense. Still, it's not an impossibility. Recall that the final $8 million year in Stuckey's extension is not guaranteed. That means the Pistons, knowing which way the wind is blowing, can let Stuckey walk for nothing or keep him for one more year. But by trading him they can get some value now and perhaps let this season serve as an audition for players they would already have been interested in this offseason.

There are other players who might similarly not have long-term futures with their current teams -- players like Josh Smith, Andre Iguodala, or Brandon Jennings just off the top of my head.

The Pistons can trade for an expiring contract and walk away from the player after this season if the fit isn't right or if the money discussed is too rich. They could also explore sign-and-trade opportunities to hoard an extra asset or two.

And it also means that any team trading for Stuckey could take a flier on Stuckey, who has proven he is a productive NBA player, without taking on any long-term risk.

Stuckey might find a role on a contender off the bench of blossom as an off-guard on a team with a more cohesive starting unit paired with a point guard that doesn't have skills that overlap Stuckey's so closely.

Stuckey's new team would also have the opportunity of getting something as opposed to just letting an impending free agent walk after the season. They would also have the flexibility of either letting Stuckey walk, picking up the final year of his contract at an affordable $8 million, or looking at sign-and-trade opportunities.

4. Trade or bench Brandon Knight. This is the least likely of all scenarios simply because Knight is too young, too cheap and the organization has shown that it is committed to Knight at least through this season.

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