Pistons' Rodney Stuckey finally taking the next step

HEY!!!!!! Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE

Ever since being drafted by the Detroit Pistons with the 15th pick in the 2007 draft there has been endless debate on his role. Some of it was his own making but much of it has been out of his control. He shined as a reserve but he was not responsible for the organization touting him as a future superstar.

Like every young player I'm sure he wanted to start but that doesn't mean he pushed out incumbent Chauncey Billups. And he spent years trying to do what the team asked of him, mainly play point guard, even if it didn't come naturally to him.

Sometimes he would break through and put up a string of games full of points, free throws, assists and steals. Other times he would be disinterested in defense, drive the lane with tunnel vision and fail to convert the basket. So again we as Pistons fans are asking the same question we've been asking for four years: Has Rodney Stuckey finally turned the corner? Has he matured? Has he improved his decision-making?

I say that answer is yes.

At least that is what my eyes are telling me. He looks more confident. He is playing quicker but also slower, making better decisions, not rushing shots, letting the game come to him and all sorts of other cliches.

So what do the stats say? At 16.1 points per game he has nearly matched his career high of 16.6 in 2009-10 despite taking four fewer shots per game. And even though he got off to a slow start he has set career highs in PER, true shooting percentage and win shares per 48 minutes. He also annihilated his career best in 3-point percentage.

So how can we credit what looks more and more like a permanent step forward in Stuckey's game? Some credit moving off the ball and allowing Brandon Knight to handle point guard duties (although he still does his fair share of distributing). Some credit the stability of a new coach he can trust in Lawrence Frank.

But a recent article in USA Today provides a more comprehensive look at Stuckey's development. And it starts with a new outlook and a new attitude:

He clashed with former coach John Kuester, who was fired after last season and is now a Los Angeles Lakersassistant.

But Stuckey decided to make a change. He credits family and friends for his turnaround, and he also went to a psychologist, "Just to clear my mind," he said.

"I think it was good for me. It wasn't someone inside my inner circle, and they didn't care," Stuckey said of therapy. "I was going to get the feedback I needed to hear. That really helped out a lot. It was just positive energy. There was too much negative energy."

The article notes that Stuckey has not let losing affect him this year and it is showing on the court. Last season reports surfaced early that Kuester lost the team within the first two weeks. This season the Pistons actually got off to an even worse start. Whereas last season the Pistons were 7-17 after 24 games, this year they were 4-20.

But Stuckey and his teammates kept on working, and fans who were complaining about committing three years and $28 million to an average player who failed as a point guard are now talking about what a bargain Stuckey might be.

"There's been times where I've been mad this year where I just calmed down and not let it get to me," Stuckey said to USA Today.

And the article notes that the positive outlook has helped him get better and better. Far from a spurt, this latest run of good play has lasted two months wherein Stuckey has to to be in the conversation as one of the 10 best guards in the NBA during that span:

Stuckey is an integral part of the present and future. He has averaged 19.2 points in the past two months and scored 20 or more points in 11 of his last 17 games, shooting 53.2% in them. He was getting to the free throw line more than any guard in the league (6.5 times per game) except the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant (7.9) entering Tuesday.

It seems that Stuckey has turned so many corners that he winds up right back where he started. But I think I am ready to officially say that Stuckey has taken the next step.

He is in a better place mentally. And don't underestimate the peace of mind that being financially secure for the rest of your life can bring. The organization is also in a better place. They have a good head coach, a franchise cornerstone piece and an owner in place for the first time in years.

Hopefully the team will grow right along with Stuckey.

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