In fact, consistency has been the big issue with Stuckey – just as it is now with Brandon Knight. But while Knight’s defenders can argue that he’s only 20 years old and deserves some "wait and see" time, Stuckey now has five NBA seasons under his belt. Still, there have been some mitigating circumstances that (it can be argued) have hindered his development. Entering his sixth year in the league, he’s now on his fourth head coach. Two of them – Michael Curry and John Kuester – were clearly not very good. After a promising rookie year (delayed by about two months due to injury), the expectation was that he’d be the first guard off the bench in 2008-09, backing up the dependable duo of Billups and Hamilton. Then our 2004 Finals MVP was unexpectedly traded to Denver for Allen Iverson, and the guard rotation was thrown into chaos. Rip Hamilton’s game noticeably suffered with Billups gone, and the Pistons record fell to 39-43. Stuckey had a decent sophomore year, however, averaging 13.4 points (on 43.9 % shooting) and 4.9 assists. By comparison, Billups shot 42 % (16.2 ppg) and handed out 3.9 apg his first year as a Piston.
But in his first season with Coach Q at the helm, Stuckey’s progress stalled. While his scoring average increased to 16.6 points, his efficiency declined (40.5 % shooting, with a 47.9 TS % that was worse than his rookie year). His assists didn’t increase (4.8 per game in 2009-10) and about the only positive is that he was getting to the foul line a little more frequently. The following season it was obvious that Stuckey and Coach Q didn’t see eye to eye, and that was clearly a problem for some other players, too. There were several games when he didn’t leave the bench, but Stuckey closed the year with three of the best games of his career. By the usual statistical measurements, his efficiency essentially returned to the levels of his sophomore year. He even shot the same FG % - 43.9. His assists average ticked up slightly. But like Brandon Knight this past season, Stuckey’s production was often inconsistent from game to game.
Similarly to what I recently did with Brandon Knight, I decided to look at a sample of Stuckey’s best and worst games for both of the past two years. In 2010-11, Stuckey played in 70 games, starting 54 of them, and averaging 31.2 mpg. He averaged 15.5 points on 43.9 % shooting, 5.2 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 2.2 turnovers. Because he played more games that season, I used a sample size of 12 games each (approximately one-sixth of his season) for Stuckey’s best and worst of 2010-11. So how did he do?
In his top 12 games, Stuckey averaged 24.9 points on 51.5 % shooting, 8.9 assists, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.8 turnovers. If he could have played that well all the time, he would have been a surefire all-star! The Pistons’ record in those games was 6-6. However, in his worst 12 games, Stuckey averaged 8.7 points on 25.4 % shooting, 3 assists, 1.6 rebounds, and 2.4 turnovers. Those are not great numbers! They’re not much better than BK’s worst performances from last season. The Pistons’ record was 1-11 in those games. When Stuckey was bad, we almost always lost.
Last season, Stuckey averaged 14.8 points on 42.9 % shooting, and also hit over 30 % of his threes for the first time in his career (31.7 %). His assists average dipped to 3.8, presumably reflecting the fact that he was moved to shooting guard. I used a sample size of 11 games each, which is one-fifth of his season (he played in 55 games, starting in 48 and averaging 29.9 mpg). How did he do last year?
In his top 11 games, Stuckey averaged 28.7 points on 54.8 % shooting (60 % on threes!), 4.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.7 turnovers. That’s excellent production for a shooting guard. Our record in those games was 6-5. In his worst 11 games, Stuckey averaged 9.4 points on 33.3 % shooting (23.5 % on threes), 3.8 assists, 1.7 rebounds, and 1.8 turnovers. The Pistons were 2-9 in those games. Those numbers aren’t great, but they are all up from the previous year.
If we look at some advanced stats, Stuckey’s .55 TS % last season was his best yet, and his Win Shares/48 of .131 was also the best of his career. He also shot nearly six free throws per game, and this is a part of his game that has steadily increased every year. In his top 11 games last season, he averaged over 10 free throw attempts.
Is Rodney Stuckey getting better? I think we did see improvement last year. Given that he missed training camp and also missed some games due to injury (something probably to be expected from a player who gets fouled frequently), I think that’s a positive sign. Since he’ll probably be our starting shooting guard for at least the next two years, let’s hope he can continue to up his game.