Justin Rogers of MLive has reported that Rodney Stuckey expects to shift to shooting guard for extended minutes this season. After joining the Pistons for an open practice on December 18th, Stuckey spoke about his position as it relates to the crowd at point guard.
"It's early, we're just playing around, mixing up the lineup and stuff like that," Stuckey said after practice. "I know this year I'm going to be playing a little more two while Will or Brandon are in the game."
Fans should feel relieved to know that Stuckey's re-signing won't entirely bury rookie Brandon Knight in the depth chart. It's likely that Stuckey will start the season at point guard next to Ben Gordon at the 2, and that coach Lawrence Frank will adjust the rotations as the season progresses.
The problem, however, is that Stuckey's title as "combo guard" is more suggestive of his apositional nature, not an ability to effectively produce at either guard position. When playing at the 2, Stuckey loses the size advantage he has over point guards and his defense suffers dramatically. Without the point-style control of the ball, Stuckey's offensive talents are also curbed, given his preference for isolation style play.
In 2009-10, Stuckey's defense against point guards was his saving grace. His 40.5% shooting from the field and 30th-amongst-starting-guards assist rate buried his team's offense, but his defense and Detroit's lack of depth kept him in the rotation. That season, when Stuckey played almost exclusively at point guard, his isolation defense was amongst the league's best. He didn't have the lateral quickness of shorter point guards, but his size gave him the advantage when defending iso-style penetration.
In 2010-11, Stuckey's offense improved in terms of shooting efficiency and assist rate. He was moved off the ball for longer stretches, giving Tracy McGrady and Will Bynum a greater level of involvement at the point. Due in part to his time at shooting guard, Stuckey's ability to defend fell off the charts. Synergy Sports ranked Stuckey at 121st in the league when defending isolation plays, down from a very respectable 38th in 2009-10. This decline was shared by a slight dip in D-RTG and positional stats via 82games (which should be taken with a chunk of Detroit Salt).
Then there's the other side of the coin, where Stuckey's offense is at its
most average best when he's in control of the ball. Playing Stuckey at the two, when not in control of the ball, limits his best offense-- which again is isolation. Anything else, and the Pistons are in trouble. Here's an eye-opener: Stuckey's 28.9% three-point shooting in 2010-11 was the 60th best amongst shooting guards. There were 59 shooting guards in the league who were more effective than Rodney at shooting three pointers, and shooting just happens to be so important that it's in the actual job title he'll be holding for much of 2011-12.
Here's the thing fans should come to grips with before the season starts: Rodney Stuckey is not the answer at shooting guard. His title as a "combo guard" relates to his inability to fit into a modern NBA position, it does not suggest an ability to adequately produce at multiple positions. His size advantage is lost at the two, and without the ball in his hand, he's an offensive liability as well. The idea that Stuckey might work at shooting guard has been passed around by fans for years now, but sadly, it just isn't reflected in this player's style or body of work. If Stuckey's past performance at shooting guard continues this year, let's hope Lawrence Frank is quick to adjust for the sake of the team and the fans that support it.
There's always the hope that Stuckey will improve in the season ahead, and finally turn the corner he's flirted with so many times. I'm afraid that this is more likely to happen at point guard than it will off-the-ball. It'll be interesting to watch, I just wish the objective measures were more inspiring of confidence. Sadly, they're not.