“He’s got an unbelievable combination of speed and strength. That’s hard to come by. And there is nothing that he really can’t do. He is going to be an All-Star, for sure.” –Chauncey Billups, talking about Rodney Stuckey, on the night of Billups’ last playoff game as a Piston.
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Well, Chauncey Billups was right. He saw it for himself Thursday night, in his return to the Palace: Rodney Stuckey is going to be an All-Star. Not this year. But eventually.
The Pistons are a mess right now, but they are an admirable mess. Nearly everybody is injured. Ben Gordon is out. Rip Hamilton is out. Tayshaun Prince is out. Things are so bad that when coach John Kuester said Will Bynum would miss the Nuggets game because of an ankle injury, reporters had to ask which ankle, because Bynum’s left and right ankles have been bothering him.
Thursday night, they had to play rookie Jonas Jerebko for 34 minutes. Rookie forward Austin Daye, the former Gonzaga University star, played 23 minutes at guard. Chucky Atkins, who was demoted from the Pistons’ starting lineup seven years ago, started and played 35 minutes.
And the Pistons beat the Nuggets, who are on the outskirts of title contention.
It was ridiculous, absurd, and while the Nuggets’ lack of energy played a role, let’s take a moment to appreciate the best thing the Pistons have going for them now: Rodney Stuckey.
Stuckey, the former Eastern Washington University star, scored 25 points in a win against his old teammate, Billups, just one night after scoring 27 points in a win against his old teammate Allen Iverson. The extra scoring is not a surprise – Stuckey has more chances to score. The interesting thing is that, even though teams can key on him, Stuckey’s shooting percentage keeps going up, too.
“He’s far along now,” Billups said afterward. “Stuckey is playing great now. I’m happy for him. I’m proud of him. He’s the kind of guard that, with his mixture of speed and strength, he’s difficult to cover. He’s a problem out there.”
He will be a bigger problem as the season wears on – and when the Pistons get healthy, he might create a problem for Kuester. One reason Stuckey is playing so well is that the Pistons have taken him off the ball, out of necessity. When Gordon and Hamilton come back, Stuckey will go back to being a point guard.
In the meantime, Stuckey is playing better than he ever has. He has added a post-up game. Thursday night, Stuckey got trapped along the right side and threw the ball off Denver’s Nene, out of bounds, saving the possession. Then, with the shot clock winding down, he drew a foul on his old teammate, Arron Afflalo, saving the possession again.
Billups is one of the best in the NBA at both drawing fouls and selling contact to officials, which really is an art. Stuckey is still learning both skills, but he is getting better.
“Experience is always the best teacher,” Billups said. “You pick up small little tricks. He is doing a good job of that.”
Stuckey needs to improve his outside shot. He needs to show he is really a point guard. And yet … somehow, his deficiencies just highlight how good he can be.