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Given the historic rivalry between the Pistons and the Celtics as well as their renewed hostilities that culminated with an Eastern Conference Finals battle last season, the following admission could hardly come at a more inappropriate time.
But I can't help it. I'm genuinely excited for Rodney Stuckey's sophomore campaign as a professional basketball player.
Rest assured, there is no love here for the Pistons, and I'll be rooting against them with alacrity as a Celtics fan. But Stuckey has done a lot of talking this offseason, and after seeing flashes of some of what this kid has to offer down the stretch a season ago, it's hard not to be intrigued to watch this particular gentleman progress on an individual level, no matter the name on the front of his jersey.
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The 6-foot-5 guard from Eastern Washington has already been referred to by some as Dwyane Wade 2.0. Granted, some of those people were the same folks who had already bestowed the same title on Monta Ellis out in Golden State, so Stuckey might have to settle for being Dwyane Wade 3.0. But for a guy who averaged 7.6 points and 2.8 assists in 19 minutes per game to go with 48.4 percent true shooting in his rookie campaign, that's a pretty impressive comparison to have garnered already.
Truth is, the comparison to a four-time All-Star and NBA Finals MVP who has averaged 23.9 points and 6.5 assists per game in his first five seasons as a pro is more than a bit of a stretch at this time from a production standpoint. That's especially the case when one considers that Stuckey will remain a reserve in the season to come barring injuries to Chauncey Billups or Rip Hamilton.
But that doesn't mean the similarities in skill set aren't there. They are. Like Flash, the compactly built Stuckey is a combo guard who can both serve as a distributor or play off the ball. He started two games in Chauncey Billups' absence in the 2008 playoffs and led the Pistons to two wins, including the clincher over Orlando in which Stuckey went for 15 points and 6 assists on 5-of-10 shooting. He averaged 5.3 assists per 36 minutes in the regular season and handed out 3.4 in less than 23 minutes per game in the playoffs.
Far more impressive than his abilities as a facilitator, however, is Stuckey's talent as a slasher. This is a guy who truly attacks the rim. Hard. Throughout last season's playoffs, he showed no aversion to fighting his way to the basket, bouncing off bigger defenders, finishing despite contact and making his way to the foul line with regularity. His minutes rose in each successive month during the season, and in his 27 minutes per game in April, Stuckey averaged more than six trips to the foul line in each of his nine appearances. The 81.4 percent foul shooter has the ability to make himself an explosive scorer because of his willingness to play physical basketball inside.
Much of the talk from Stuckey this summer focused on his excitement about the Pistons' revamped defense for the coming season. Under new coach Michael Curry, the Pistons are expected to break out more trapping and some occasional pressing, and Stuckey expects to excel in the new system. He has a good wingspan, impressive quickness and the tenacity to stick with his man all over the court. Stuckey's energy could potentially turn him into a defensive weapon as well as instant offense off the bench this year.
Going back to the offensive end, the big concern with the youngster from last season was his efficiency. Stuckey shot 40 percent from the field in the regular season and 37 percent in the postseason, neither of which are particularly impressive (nor was that 48.4 percent true shooting in the regular season). He'll need to improve his shot selection in the seasons to come and focus on picking his spots with his pull-up jump shot. But Stuckey has a track record as an efficient scorer, putting up true shooting percentages of 58.8 and 57.2 during his two seasons in college. With a year of NBA action under his belt and the likelihood of more plays being run for him in the season to come, he should be able to make some strides in terms of efficacy over the next year.
We still harbor no positive feeling for the Pistons as a unit in this space. But Rodney Stuckey's impressive skill set makes him one of the league's most promising youngsters, and it should be a pleasure to watch him grow as a player this season. As long as he doesn't grow into too much of a stud for the Celtics' good, that is.