Stuck in the middle with you

Even when he didn’t seem to fit, Rodney Stuckey has always made the best of his situation.

When family problems caused trouble at home, he moved in with a teammate’s family, the McElhinneys.

He lived five blocks from his mom, Faye Stuckey, and frequently visited her, according to the Tacoma The News Tribune.  The Eastern Washington media guide listed him as the “son of Faye Stuckey and Diane and Brent McElhinney.”

When most major colleges backed away because of academic problems, Stuckey found a fit at Eastern Washington.

In just two seasons with the Eagles, Stuckey set 10 school records. He scored 24.4 points per game, which made him fourth in total points in Eastern Washington history. He also earned a 3.34 grade point average and was was a third team selection on the 2007 ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America team and twice received All-District VIII (academic) honors.

When he had to sit out his first year in Cheney, Wash., because of those academic problems, he found ways to keep playing basketball.

He and two other non-qualifiers on the team formed an intramural team. They won a championship.

When he was drafted by a team with Chauncey Billips at point guard, he found a way to earn playing time.

He played more minutes last year than any Piston rookie since Mehmet Okur in the 2002-03 season. Now everyone is debating whether Rip Hamilton, who has been to the last three All-Star Games, or future hall-of-famer Allen Iverson should come off the bench to make room for Stuckey to start.

After averaging a respectable 9.8 points in his first 23 games this season, he exploded for 40 against Chicago on Dec. 23.

Since then, he has played extremely well – scoring double digits in each of the six games since, including 38 against the Kings on Friday. In those six contests, he’s averaging 20 points, 5.2 assists, 4.3 points and 1.2 steals per game. And that doesn’t even include the game against the Bulls.

These days, it can’t be too difficult for him to make the best of his situations.

  • He was named the NBA’s Eastern Conference Player of the week.
  • Eastern Washington will retire his jersey Sunday.
  • In his blog for the Free Press, Jamie Samuelsen declared him to be the best player on the team.
  • George Blaha and Greg Kelser discussed on-air if Stuckey could make a strong enough push to become an All-Star this year.

Stuckey’s emergence has brought out fun stories, like this one from Eli Zaret on From the Sidelines:

I was sitting at practice at a Los Angeles recreational center on Saturday afternoon after the Pistons arrived on their West Coast trip. I asked Joe Dumars, “Help me here. Is Stuckey just faster than everybody? Or is it that he’s stronger and knocks people over? Or is it maybe that they just back away when he’s in overdrive to the hoop?”

Joe smiled and said, “He’s that fast. And so fast that when he does take off from so far from the basket, defenders can’t time it to block his path. They think, ‘If I leave now, I’ll get to him.’ But he blows by them.”

He then told me the story of when Pistons scout George David went to some pre-draft camps before the ’07 draft and reported back that Stuckey and Mike Conley of Ohio State were the fastest guys there. Both had run the equivalent of a 4.3 40-yard dash in a shuttle drill. Memphis took Conley with the fourth pick and Stuckey was still there for the Pistons at 15, begging the question, why? Stuckey is 5 inches taller and 20 pounds heavier. Only Memphis can answer that, but Conley did come with an Ohio State pedigree and his father was a former Olympic track star while Stuckey was from lightly regarded Eastern Washington. This season, Conley is averaging eight points and three assists and Stuckey has been double, triple and quadruple that since being elevated to starting status about a dozen games ago.

But let’s all slow down.

It’s way too early to declare Stuckey the second coming. He go through a rougher patch. Soon. He’s simply not good enough, at least yet, to keep this level of play up.

Let’s see how low he goes, for how long and how he rebounds.Let’s see how he plays with Hamilton, Wallace and Iverson on the floor with him.

Then we’ll have a much better idea how good Stuckey is.

But I am encouraged by plenty of what I’ve seen from Stuckey.

  • He’s a good defender. Eastern Washington usually stuck him on his opponent’s best offensive player. He’s not quite to that level in the NBA, but he has been solid.
  • His style won’t lead to many off nights. With a slasher, nights when his shot won’t fall aren’t a huge problem.
  • He’s improving as a decision-maker. When the Clippers slowed him with Marcus Camby presence in the post and a zone defense, he didn’t force his shots.
  • He has the strength to become a much better post-up player in the long term.
  • His jump shot has improved to the point that it’s a consistent weapon.

Stuckey certainly looks the part of a star right now. But let’s reassess when he’s not in the middle of the best streak of his career.

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