A lot of people are going to read that headline and assume this is a rant about Rodney Stuckey. It isn’t (Laser will handle that in the comments).
Stuckey is a fine NBA player who I think is perfectly suited to backup both guard spots and get about 30ish combined minutes per game off the bench for virtually any team. If the Pistons cleared a guard (preferably Rip Hamilton, but whoever is more movable between he and Ben Gordon) out of the equation, I’d love for him to fill that role in Detroit. Stuckey plays hard, he’s tough, he has the tools to be a great perimeter defender, he’s very good at getting to the basket (even if his finishing needs work), he improved at drawing contact and getting to the line last year and while he’s not a pure point guard, he can competently man the position for a good team in limited minutes. I would never be ashamed to have Rodney Stuckey on my favorite team.
But I think the Stuckey-as-full-time point guard experiment has run its course. Perhaps in a different system or with different players, Stuckey could excel as a starting point guard playing big minutes. But as the roster is constructed, with the coaching philosophy that’s in place, Stuckey isn’t going to find that situation in Detroit.
Thankfully, the Pistons have an in-house solution: Will Bynum.
This isn’t the first time I’ve broached the topic of Bynum as the team’s better option as a starting PG. The genesis of that belief lies in Bynum’s background: he’s a Joe Dumars-kind-of-guy.
Let’s face it … even for a guy like myself who’s a pretty regular supporter of Dumars, I can face some basic facts: Dumars has made some moves lately that haven’t worked out spectacularly, and he seems to be in a bit of a slump, lacking a clear vision. It happens to the best of us. Human nature is to stagnate, to lose focus, to need something to help make you remember what made you successful in the first place. I believe Bynum is that memory-jarrer for Dumars.
The Pistons 2004 title team, and quasi-dynasty in the 2000s, was built upon picking up under-the-radar talents, castaways, guys with talent who were misunderstood or didn’t fit elsewhere, and most importantly, guys who felt they had something to prove or were openly hostile about teams giving up on them early in their careers. Check out his quote from Bynum:
“I don’t think for one second that the money I’m making makes me a reserve. I just want to clear that up from the beginning. I think that the money that I’m making gives me the opportunity to excel, and I’m trying to do it.”
That sounds like a guy who has something to prove. Bynum was undrafted while luminaries like Travis Diener, Alex Acker, Roko Ukic and Orien Green managed to get picked. He had to play overseas before getting a NBA shot. He had to flee a night club in Tel Aviv because his brother got stabbed. The man knows adversity.
Dan Feldman has already chronicled some of Bynum’s defensive limitations, but this is another reason it makes some sense for him to play with the first unit. With Ben Wallace in the middle, that will make opposing guys less likely to penetrate, so having a weaker perimeter defender paired with Wallace won’t be as big a factor as it would be if Bynum were on the second unit with Charlie Villanueva and Chris Wilcox protecting the rim.
Offensively, Bynum is far from a perfect point guard, but he does two things better than Stuckey: he’s much better at passing out of traffic than Stuckey and, despite being shorter, is a more explosive and craftier finisher. If the roster stays as-is, it’s a good bet that Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince will be starting, along with Wallace. Several players could vie for the PF spot, but I’d wager that based on his contract, if Villanueva comes into camp aggressive and in shape, he’ll be given every opportunity to seize that spot.
A common argument in Pistons land is that Hamilton plays better next to a pure point. Bynum isn’t what I’d call a pure point, but he’s a little purer than Stuckey.
Prince, for all of the criticisms he receives (pipe down Laser), actually had good numbers the last quarter of last season, particularly from three-point range. From Ball Don’t Lie’s Kelly Dwyer:
This could be a huge stretch for Prince, but a good part of this ranking is spurred on by the way he finished the season. Prince averaged well over 15 points per game in the season’s last three months, shooting a good percentage and bringing the usual stout D. He also hit around 40 percent of his 3-pointers during that run …
If Prince continues to shoot the three near that clip, if Villanueva and his long-range threat are in the lineup, and if Hamilton is more in line with his 35 percent career three-point shooting than the 29 percent mark he put up last year, those guys should provide sufficient space for Bynum to operate and get inside, while taking advantage of his ability to drive and kick by knocking down open looks.
Stuckey, meanwhile, gets to play on the second unit with some combo of Ben Gordon, Austin Daye, Tracy McGrady, Jonas Jerebko and Greg Monroe (and occasionally Jason Maxiell and Wilcox). He’s also surrounded by shooters (Gordon, Daye and McGrady), but more importantly, has several guys who will want to get out and run with him.
The other advantage to viewing Bynum as a long-term piece and potential starter is cost. Bynum’s extension is really reasonable for a starter. Financial bargains were a common theme of Dumars’ early Pistons teams. Chauncey Billups and Ben Wallace, the two best players on the 2004 title team, made about $10 million combined. With Dumars’ recent contracts to Gordon, Hamilton and Villanueva, he’s gotten away from that bargain shopper, search-for-hidden-value philosophy that made him so great in the first place. Bynum could be a return to that thinking, both in cost and attitude.
If Bynum stays healthy and is as productive in 25-30 minutes a game as his per-minute numbers suggest he could be, he’d be a great asset as a reliable starter. The Pistons don’t have much financial flexibility in the quest to get better. They have serious deficiencies at center and point guard. The best hope for the Pistons to take a big leap and contend would be Bynum winning the job and supplanting Stuckey as a starter. That becomes one less position Dumars needs to worry about upgrading immediately, and if Bynum can prove to be a reliable starter for the next three years at his cost, it means the Pistons don’t have to extend Stuckey should he prove to be too pricey and the savings on the PG position can be invested in shoring up other weaknesses.
I like a good portion of the talent on the Pistons roster while at the same time having serious reservations about how it all fits together. With the contractual obligations and the difficulty the team could encounter trying to move some of those pricey deals, solutions have to come from within, and with his work ethic, it’s not hard to envision Bynum becoming at least a reliable full-time player. If he can do that, it will make sorting out who stays and who goes much easier for Dumars.