Perhaps the most unfair thing to happen to Rodney Stuckey during his NBA career has been the tendency to want to compare him to his predecessor, Chauncey Billups. They aren’t, and probably will never be, similar players, so expecting Stuckey to morph into a quicker, more athletic incarnation of Billups is totally unreasonable.
Now that that’s out of the way, I’m going to compare Stuckey to Billups a little bit.
On the first three possessions of Detroit’s 103-89 win over Milwaukee tonight, Stuckey made some very Billups-like plays, largely because the Pistons used him in the post quite a bit during this game against the smaller Brandon Jennings.
- On the first possession, Stuckey had the ball in the high post, Luc-Richard Mbah A Moute left Tayshaun Prince to help Jennings and Stuckey found the wide open Prince for a 19-footer.
- On the next possession, the Pistons again went to Stuckey in the post, this time on the wing. Jon Brockman left Jason Maxiell, who was in the opposite corner out near the 3-point line, and Maxiell immediately cut hard to the basket. Stuckey found him for the dunk.
- On the third possession, Stuckey walked the ball up, dribbled slightly to his right and then found Rip Hamilton curling off a screen at the opposite elbow in stride for a jumper.
Three plays, three assists for Stuckey, all of them seemingly routine plays. But they stood out because they were the right passes. Billups has made himself into an elite point guard by rarely ever making the wrong pass. He doesn’t get the flashy assists that guys like Jason Kidd or Steve Nash get, he’s not a terror in the open floor like Chris Paul or Deron Williams and he’s not a physical freak of nature like Rajon Rondo, but every year Billups is nearly as efficient and good as all of those more physically gifted players simply because he nearly always passes the ball where he should at precisely the right time.
Stuckey’s major problem as a passer in his career is not that he’s a selfish player and not that he doesn’t know where to go with the ball. He just often knows where to go with it too late. Against Milwaukee, he had one of his best games of the season because he made the right decision virtually every time down the court and he didn’t hesitate. He did a really nice job thinking his way through the game, playing at different paces in different situations, picking his spots to look for the shot himself and set others up and the Pistons as a whole played their best game of the year beginning to end.
They built an early lead with good defense and hot shooting in the first quarter. The bench came in in the second, and although the defense wasn’t as good, Will Bynum, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva provided sufficient offense. Milwaukee opened the third quarter with seven straight points to cut the Pistons lead to five, but Detroit recovered nicely, avoided another terrible third quarter performance and extended the lead early in the fourth quarter, essentially putting the game out of reach.
Milwaukee played without its best player in Andrew Bogut, as well as a very good starter in Carlos Delfino, so the Pistons took it too a team that was depleted, but it was a good win and a nice bounce-back from a poor second half effort in Memphis Wednesday. The Pistons played with great effort against Milwaukee, they were fun to watch and everyone who stepped onto the court was active. The only frustrating takeaway from the game is that if they are capable of playing like this against Milwaukee, they are capable of doing it every night.
Spacing is the key
The Pistons had a lot of success using Stuckey in the post with one exception. Early in the third quarter, Stuckey caught it in the post, got doubled, tried to split the double and picked up his fourth foul on a charge. This possession failed for one simple reason: spacing.
Spacing has killed the Pistons this year. Against, Milwaukee, it was really good with only a few exceptions. Two Stuckey post plays highlight the importance. In one of the plays described above, Stuckey found Maxiell for a dunk in the opening moments because of great spacing. Maxiell was in the opposite corner. Prince and Hamilton were outside the 3-point line. Ben Wallace was at the opposite elbow/wing region. When Brockman left Maxiell and Maxiell cut, there was too much distance for any of the other defenders to recover quickly enough.
One of the early possessions in the third quarter was the polar opposite. Prince was closer to Stuckey when he tossed him the ball in the post, so Prince’s man disrupted the play slightly, even though Stuckey did end up catching the ball cleanly. Then, a double came from Ersan Ilyasova, who was guarding Maxiell. As Stuckey tried to dribble away from the double team, Wallace’s man, Drew Gooden, also closed in quickly and forced Stuckey into a charge. Why was the defense able to collapse on Stuckey so quickly and eliminate any passing lanes? Because Prince, Wallace and Maxiell were all within a few feet of each other. None were a threat to catch the ball and score, none were a threat to make a cut to the basket since they were all in each other’s way.
Stuckey is bigger than many point guards in the league. If the Pistons pay attention to where they are spaced on the floor, they might have a different look that appears to be effective, or at least offers some intrigue for their offense, which often gets stagnant.
So … thanks for that, Drew Gooden
Drew Gooden shot nine shots from 15-feet out or more, several of them contested or with plenty of time on the shot clock. Needless to say, he shot the ball poorly, finshing 4-for-14 on the night.
There’s a reason Gooden, who has been a pretty good rebounder throughout his career, is currently on his ninth team in nine seasons. He was a big help to the Pistons tonight. Milwaukee’s offense never found any sort of cohesion, and Gooden continuously taking poor shots was a big factor.
The Thrill isn’t gone
With some poor performances after returning from injury, many began to wonder if Bynum had lost his trademark quickness. The last two games, however, have given hope that Bynum is close to getting back to being his bundle-of-energy self.
He scored 13 points with four assists and just one turnover off the bench for Detroit, and had a highlight-reel reverse layup where he hung in the air, avoided a Bucks defender and spun the ball high off the glass on the other side of the rim for the finish. Bynum did seem to tweak his ankle again late, but he walked it off and finished the game, so hopefully it’s nothing to worry about.
T-Mac not out of the injury woods
Tracy McGrady had a couple of vintage moments, elevating over people for trademark T-Mac dunks in the last week. He’s also talked about being pain-free in his knee.
Then, after playing six forgettable minutes in the first half against Milwaukee, cameras caught McGrady on the bench getting his left knee massaged by Arnie Kander. After halftime, McGrady didn’t return to the bench, and Fox Sports Detroit reported that it was because of “sore muscles.” Definitely not the knee. Probably. Hopefully.
Maybe it was premature to get too hyped about McGrady’s growing productivity. Maybe minor setbacks are bound to happen throughout this process, and all this was was a minor setback. But unfortunately, every time McGrady sustains an injury, even a minor one, fans are going to fear the worst. Hopefully he gets back on the court for Sunday’s game against one of his former teams, the Knicks.
Speaking of the Knicks …
It would really behoove the Pistons to beat the struggling Knicks at home Sunday. If they don’t, they have a pretty tough three-game stretch coming up: at Orlando, at Miami, home vs. Orlando. But if they beat New York and maybe even steal one out of those three games vs. the Magic/Heat, the schedule is a little friendlier the following week or so with Houston, New Orleans, Minnesota and Toronto.