3-on-3: The Pistons development of Rodney Stuckey

Modeled after ESPN’s 5-on-5, Dan and I will answer three questions about a Pistons-related topic.

For each 3-on-3, we’ll be joined by a guest contributor. Today, that’s Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press and Sports Illustrated.

Could Rodney Stuckey be a top two player on a contending team?

Dan Feldman: No. I’m not convinced he has the talent to do it, but he definitely hasn’t shown the mental fortitude. At minimum, championship teams play 16 playoffs games, since the NBA adopted the best-of-seven first round, they’ve all played at least 20. When has Stuckey been engaged, focused and active for 16-20 straight games? That’s what it takes to win in the playoffs.

Patrick Hayes: Maybe, if the top player on that team was really good and the 3-7 or so players in that rotation are pretty close to as good as Stuckey. He certainly has skills that are valuable — a guard who gets to the line like he does is a nice luxury for sure, as is his ability to play both backcourt spots. He’s still improving some, as evidenced by his 3-point shooting this season. And although he’s never shown it consistently, he still has the physical tools to be a top defensive player. He’s versatile and he’d certainly help any good team, but it’s a stretch to see him as the second best player on a contender unless the top player is one of the handful of legit franchise guys in the league.

Michael Rosenberg: No. There was a time when I would have said yes without hesitation. The Pistons saw him that way and his teammates gushed about his talent. But it has become clear that a) Stuckey is not a point guard, which decreases the impact of his 6-foot-5 frame, and b) Stuckey does not have the killer mentality that a top-two player on a contending team needs. He coasts, he complains, he has a misguided sense of what he has actually accomplished. He can still start for a contending team if he becomes more consistent, but he can’t lead one.

Could Rodney Stuckey be a top 10 player at either shooting guard or point guard?

Dan Feldman: He’s more likely to make it at point guard, but I don’t see him reaching that level at either position. He passes very well for a shooting guard, but his subpar outside shooting hinders him and clogs the court because defenders can sag off him. Plus, he’s an average athlete at shooting guard. His physical skills stand out more at point guard, and he takes care of the ball well, but he hasn’t shown a feel for the position. Stuckey is a better shooting guard right now, but he has more potential at point guard.

Patrick Hayes: No, but he’s not far off at either position. His problem at point guard is he’s not all that adept at creating for others, except when he petulantly (but hilariously) refuses to shoot in order to show up the coaching staff. His problem at shooting guard is that he doesn’t shoot from 3-point range or finish at the rim well enough to be among the best at that spot. He’s a really nice player to have who can fill in ably at both spots, but he’s also most likely never going to be considered an elite player at either position.

Michael Rosenberg: Not at point guard. Potentially at shooting guard. But he has to improve his outside shot and, as I mentioned, his consistency. Shooting guard is a high-energy position — a player has to want to free himself open on almost every offensive possession and guard somebody trying to do the same thing on every defensive possession. Stuckey has the ability, but he needs to show that energy.

If the Pistons had not made the Chauncey Billups trade, thus not opening a spot for Stuckey to start immediately, would Stuckey be a better player right now as a result of getting more time to develop in the sixth man role he looked to be excelling in during the 2008 NBA Playoffs?

Dan Feldman: Probably not. I think playing behind Billups would have helped Stuckey in the long term. At this point, though, the increased minutes were probably just as valuable. But now what? Stuckey has already been handed a starting job. He’s already been handed an $8 million-per-year contract. He’s already been handed carte blanche to disrespect a coach without serious repercussions. What motivates Stuckey to get better from here? Earning minutes from Billups would have given Stuckey a challenge he desperately needs.

Patrick Hayes: Yes. Playing behind Billups for at least another year would’ve kept the expectations on Stuckey from ratcheting up so quickly. He would’ve excelled as a third guard backing up Billups and Rip Hamilton. He would’ve been able to develop and learn the position at a more natural pace and he would’ve had a willing teacher in Billups (see: the work Billups did with Ty Lawson in Denver). On top of that, that Pistons team probably would’ve had at least one more deep playoff run in it, giving Stuckey even more postseason experience.

Michael Rosenberg: Interesting question. One could argue that Billups would have mentored him and forced him to earn his position. I don’t know that I buy that, though. Stuckey sat on the bench as a rookie. Most great players, and even most really good players, get significant minutes by their second season. So I don’t think the Billups trade either stunted or spurred Stuckey’s growth. I think the Pistons hurt him with two bad coaching hires: Michael Curry and John Kuester. With a great coach the last three years, Stuckey would be a better player now.

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