Brandon Knight makes baby steps toward freeing Rodney Stuckey to grow

Rodney Stuckey has served as Brandon Knight’s safety net this season.

When Knight turns the ball over too much, Lawrence Frank moves Stuckey to point guard and Knight off the ball. When Knight leaves leaves his man open too often, Frank gives Stuckey the tougher guard to defend.

Much of Stuckey’s value to this team derives from his ability not to make mistakes. Of course, not turning the ball over and not allowing his man to get wide open looks have real value. But at a certain point, Stuckey must show he can create plays on offense and force stops on defense.

Put another way, Knight has slowed Stuckey’s progress. Because Knight is a bad starting point guard right now, Stuckey often takes on some of Knight’s responsibilities. It’s a heavy burden on Stuckey, who’s still growing into his game at shooting guard, which appears to be his long-term position in Detroit.

For most of the game tonight, Rajon Rondo carved up Knight. In the game’s first six minutes, Rondo scored seven points, assisted two other baskets, stole the ball from Knight and drew two Knight fouls. The second foul sent Knight to the bench, and Frank tried Ben Gordon and Will Bynum on Rondo.

Obviously it didn’t work. Rondo – who had a career-high 35 points, six assists, five rebounds and four steals – is too quick for the slow-footed Gordon and Bynum. Knight guarded Rondo to start the second half, and while he stopped fouling, he went too far the other way and allowed Rondo to make a few short open jumpers.

A lot has been written about Knight needing to improve offensively, but his defense is just as much a work in progress. Knight has the height and length to become a good defender. He also moves his feet well, although he does so with little purpose right now. And until he adds strength, he’ll get pushed around inside.

Rondo, one of the league’s savviest players, took advantage of the giant gap between Knight’s defensive potential and Knight’s defensive ability.

While all this was going on, Stuckey was having quite the game. He did a good job of getting to the rim, drawing contact and making free throws. He also forced too many jumpers, but he passed well and took care of the ball. Stuckey finished with 25 points, four assists and one turnover in 37 minutes. He also played quality defense on Ray Allen, who finished 1-of-5.

Finally, Frank moved Stuckey onto Rondo late in the third quarter. All of a sudden, Rondo’s offense slowed. But so did Stuckey’s.

Stuckey has a tough job this season, but it’s fair to question why he hasn’t ever played at a high level on both offense and defense for a sustained stretch. I’m not sure whether he’s missing the physical or mental stamina to do it, but becoming a consistent two-way player is the next step in his growth.

Maybe Stuckey will figure it out. Maybe he won’t. Either way, once Knight learns how to play at the NBA level, Stuckey will have a better chance of developing himself.

Knight took a step in that direction tonight.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Knight found himself guarding Rondo on the ball again. Knight inched closer than he had during the rest of the second half, and unlike the first half, he didn’t foul. Knight’s perfect defense forced a miss, then he ran the floor and made a layup. The Pistons led by 11 and were on their way to a 98-88 win.

It was only one play, but it’s encouraging – not just for Knight, but for Stuckey, too.

Greg Monroe drifts outside, effectively

Greg Monroe’s jumper is looking better and better, which is mostly encouraging, but there is a downside.

Monroe (22 points and nine rebounds) made jumpers from 6, 8, 9, 14 and 17 feet, and his only miss outside four feet came from 22 feet. An ability shoot from the perimeter makes Monroe more dangerous, especially on nights like this, when the Celtics played strong interior defense.

Monroe took jumpers, because they were available to him. But I’d like to see him force his way into the post a little more and create short shots with his strong footwork and ability to finish with either hand. Because he didn’t do that tonight, Monroe didn’t attempt a free throw.

Ben Gordon becoming super scoring sub

Tonight provided more evidence Ben Gordon is taking to his new role. He scored 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting, including 4-of-6 on 3-pointers. He didn’t do much else, but that’s OK.

Don’t pass. Don’t dribble to set up others. Just score.

As long as the Pistons ask Gordon to do that – and it’s easier when he’s coming off the bench – Gordon can live up to expectations.

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Tags: Ben Gordon Brandon Knight Greg Monroe Lawrence Frank Rodney Stuckey

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