Rodney Stuckey has had really strong three, four, five game stretches in the past. So for that reason, I’m trying not to get overly excited about the way he’s played the last three games, including a 36-point (on 12-for-20 shooting) performance in Friday’s 114-108 win over the Kings.
Stuckey played well. He’s looked elite, like a scorer capable of carrying a team, like a man capable of holding down that starting shooting guard spot for a long time. But, even if it gets me killed for saying it by the Stuckey fans in the comments, it doesn’t mean anything yet. Don’t get me wrong — Stuckey playing well is far more preferred to Stuckey playing poorly. But he’s played well before. He’s played really really well before at times, enough to entice a winning organization to commit to his potential rather than production at a young age, to clear minutes for his ascension and to invest heavily in a belief that he’d turn into a special, special player. Playing well for a few games in a row is simply not the test for Stuckey anymore. The question, simply, is can he be an efficient, consistent, go-to player over the course of an entire season? Can the Pistons rely on him?
Certainly, he has the ability for the answer to that question to be ‘yes.’ He doesn’t have the track record yet to back that up though. Against the Kings, he was amazing. He only had one turnover, and none late in the game, when he’s had issues with decision-making in the past. He was a wrecking ball in the lane and, not only did he get to the line, he finished high percentage shots, something he has struggled with in the past. Now, he didn’t defend particularly well, but that’s forgivable considering his offensive performance.
The Pistons continue to be heavily invested in Stuckey. Their dire need for young players with upside to materialize into actual good players isn’t going anywhere. Stuckey, no doubt, can be one of those guys. It’s just going to take more than a three game stretch to prove to me that he is.
Oh, and the other half of that potential-laden backcourt?
Brandon Knight was awesome. He had arguably his best game as a pro with 23 points, 6 rebounds, 10 assists and — most importantly — 0 turnovers. There have been several performances this season where you could come away thinking that Knight looked like he had a solid future in the NBA, but this was one of few where it was easy to come away seeing him as a difference-making point guard. He ran the offense well, he didn’t take many bad shots, he knocked down open shots — particularly a couple of big ones in a fourth quarter rally that saw the Pistons take the lead — and he and Stuckey look to both be growing comfortable playing next to each other in their respective roles.
Don’t get me wrong here … Knight and Stuckey were helped by an absolutely lousy defensive effort by Sacramento. Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton had zero interest in defense. Isaiah Thomas, bless him, tried as hard as his 5-foot-7 body would let him, but there wasn’t much he could do, particularly when the Kings inexplicably had him guarding Stuckey. Stuckey and Knight both played really well, so be excited about that while also realizing that the Kings have been allowing opponents to shoot lights out all season, so it’s not entirely surprising that Detroit’s starting backcourt had its way with them.
Greg Monroe gets shredded defensively
Monroe provided little resistance to Cousins, who both bullied Monroe for inside position and even took him off the dribble a few times, catching Monroe a step slow more than once. Cousins is having a great season since his early season trade demand that wasn’t a trade demand, and he also is in great shape — seriously, that dude has added a lot of muscle since college. He’s an elite talent and a load for any big man to handle, but he also exposed Monroe’s glaring deficiencies on defense. Monroe struggles defensively against strong, smart big men (like Tim Duncan) and against super athletic big men (like JaVale McGee). Tonight, Cousins gave him a little bit of each style. To his credit, Monroe still collected eight rebounds, but Cousins got just about any shot he wanted most* of the night and Monroe struggled offensively, shooting just 1-for-7.
* Ben Wallace
I said ‘most’ of the night above because, as he occasionally does, Ben Wallace gave the Pistons a few minutes of vintage defense. Tonight, it was just enough to get them a win.
Wallace played 20 minutes and grabbed 7 rebounds, but in the fourth quarter, Wallace forced Cousins into tough shots for the first time all night. Cousins hit two jumpers in the fourth, but they were shots the Pistons could live with giving up and they were further out than where he was setting up most of the night. His only shot inside in the fourth was contested by Wallace and missed.
Time is running out to watch one of my favorite players of all-time in Wallace. I simply continue to hope that Monroe is paying extremely close attention to how Wallace works on defense and the pride he still plays with at this point in his career. As a fan, it’s a treat to watch. For a young player like Monroe, I hope he’s using it as the rare opportunity it is to learn up close from one of the smartest, most gifted defensive players in NBA history.