When Rodney Stuckey has played well, though I’ve been impressed, I’ve also tried to keep the praise within reason and maintain my belief that Stuckey is beyond the point of enticing everyone with exciting flashes of brilliant play. After four years in the league, we know about Stuckey’s talent and upside. What we don’t know is whether he’s capable of consistently performing over the course of an entire season. That remains his challenge.
So, after Stuckey played really poorly in tonight’s loss to Toronto, I’m similarly going to try and avoid getting overly critical. It has to be said, though, that Stuckey was a non-factor in the game. He wasn’t aggressive, he didn’t play good defense (DeMar DeRozan ate him and any other defender the Pistons threw his way alive) and he scored 0 points and was on the bench during the fourth quarter, the only time when the Pistons played with much effort in the game. Stuckey deserved to get benched, but I also don’t think this one performance is enough to undo what he’s spent the last few weeks building.
How he responds is the key test. In the past, as commonly as Stuckey would have four, five, six game stretches of brilliant play, he’s also been capable of one, two or three game disappearing acts. Everyone, Stuckey included, is entitled to a bad game now and then. Unfortunately, the All-Star break means Stuckey will have to wait about a week to atone for this performance, but how he bounces back is important to watch.
Stuckey doesn’t have built-in excuses anymore. He has a coach in Lawrence Frank who respects him and has given him freedom — Stuckey himself said that having a coach who “believes” in him has been a big difference. He has a nice contract, so there’s not the pressure of playing for a big pay raise now. He’s no longer being counted on as the team’s primary facilitator. He’s also no longer a young player fighting for an identity on a veteran team. He’s a veteran now, a player looked at as a cornerstone and a player who, according to his words over the last three years, has wanted that responsibility. Part of it is being consistent on a game to game basis. How he comes back from this performance next week will be a much bigger indicator of his progression as a player than the strong performances he had the last few weeks.
Lazy frontcourt defense
Greg Monroe was great offensively, but his defensive performance was so bad, that his offensive performance is only going to get this lone sentence in the recap, mentioning that he had 30 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks. That’s all great. But being part of a frontcourt defense, along with Jason Maxiell and Jonas Jerebko, that allowed Aaron Gray, Ed Davis and Amir Johnson to shoot a combined 14-for-23 and grab 22 rebounds is inexcusable.
Monroe was slow when matched up against the active Davis and Johnson and he got pushed around when matched up with the brutish Gray. Maxiell didn’t do a great job of leaving the paint — Johnson hit a few open jumpers from 12ish feet or so (don’t laugh … Amir’s jumper looks so much better than his Pistons days). Jerebko played defense by reaching too often and was too aggressive, resulting in another 18 minute foul-out for him, the second time this season he’s fouled out in 18 minutes or less.
Seriously, any time your horrid defense causes a Toronto crowd to chant ‘MVP’ at Gray as he’s shooting free throws (even if they were doing it jokingly) is a pretty sad indictment of your defensive effort.
Knight continues to take care of the ball
Brandon Knight wasn’t much of a factor with his passing, but in February, he has really worked on taking better care of the ball. He had zero turnovers against the Raptors (and three assists). It was the fourth time in13 February games he’s had a turnover free game (although, to be fair, one of those games was a five-minute performance when he broke his nose). He had just two turnover-less games in his first 23 games in December and January.
Knight’s shooting has been solid most of the season. Now, he’s gradually worked on taking better care of the ball. He’s even had some nice defensive moments, even if he still occasionally gets torched by opposing guards. He’s figuring things out. Hopefully, but the end of the season, he starts to put everything together and shoulders a bit more responsibility initiating the offense. He’s definitely moving closer to being able to do that.