Rodney Stuckey improved play two years ago, improved approach last year

Rodney Stuckey has arguably been the Pistons’ best player, in totality, since they trade Chauncey Billups. Nevertheless, the Pistons fans have become somewhat torn on whether they like Stuckey. After all, he was supposed to replace Billups – a difficult standard for anyone to meet.

After struggling mightily the first two seasons after Billups’ departure, Stuckey has shown real improvement. Dan asked me to write about on why Stuckey was so much better last season than during the prior seasons. So, I dug deep down into the data (using MySynergySports, Basketball-Reference.com, and 82games), and I could not find strong evidence that Stuckey improved greatly last year.

What leaps Stuckey did make mostly came at the offensive side of the floor, where more than perform his tasks better, Stuckey attempted tasks that yield more points.

Inside shooting

Stuckey possesses a nice, bulky build for his height, so although his jumper was shaky, people expected him to get to the bucket frequently early in his career. One of the biggest problems fans have had with Stuckey was that he was miserable at making baskets from close range. His effective field goal percentage (eFG%) on shots taken from the inside was very low. During the 09-10 season Stuckey’s eFG% inside was only 48.5%. Moreover, to get a feeling for this figure, I chose Tyreke Evans who has often been compared to Stuckey due to their similar frame and game (big bulky frame, below-average shooter). Evans had an eFG% from the inside of 62.8%, so a whopping 14.3% better than Stuckey’s. Mind you, Evans did not have a strong season and was often criticized for not taking his game to the next level. So how have Stuckey’s numbers improved? Let’s look at the first graph:

InsideAssisted

As you can see, the blue bar represents the 2009-2010 season, orange 2010-2011, and yellow finally 2011-2012. This will stay this way throughout the post.

On the left side the eFG% of inside shots is illustrated. Stuckey’s production in this regard has risen considerably. According to 82games.com, in 09-10 he only converted the aforementioned 48.5% of his shots, while during the next season he got the mark up to 56%. Last year it dropped back 52%, but one could argue that this was caused by the coaching change and the shorter training camp.

What creates some optimism in my opinion are the bars on the right. While in 09-10 his inside shots were only assisted in 31% of the cases, this number has risen to 39% (10-11), and 38% (11-12). This is an indicator for improved team play and ball movement. Stuckey created most of his offense in 09-10 out of isolations plays, which usually end up in tough jumper or contested drives. With the improved passing and catching the ball on the move, his efficiency has gone up. If a player recognizes the situation quickly enough he can get easy buckets en masse. Kevin Durant is an absolute master at catching the ball on the move and scoring it efficiently.

Stuckey’s jump shots have also been increasingly assisted. The percentage of his assisted jump shots has gone up from 34% in ’09-’10 to 40% last season.

But that change occurred between 09-10 and 10-11. What was the big difference for Stuckey in 11-12?

3-pointers and free throws

Let’s look at his shooting numbers in general. He has gotten most of his praise for improving his shooting, do the numbers back that up? Have a look at his traditional numbers.

 Shooting

One can see that his field goal percentage went from 40.5% to 43.9% back to 42.9%. So his percentage improved slightly, but it is still far below the average of elite guards. For example Ben Gordon, who was often criticized for his lack of productivity, shot 44.2% from the field last year. Nevertheless, Stuckey’s 3-point-field goal percentage (3P%) has increased from 22.8% (09-10) to a still-below-league-average 31.7% (Detroit shot 34.6% from range as a team) last year. So the notion that he has become a better shooter is a result of his improved 3-point-shooting, which is not to be neglected.

But most of all, the Pistons need his penetration. If he can knock down open jumper, that’s great, but Detroit needs him to get to the basket. In 09-10, 64% of all his shot attempts were jump shots. In 10-11, this number had dropped 60%, so he has made an effort of driving more. He has become more aggressive driving to the basket, and he has become more adept at drawing fouls. Although he got to the foul line just 5.2 times per 36 minutes in ’09-’10, this number has increased to 6.3 (’10-’11) and peaked at 7.0 attempts per 36 minutes last season.

Once he gets to the line, his free-throws are very solid. He is a career 83.4% free-throw shooter. His best year was ’10-’11 when he converted on 86.6% of all his free-throws.

What driving more and hitting more 3-pointers usually does for you is it improves your true-shooting percentage (TS%) and your eFG%. Let’s have a look:

TrueShooting

The graph shows that his TS% has improved from 47.9% to 54.4% to 55%, while his eFG% has increased from 41.3% to 45.5% to 45.6%. The TS% has become a little better, because it puts more emphasis on free throws and 3-pointers, which have made the biggest jump in Stuckey’s game. The eFG% does not take free-throws into account, but merely adjusts for the fact that a 3-pointer is worth more than 2-pointer.

All this is meant to illustrate is that Stuckey’s scoring and shooting have improved by a lot since 2010, and he has become much more valuable to the Pistons.

Stuckey does not hoist as many bad jump shots, and his shot selection has really improved over the past two seasons. His decision-making is not off-the-charts and probably never will be, but he can be a serviceable two-guard for this young Pistons team.

Stuckey’s usage rate has gone down to 23.7%, after it peaked during the 2009-10 campaign at 26.7%. So, he is more productive than three years ago while not demanding the ball as much anymore. The emergence of Greg Monroe certainly has something to do with it

Stuckey is not a remarkably better player than during the 2010-11 season. He is merely a different player with a bit better production – a good tradeoff for the budding Pistons.

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