The Microscope: Rodney Stuckey's Free-Throw Parade (and More)
The Microscope is your recurring look at the NBA's small-scale developments—the rotational curiosities, skill showcases, coaching decisions, notable performances and changes in approach that make the league go 'round.
Rodney Stuckey, Living at the Line
Rodney Stuckey's career has been marked by his status as tweener in both position and production. He scores but doesn't dominate, assists but probably shouldn't be depended on too heavily for his playmaking, defends but has his limitations and shoots well enough rather than well.
He's firmly quite good, but without the kind of single, highlight-worthy talent that would allow him to grow in esteem despite his merely solid numbers and playing for the perpetually rebuilding Detroit Pistons.
The one thing Stuckey does at any remarkable level is an unspectacular basketball act that few fans fawn over or feel any aesthetic connection to whatsoever: getting to the free-throw line. The Pistons put on a hell of a show on Sunday night in their overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls, largely because Stuckey was a man put on this planet to create contact and draw fouls.
That ability to create easy points at the charity stripe is surely appreciated, but hardly resonant; the free throw is the lull in the action, and no one mistakes it for anything but. Yet in high enough frequency, those lulls begin to matter a great deal. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Stuckey has posted a greater per-minute free-throw-attempting frequency this season than all but four NBA players.
Stuckey is far from a specialist, but he nonetheless carves out value through a very specific excellence. That he happens to excel in one of the game's most boring arenas should certainly matter, but perhaps less than it does; isn't there some beauty in production for production's sake, no matter the aesthetic emptiness?
Depletion by Injury and as a Way of Life
Sunday's games functioned as a juxtaposition of barren teams. The Boston Celtics chose to rest Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen in a game against the Charlotte Bobcats. They still trotted out a double-digit victory because such is the life of the Bobcat.
Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Glen Davis were sidelined for the Orlando Magic in their game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Without Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao, the Cavs provide a satire of the team that was once on the playoff cusp.
These are strange days in the NBA. Stars are absent either by design or by fate, and yet the gulf in execution and expectation is such that the league's worst teams continue to lose. These aren't new lows, but revelatory oddities; that the Bobcats and Cavaliers couldn't best their incomplete counterparts doesn't make them any worse than they were the day before, so much as it offers further clarification to how lacking these teams really are.
Ramon Sessions and the Disciples of the Jump Pass
The jump pass is the vice of the superstars. In basketball fundamentals, it's expressly forbidden, and yet supernatural speed and hangtime empower the game's greatest athletes to flirt with its dangers.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook are essentially high priests dedicated to its glory. The act of leaving their feet to pass still results in a more-than-occasional turnover, but those three are able to get considerable mileage when acting out of temptation. They create angles and space by leaping into the air, and often manage a reasonable shot attempt if nothing else.
Yet behind athletes of that caliber are the NBA's other jump-pass disciples, many of whom lack the standout physical capabilities to so consistently benefit from the act. Among them is Ramon Sessions, a quick point guard but not the quickest and a solid NBA athlete who falls comfortably into the league's middling bulk.
Sessions is completely incapable of utilizing the jump pass for its greater strengths, but his mortal attributes and court vision should rightly make some nervous. The absent half-second from his hangtime makes all the difference. Although Sessions's complete game isn't exactly hampered by his tendency to occasionally jump-pass his way into trouble, it's easy to see—again—how a lesser player might be.
Sessions sees the Jameses and the Wades of the world create value after leaving their feet, and follows suit. An inferior player may see the same, or see Sessions as an extension, and commit to the same flawed ideal.
The jump pass seems so easy and so helpful. However, as we go further down the line, players generate more and more costly, unnecessary turnovers due to the draw of flash well above their pay grade.
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