After playing arguably the worst basketball of his career in 2012-13, Rodney Stuckey has rebounded this season and has become one of the best reserve guards in the NBA.
Stuckey has moved smoothly into the sixth-man role, coming off the bench in every game thus far in 2013-14 after starting 258 of 353 games over the past five seasons. He's averaging more points this year than last season despite playing less, and his field-goal and three-point percentages are both up.
His play has been a big part of the Detroit Pistons' success this season—they're 3-7 in games where he plays fewer than 20 minutes and 7-6 in games that he plays 30 minutes or more—and will continue to play a key role as they fight for their first playoff appearance in five seasons.
So what do the Pistons owe to Stuckey's resurgence? It's a combination of the right coach, the right role and improved shot selection.
*All statistics compiled from NBA.com and updated as of Dec. 31 unless otherwise noted.
The Right Coach
Stuckey has admitted to not being the most coachable player in the early stages of his career. In an interview with The Detroit News, he said he used "checking out" as a tool to cope with differences in opinion over his play.
"I know coaches are coaches and we’re supposed to respect them but at the same time, they have to give respect to earn respect,” Stuckey said. “It was just tough, mentally, knowing that I want to snap but it’s not the right thing to do, you know what I’m saying?”
His issues with coaches may have been at their worst last season with Lawrence Frank, who ended up benching Stuckey for a game in January. After the incident, Stuckey told USA Today that differing opinions were to blame.
"Things didn't see eye-to-eye," said Stuckey. "So he did what he had to do."
But all these issues seem to be behind Stuckey this season with the arrival of new coach Maurice Cheeks, who reached out to Stuckey before the season began in order to get on the same page.
“He tells you like it is,” Stuckey told the The Detroit News. “When he gets on you, he does it in a positive way because he wants you to do better. Not to mess with you mentally or mess with anything."
After feeling that, as put in the article, "Frank was playing mind games with him," having a coach like Cheeks who has his best interests in mind has made a big difference for Stuckey. If his play so far has been any indication, finally seeing eye-to-eye with a coach has kept Stuckey from losing focus.
The Right Role
When Stuckey was drafted in 2007 out of Eastern Washington, he was looked at as the Pistons' point guard of the future: the heir-apparent to Chauncey Billups.
But when Billups was traded just two games into the 2009-10 season, Stuckey failed to live up to expectations. With a score-first mindset, he has never averaged more than 5.2 assists in a season, despite being asked to run the offense for much of three seasons.
Even when he moved primarily to shooting guard starting in 2011-12, he was still asked to facilitate for others. In that same combo guard role in 2012-13, Stuckey had arguably the worst season of his career. His 13.0 PER was his lowest ever, and his 11.5 points per game was the lowest figure in five seasons.
This season it's been a different story, as he has been used as the Pistons' go-to scorer with the second unit, as Will Bynum relieves him of ball-handling duties. Stuckey's 2.2 assists per game is the lowest of his career, but he's scoring 2.5 more points per game and his PER is up to 16.04.
For the first time in his six-year career, Stuckey has not had to facilitate for other players, and it's paying dividends.
Improved Shot Selection
In 2012-13 Stuckey averaged the highest number of three-point attempts of his career (2.4), yet made just 30.2 percent of them. This season he's cut the attempts in half, and both his field-goal and three-point percentages of gone up.
From the arc this season Stuckey is making 33.3 percent of his shots, a career high. He's doing that by minimizing the number of threes from above the break and focusing more on taking corner threes. Last season he shot 131 threes from above the break and just 51 from the corners, the highest-percentage three for players, per NBA.com. So far in 2013-14 he's shot 18 threes from the corners and 15 from above the break.
And in general, Stuckey simply is forcing fewer shots. According to NBA.com, he's making a higher percentage of attempts in nearly every five-foot range this season than in 2012-13.
|Rodney Stuckey's shooting percentages by distance|
|Less than 5 feet||5-9 feet||10-14 feet||15-19 feet||20-24 feet|
|2012-13||51.4 %||35.7 %||31.4 %||40.7 %||31.1 %|
|2013-14||55.8 %||43.8 %||40.5 %||39.7 %||45.7 %|
With a great connection to head coach Mo Cheeks, improved shot selection and the chance to be the No. 1 offensive option off the bench, Stuckey has had a turnaround season for the Pistons in 2013-14. As they fight for playoff seeding in the final months of the season, they'll need him to keep up his production and continue to be an offensive force.