Rodney Stuckey, 24, averaged 16.6 points, five assists and four rebounds for the Pistons last season. (Associated Press)
Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey takes a beating from fans, the media and last, but not least, opponents.
Some folks in the media have called for Stuckey to be traded, and he's caught the ire of some fans because of the Chauncey Billups trade, which seems like light years ago. Next to Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge, he's the most polarizing athlete in Detroit.
Lay off the kid, at least for now.
When Stuckey walks into training camp in September, it will be the first time he'll have the same coach from the previous year. It also will be the first time his role and expectations are clearly defined.
"He's had three head coaches in three years," Pistons president Joe Dumars said. "He's held up pretty good. It's not like he's had one coach and one system for three years."
Coming out of Eastern Washington, he never had to play point guard, the hardest position to adjust to, and was forced to learn on the job. He's a pro, he should adjust, and he's played well given the circumstances.
"We want to see him play both guard positions, as we've seen him do," Dumars said.
Stuckey, 24, averaged 16.6 points, five assists and four rebounds, and those numbers were higher before his mysterious breakdown in Cleveland near the end of the season. Since he replaced Billups, we assumed Dumars wants him to be a pure point guard, to play the way his predecessor did. Playing lead guard for the Pistons means following in the footsteps of Isiah Thomas, Dave Bing, Dumars and Billups.
"He has a lot of expectations on him, as he should," Dumars said.
I get the sense, in looking around the league, that Dumars doesn't want a natural point guard. If that weren't the case, he could've easily held onto Billups and rode him out. People seem to forget Billups had the tendency to come up short in the playoffs after 2005, and because the team was so dependent on him to create shots for everyone else, shutting him down meant the offense would be ineffective.
It's not just Billups, either. It's a leaguewide trend. People also forget that in recent NBA history, having a classic point guard doesn't mean you'll win a championship. Names like Jason Kidd, John Stockton, Kevin Johnson and Tim Hardaway all have one thing in common: They're ringless. I don't see Chris Paul or Deron Williams with any jewelry, either.
In fact, the last true point guard to lead his team to a title in his prime was Thomas in 1989 and '90. Yes, Billups and Tony Parker were MVPs of the Finals, but Billups still was learning how to play the point in 2004, and the Spurs always have been focused around Tim Duncan.
Look for improvements
Now, back to Stuckey. He should be better at setting up his teammates this year and his overall game should improve. Dumars, in a recent interview, said he expects Stuckey to take a more active role in leadership, and he's told Stuckey to be more assertive.
In a locker room that included the likes of Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton, it's hard for any young player to walk in and give orders to strong-minded, playoff-tested veterans. He's toed the line of respect and aggressiveness. Now, the stakes are higher.
"We've had a couple of those conversations, so he understands exactly, going into year four," Dumars said. "I think he's been good, but good is not always good enough. But sometimes you have to be more than good."
His sometimes-erratic jumper needs to get better, and so should his decision-making, which isn't always sound. To his credit, he's taken the criticism from his coaches well and is dedicated to improving.
It also seems the team Dumars is building isn't point-guard dependent. Ben Gordon can score from anywhere. Charlie Villanueva, when he's right, can go inside or outside. Austin Daye, last year's first-round pick, has a natural advantage over other small forwards because of his height (6-foot-11).
It's not a crossroads for Stuckey this year, it's just time to make the next step. the excuses are running out.