Can’t Find A Place For Rodney Stuckey

[blackbirdpie url=”!/noamschiller/statuses/147674411238035456″]

The Detroit Pistons and restricted free agent Rodney Stuckey are struggling to come to terms on a long-term contract, sources said.

Stuckey, the Pistons’ top free agent this offseason, is balking at what the team is prepared to pay him. The Pistons have discussed a deal that would pay Stuckey between $40 million and $45 million over five years, according to sources.

via Rodney Stuckey, Detroit Pistons at bargaining impasse, sources say – ESPN.

When I first saw this piece of offseason news, I was confused. “Stuckey said no to what now?! Is he insane? He’s never getting more than that!”.

But then I thought Stuckey and his representatives actually had a point. This is Mike Conley and Marcus Thornton money. Rodney Stuckey is better than Mike Conley and Marcus Thornton, isn’t he?

Then I left the computer, grabbed a bit to eat, and forgot about it, only to go through the exact same thought process the next time I saw a Stuckey reference.

Rodney Stuckey is a confusing player. On the one hand, he’s got great size for a point guard, which allows him to bully defenders into submission, barreling into the paint for the hoop plus the harm. How about this little nugget from John Hollinger’s routinely fantastic season previews: Stuckey led all perimeter players with the percentage of his plays that ended in And 1s. Stuckey gets his team to the free throw line and his opponents to their bench, an underrated skill if there ever was one.

That’s pretty much the only thing Stuckey is definitively great at – the rest ranges somewhere from solidly above mediocre to downright awful. He’s a good ball-handler and doesn’t turn the ball over too much, but he’s not an elite distributor either, handing out a perfectly meh 6.6 assists per 40 minutes. Synergy ranks him as above average at virtually everything – he ranks somewhere between 110th and 195th among all players at all offensive categories except isolations (44th) and hand offs (29th). Except, he only had 26 hand-off plays all season, and when isolating he shoots a fairly horrible 39.3%, his efficiency overall undoubtedly achieved almost exclusively by the frequent free throw line forays. He’s a horrendous shooter. He’s a good rebounder as a point guard, but average for a 6’5” one.

Defensively, he’s slightly subpar. He’s big but not quick, strong but not smart. He’s athletic enough overall to be good in a system that isn’t predicated on revolting against a lame duck coach (hey there, Lawrence Frank) – or at least, we think so. We’ve never really seen any proof.

The easy answer is to call him a tweener. But it runs deeper with Stuckey. He’s not a shooting guard in a point guard’s body, because his body screams 2. He’s not a point guard in a shooting guard’s body, because he’s not a point guard. He’s just very, very confusing.

The problem with Stuckey isn’t a matter of position – a sort of classification that should be on its way out of basketball jargon anyhow – it’s a matter of role. Stuckey has been asked to create for others as well as himself ever since Chauncey Billups was shipped out of town, but Stuckey was never anything more than passable at finding his brethren. He’s a scorer, first and foremost. The problem is, since he’s so bad at catch-and-shoot situations (or, lets be honest , anything-and-shoot situations), that scoring has to come off the dribble. Preferably, against a smaller defender, AKA the point guard.

It’s what makes Stuckey so different from other ball dominant shooting guards. Take Jason Terry, for instance. Terry’s tweenerhood is entirely defensive: if he can guard point guards but play as a shooting guard offensively, as the Mavericks have so wisely enabled him over time, he’s set. This can’t be done with Stuckey. The easy solution of moving him off the ball, letting somebody else create for everybody and let Stuckey create for Stuckey doesn’t work, because the point guard matchup and the ball in his hands is what enables him to create in the first place.

Ideally, Stuckey would get the ball in his hands as part of the second unit, a larger Jamal Crawford or J.J. Barea. But Stuckey is just too good for a second unit role. Among the 46 players with a PER above 18 last season and enough minutes to qualify, the only full-time bench players were Ramon Sessions, Philly’s dynamic bench duo of Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young, and de-facto starter Lamar Odom. While ranking Stuckey among those five is an interesting argument in the sense that comparing apples and oranges can lead to fascinating discussions, the fact remains that players as good as Stuckey tend to play large minutes more often than not, because when they are on the bench, their team is very likely to be worse off. You can’t spell Stuckey without “key”, but you also can’t spell it without “stuck”.

That’s the major difference between Stuckey and guys like Conley or Thornton. Is Stuckey better than them? Yes, probably. His entire package of skills exceeds Thornton’s score-first-ask-questions-later routine (and I’m one of the biggest Thornton fans out there) or even Conley’s  work as a suddenly above-average floor general. The difference, though, is Stuckey’s skills are an awkward fit virtually every way you choose to use them. Giving fair value to a player whose value is always less than his value is both a confusing sentence and a hard task.

Noam Schiller

Noam Schiller lives in Jerusalem, where he sifts through League Pass Broadband delay and insomnia in a misguided effort to watch as much basketball as possible. He usually fails miserably, but is entertained nonetheless. He prefers passing big men to rebounding guards but sees no reason why he should have to compromise on any of them.