No matter how you feel about Rodney Stuckey, you have to like getting him for the minimum salary. He may be flawed, but he has a few skills on a basketball court that most high-level teams should be able to make at least some use of.
And most encouraging of all, young Stuckey showed a ton of promise. The list of disappointing vets who have a breakout year in their eighth NBA season is small, but the Pacers badly need a wing player who can penetrate, so it isn’t crazy talk to think that Stuckey could be one of the few to bounce back and become a major contributor.
Looking at his numbers, however, shows why he was available for the lowest salary allowable under the collective bargaining agreement.
He reportedly wanted to play for a (pseudo) contender and he signed a one-year deal in hope that he would be able to reestablish himself in the league and make more money in subsequent seasons. But no matter how you spin it, this is still a guy in his 20s playing for a minimum salary and you rarely see such players become difference makers.
To show why Stuckey may or may not be prone for a turnaround season, let’s look at a few key numbers.
In his fourth season, Rodney Stuckey seemed to be heading for higher things. It was his best statistical season in terms of PER, the most useful single-figure-stat to sum up a player’s overall contributions. (For context,15 is average, 20 is pretty darn good, and 30 is LeBron and Jordan.)
Stuckey posted an 18.4, marking an apex in four straight years of improvement. It looked like he had overcome his early field-goal percentage issues. The following season wasn’t better, but still on par, as he finished at 17.6.
Then came the drop off.
In his last two years in Detroit, he posted a 13.0 and 14.0.
Not an encouraging sign, and those who have watched ugly Pistons basketball closely over their last 164 games can attest that those PER numbers match his performance.
Young Rodney’s best attribute was his ability to get to the rim. He had a lightning first step and did little in the way of wasting motion. He was a north/south attacker who blitzed into the paint, dismantling defenses to create buckets for himself or, at times, showing an ability to pass to an open teammate.
The evidence: 45.3% of his shots in his rookie season came within 3 feet of the hoop, per Basketball-Reference.com. That number would drop over the next few years — defenses likely game-planned for his skills more — but he was north of 40% in year two and stayed a bit lower, but still high, in the next few seasons.
Last year, however, just 27.7% of his shots came within 3 feet — a career low. The year prior was similarly low, at 32.8%.
There may be Xs-and-Os reasons for this: When you play in a system that increasingly features Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, there won’t be much real estate on the interior.
But the fall is drastic and 28-year-old Stuckey can’t possibly have the same first step and explosiveness that 21-year-old Stuckey did. Plus, if Monroe and Drummond being in his way was an impediment, that won’t exactly be alleviated if he spends much time on court with Roy Hibbert or Ian Mahinmi — or anyone in Indiana really; trying to thrive within the awful spacing that has characterized the Pacers’ offense in recent years is hard for anyone.
And there aren’t a wide range of things he does well other than attacking. We may be seeing a poor man’s situation of the time the Pacers employed a Brazilian Blur (Leandro Barbosa) who no longer had any blurability.
Young Stuck never shot 3s. He was adequate from midrange and a demon attacking the paint, which brought some comparisons of him being Dwyane Wade Lite.
Over the years though, he started to take more. It hasn’t become a dominant part of his game, but the more he has gone away from getting to the rim, the more he has taken long shots.
And these are long shots that he, as a career 28.6% 3-point shooter, cannot make.
It makes you wonder where exactly he will get good shots in Indiana and, more so, how those shots will add any efficiency to the offense.
There is also one other interesting number regarding Stuckey: 2.
Throughout his tenure in Detroit he has worn the number 3 on his chest. Alas, that is Indiana native George Hill’s number, so the newcomer will rock the deuce.
Tom Lewis of Indy Cornrows did some research and broke down the full list is Pacers to wear number 2, noting that Stuckey — if he becomes a solid contributor — could move to the top of the undistinguished list.
Stuckey will be the ninth Pacers player to wear No. 2 (via Basketball Reference). The list hasn’t had a huge impact on Pacers history, so Stuckey has a chance to be the best Pacers player to wear No. 2 ever. Hey, someone has to, right? How would you rank the 2’s?
Vincent Askew – Played just 41 games with Pacers before being part of a trade that returned Mark Jackson to the Pacers.
Jamison Brewer – second-round pick spent three seasons near or on the end of the bench for the Pacers. Best known for radio interview with Mark Patrick which abruptly ended after Brewer said, “Sir, I gotta go.”
Darren Collison – Has to be the leader in the clubhouse for the 2 crew after starting at point guard in the first of his two seasons on the team that returned the Pacers to the playoffs with a fun, five-game, first-round playoff loss to the Chicago Bulls. Collison was playing off the bench in his second year but played valuable minutes in the playoffs, particularly against the Heat in the second round. The Pacers went with George Hill and DC was dealt to Dallas in a deal for Ian Mahinmi.
Tyus Edney – Another former UCLA point guard to wear No. 2 for the Pacers, Edney played 24 games in a reserve role for the Pacers in the 2000-2001 season.
Marcus Haislip – Haislip spent the better part of December 2004 with the Pacers, playing nine games before getting waived on Christmas Eve.
Ralph Jackson – A fourth-round pick in the mid-80’s, Jackson should bring up the rear in any 2 rankings. Jackson played one game during the first week of the season, scored two points with four assists in 12 minutes and then was released two days later, never to play in the NBA, again. Oh, but the stories…
Rawle Marshall – Marshall arrived from Dallas with Darrell Armstrong and Josh Powell as part of a trade for Anthony Johnson but was never able to carve out a consistent role in the playing rotation. His highlight in Indy was a 16-point, five-rebound effort in an early November win over Philly.
Earl Watson – Watson played with seven NBA teams during his career but only wore No. 2 while with the Pacers, joining Edney and Collison as former UCLA point guards to wear the number. Watson played a heavy role for the 2009-10 Pacers as a reserve point guard who was called on to start 52 games while backing up T.J. Ford who struggled to stay on the floor.
I actually like Stuckey, and despite the dowtrodden stats above, I do think he has the potential to go down as a better Pacer than anyone on this list.
Of course, I can’t say I have spent an inordinate amount of time paying attention to Piston players not named Andre Drummond or Greg Monroe over the past few seasons. So my margibally optimistic thoughts on his late-career ceiling are probably being skewed by the early promise he displayed in his first few years.
Perhaps the chaotic, strange team-building that has gone on in Detroit for the past half decade stunted his growth, and Stuckey can get back to being the energetic disruptor he once was to opposing defenses amid a stable, cohesive Pacers roster.
But I wouldn’t hold your breath for him to become a major difference maker.
There definitely is a chance — I really do think he can have a breakout, bounceback year — but the smarter money is that Stuckey will likely rank below Darren Collison and probably even Earl Watson on the list of all-time Pacer number 2s.