At this stage of the season, all analysis of teams and players should be framed by the small sample size caveat. Whether a player is is shooting the lights out or stinking up the joint, allowing performance to regress (or progress) to the mean is going to be the best approach. It’s too long a season to reasonably conclude that what we see today will be a season long trend.
That said, I don’t think it is too early to ask one question: what is wrong with Rodney Stuckey?
Yes, the season is young but Stuckey looks to be completely out of sorts to start the campaign. Through three games, Stuckey is only shooting 4.3% (!!) from the field, making only a single basket in twenty-two attempts from the floor. In his last two contests he’s not made a single field goal (0-13) and has only scored a single point in 47 minutes of action.
While in Stuckey’s case it is severe, some erratic shooting can be explained through bad luck or the simple fact that anomalies occur. But when digging into Stuckey’s numbers (and when watching him play) you see that there are some alarming trends.
First off, and most notable, is that Stuckey simply isn’t as involved in the Piston’s offense as he typically has been. His usage rate (estimation of possessions used while on the floor) is 15.5 which would be the lowest mark of his career by a wide margin. To put that mark in perspective, that’s a number that non-playmakers post (last season Matt Barnes had a usage of 15.5) and is more indicative of a spot up option rather than an attack player.
This marginalization of Stuckey’s role could have something to do with how he’s playing. After all, he’s used to being the key ball handler and offensive creator for his team but is making the full-time move to shooting guard this season with the emergence of Brandon Knight at point guard. With the Pistons also looking to be more of a post up oriented team with Greg Monroe demanding more of an offensive role, Stuckey could just be struggling to find his way in a new role as an off the ball player.
That said, even when he has the ball he’s not really looking to be the same attack style player he has been in his first five seasons. He’s still driving the ball into the paint well — half his shots this season have come in the restricted area — but he’s not hunting contact like he has in season’s past, instead trying to be more of a finesse player around the basket. Per-36 minutes his free throw attempts per game are the lowest of his career and is indicative of his lack of assertion around the basket.
It’s only fair to point out that not all of Stuckey’s game is bad. He’s doing well to set up his teammates — his assists per-36 minutes is 2nd highest rate of his career — and he’s moving the ball on to open teammates even if only to keep the flow of the offense going. His turnover rate is also down and it’s good to see that his adjustment to playing more off the ball has led to him making more controlled reads.
However, what some of the stats and what watching the tape tells me is that Stuckey isn’t just playing controlled but he’s also playing safe. There’s a fine line between the two but when he’s been most successful there’s been a certain amount of risk attached to his game. This season that’s been missing. And the result has been a player that lacks the same aggression, and thus, the same results.
The season is early yet. And maybe Stuckey will find his way soon. But his play to start the season has to be a concern for the Pistons. He’s too good a player to look this bad.