What is wrong with Rodney Stuckey’s game?

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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.

Report: Pelicans, Nance agree to two-year, $21.6 million extension

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Larry Nance has been a stabilizing influence in New Orleans since coming over mid-season as part of the trade for CJ McCollum. Nance is a versatile player who can play the four or the five, knocks down his threes, is very strong on the glass, can be a disruptive defender in passing lanes, and fits in — and he has the veteran attitude of work this team needs.

So the Pelicans have reached an extension to keep the 29-year-old around for two years past this coming season, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a signing that should make Pelicans fans happy. Importantly, it makes CJ McCollum happy — they are tight and this is something McCollum wanted to see. The money on this deal seems fair, about the league average for a solid rotation player.

Nance is the kind of veteran this team needs considering its young core of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram (just turned 25), Herb Jones, and guys like Trey Murphy III, Jose Alvarado, and others. Nance compared it to the young Lakers teams he was on, but noted that team lacked the same level of veteran leadership this Pelicans team has.

We may see more Nance at the five lineups — small ball with Zion at the four — to close games this season in New Orleans, that could be their best lineup because Nance can defend but also spaces the floor for Zion on offense. Coach Willie Green has a lot of different players and matchups to experiment with.

And now he has the stability of Nance for a few more years.

Durant tired of talking Nets dramatic offseason: ‘I didn’t miss any games’

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No team had an offseason quite like the Brooklyn Nets. First, they would not give a long-term extension to Kyrie Irving, which sent the star guard looking for a new team (but there were no offers that worked for everyone, so he opted in with Brooklyn). Then Kevin Durant asked for a trade, and to gain a little leverage reportedly threw down an ultimatum of him or the coach and GM. No trade could be found — how much the Nets wanted one is up for debate — so he is back in Brooklyn. And all that is not even getting into the return of Ben Simmons, a trade for Royce O’Neal, or anything else.

The Nets drama and how they move past it has been the talk of training camp. The only talk at training camp, it feels like.

When asked Friday if there were any inaccuracies in the reporting of the Nets summer he would like to clear up, Durant sounded weary of rehashing the summer.

The only thing that will start to move the conversation in a new direction is the Nets playing and winning games (they open the preseason Monday against the 76ers). And even those wins will have the shadow of the offseason cast over them. Durant and Irving made this bed.

Part of the fascination is the Nets remain the team hardest to predict in the league. They arguably have the most talented roster in the league and, if everything comes together just right, they can contend for a title. It’s also possible the wheels fall off early and by Christmas the Nets are looking to trade Durant again. Both things feel possible (even if reality most likely lands somewhere in the middle).

That uncertainty about the Nets’ future is the drama that will keep eyeballs on them — which also means more questions about this past offseason. Durant can choose not to answer them, but the questions aren’t going away.

Highlights from Clippers preseason win fueled by Luke Kennard

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No Kawhi Leonard. Or Paul George. Or John Wall, Norman Powell, Reggie Jackson and Nic Batum. The Clippers decided to rest six key rotation players in their preseason opener in Seattle against Maccabi Ra’anana, a game played in Seattle.

All those guys are expected to suit up Monday when the Clippers play the Portland Trail Blazers in a preseason game also in Seattle, the first NBA exhibition game played in the city since 2018.

Against Maccabi, it was the Luke Kennard show as he had 16 points.

The Clippers also got 14 points and 13 boards from Moses Brown. As a team, the Clippers cruised and put up a few highlights.

The Clippers have great depth, which should allow them to survive a season where both Leonard and George are expected to get their share of load management nights off. Leonard missed all of last season coming off a torn ACL, and George played in just 31 games due to a few injuries, including a shoulder issue. Still, the Clippers finished eighth in the West with a 42-40 record and had a top 10 defense in the league.

Adding Leonard and George to that mix is why the Clippers are considered title contenders out West. Monday night against the Blazers we should get our first look at the real Clippers team for this season. But Los Angeles is 1-0 this preseason.

Report: Udoka used ‘crude language’ with female subordinate prior to improper relationship

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The Boston Celtics handled the Ime Udoka investigation and suspension by the corporate handbook: They kept the woman’s name out of the news, kept details confidential (not even telling the players much for legal reasons), and acted swiftly and decisively.

But as the team on the court starts defending its Eastern Conference title, there has been a concern that details leaking out about the investigations — and responses to those leaks — could turn this into a season-long drama and distraction for the team. That first started on Friday when Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported this:

The independent law firm probe into Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka found that he used crude language in his dialogue with a female subordinate prior to the start of an improper workplace relationship with the woman, an element that significantly factored into the severity of his one-year suspension, sources told ESPN.

Those investigative findings — which described verbiage on Udoka’s part that was deemed especially concerning coming from a workplace superior — contribute to what is likely a difficult pathway back to his reinstatement as Celtics coach in 2023, sources told ESPN.

A few thoughts here.

• “Crude language” is just part of a more detailed and damning report, league sources have told NBC Sports. There is much more uncovered by the independent investigation, including about the power dynamic in play. It was enough that the Celtics thought the best move was to suspend for an entire season a coach loved by players who led the team to the NBA Finals (it’s not something the Celtics organization did lightly).

• As Wojnarowski and others have noted, it’s increasingly unlikely Udoka returns to coach the Celtics next season, even if that is not yet official.

• While some pundits and people around the league have said Udoka is “done,” the NBA has seen unexpected turnarounds before. Never say never in this league.

• About the only sure thing is that this story is not over.