Glimpse of the Future

Stuckey-Knight backcourt shows possibilities in Pistons win

Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey could be the backcourt of the future for the Pistons.
Lippitt/Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
Joe Dumars understands there are still additions to be made before the Pistons are ready to re-emerge as a serious NBA contender. But the backcourt of the future, very likely, is already in place. When a balky shoulder knocked Ben Gordon out of Saturday night’s starting lineup, the future became the present. Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey comprised Lawrence Frank’s backcourt in their 94-91 win over Portland, blurring conventional pigeon-holing by position as they shared ballhandling and command of the offense.

They scored a combined 42 points on just 25 shots, Stuckey scoring 28, while their assists doubled their turnovers.

“It’s great,” Knight said of playing in tandem with Stuckey. “I can play off the ball, he can play off the ball and we can play off of each other and get feedback off of each other. It’s a great way to play and something I’m sure we’ll look to exploit later on. But it’s definitely good to have two ballhandlers that can both attack and both create for the team.”

Frank hasn’t had to make many decisions in his backcourt so far because of injuries. Stuckey and Ben Gordon were the starters to open the season, hardly surprising given the compressed preseason gave Knight precious little time to absorb all he needed to press for a starting spot – and at point guard, no less. But only five games into the season, Stuckey suffered a groin strain that has sidelined him for five games. Until Gordon’s injury, Stuckey was coming off the bench as Frank attempted to ease him back to full duty by gradually increasing his minutes. Compounding their dilemma – but further streamlining Frank’s decision-making process – Will Bynum has been out the past five games with a foot injury.

So Stuckey’s weaning ended, out of pure necessity, in the Portland game when he logged 38 minutes and Knight 37. What happens when Gordon returns – and he’s day to day, so it’s possible that will be as soon as Monday night against Oklahoma City – is unclear. Frank could go in any direction: return to the Stuckey-Gordon tandem that opened the season, the Knight-Gordon pairing that was the staple in Stuckey’s absence, or the Knight-Stuckey duo that produced a 54-point first half – the Pistons’ best of the season – and a win over Portland.

“The thing that was nice – and it’s one night; they haven’t had a lot of opportunity to play together or practice together – is the fact you have a two-headed attack,” Frank said. “So in transition, you can outlet to either guy. They both have the ability to get into the paint. You can run multiple pick-and-rolls – not that you can’t with Ben; obviously, you can – but you have two guys who basically play the point guard position, two attackers, and when Ben gets back, we’ll continue to build on.

“It’s one night, but like anything else, it’s always good to show you can do something. It just gives further evidence of what we’re capable of doing.”

Stuckey only last week said he was fine with whatever role Frank saw fit – starting at point guard, shooting guard or coming off the bench. Knight voiced the same sentiment coming into the season, saying his focus was to learn and do whatever he could to put the team in better position to win games. Gordon, of course, came to the Pistons expecting to come off of the bench as the sixth man, a role he filled with great success during part of his time in Chicago.

It was one night, as Frank said, but the early reviews on the Knight-Stuckey pairing were glowing. Between them, they shot 15 of the team’s 32 free throws, one off of their season high.

“Rodney did a great job attacking them and getting to the line and just making it hard for their guards,” Jonas Jerebko said. “And Brandon did a great job of sharing the ball and making shots.”

No matter who winds up as the team’s starting backcourt, it’s a good bet Stuckey and Knight will be frequent backcourt partners going forward.