Summer Plans

Stuckey wants to spend off-season building chemistry with Knight

Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Knight have the chance to become yet another famed Pistons backcourt.
Murdoch Jr./Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images
Brandon Knight doesn’t know it yet, but part of his summer is already blocked off.

“During this off-season, we’re going to spend a lot of time here working out with each other, just getting used to each other and building that chemistry, where we need to be on the court – off the court, as well,” Rodney Stuckey said. “We haven’t (discussed it) yet. But I’m going to demand that. And Brandon is a bright kid. Whatever we need to do to get better, he’s willing to do it.”

Stuckey came to the Pistons in time for the 2007-08 season, by which time Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton already had logged five years together. Stuckey and Knight have started alongside each other for three games. There’s a long way to go before even the principles know exactly how the fit will take, but they’re both encouraged by the possibilities.

“He’s just like me,” Stuckey said. “He can get the ball up the court, he can attack, get to the free-throw line – he’s not getting the calls right now, but he’ll eventually get ’em. That’s part of the rookie transition right there. He can shoot the ball really well. We know he’s going to make mistakes – he’s a young player – but it’s a learning process and he’s doing a good job.”

The Pistons are 1-2 in Knight-Stuckey starts, beating Portland and playing Miami to the final buzzer sandwiched around a one-sided loss at Oklahoma City. Not much of a sample size yet, but Knight and Stuckey both played well in the Portland and Miami games. One of the advantages of playing them in tandem while Ben Gordon remains out with a shoulder injury is the flexibility of having two players accustomed to playing point guard yet both with the size to guard many, if not all, shooting guards. There are times when Lawrence Frank sends in a play that calls for Stuckey to man the point, times when the call puts Knight at point guard and times when it’s up to them.

“There are certain things designed better to each guy’s makeup, but it doesn’t matter,” Frank said. “We want a two-headed attack and it helps in a sense when you have two ballhandlers in there because now you can run two- and three-man games on both sides of the floor and you can run multiple pick and rolls with two ballhandlers and two attackers.”

“Whatever coach wants us to do,” Stuckey said. “Sometimes he wants the ball in his hands, sometimes he wants it in mine. It comes from Lawrence and also just comes from the rhythm of the game – it’s just a matter of what play we are in and we’ll take it from there.”

“It’s great,” Knight said after his first game starting 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.”

Stuckey has found a match in Knight in his affinity for picking up the pace and trying to get more easy transition points. In seasons past, Stuckey often found himself running one-man fast breaks with teammates more comfortable playing from half-court sets. Knight, a player Pistons scouts believed was the fastest in college basketball last winter, not only gets it from end to end quickly off the dribble but consistently looks to pass it ahead.

“Any time you can push the ball forward against defenses and you have a one-on-one attack with a wing player, it’s always to your advantage,” Stuckey said. “He does a really good job of pushing the ball up the floor and trying to get easy baskets that way.”

While Stuckey played far away from the spotlight at Eastern Washington before becoming the 15th overall pick in 2007, Knight played at national TV regular Kentucky and got to the Final Four as a freshman. Yet Stuckey’s instant impact after missing the first 27 games recovering from a broken hand escalated expectations for him just as Knight’s early success has energized the Pistons’ fan base. Stuckey, though, doesn’t see much that will faze his new backcourt partner.

“He’ll be fine,” Stuckey said, matter of factly. “He’s a level-headed kid. Nothing distracts him. Nothing gets in his way. As long as he keeps that mind-set, he’ll be fine. The good thing about him is he wants to get better every day – first one in the gym, last one of the court, as you can see” – as we spoke, Stuckey, who had just come off the court, nodded to Knight, still shooting, the last one on the practice floor. “If he just keeps that mind-set, it’s going to take you a long way. I’m not really worried about that kid.”

But he does have a chunk of his summer blocked off.