He started midway through last season, enjoying the best stretch of his career under a coach whose handling brought out the best in him, when he began encouraging teammates to spend good chunks of their off-season working out in Auburn Hills.
So no matter who else was in the gym over the summer, Stuckey was the constant: doing ballhandling drills with Knight, or shooting drills with rookies English and Khris Middleton, or working with assistant coach Steve Hetzel at one end while Monroe and Andre Drummond worked with Roy Rogers at the other. If they gave out gold stars for attendance, Stuckey’s sheet would have been full weeks ago.
Joe Dumars called it the best off-season he’d seen from Stuckey, and when it was over, Stuckey was hailing it as a successful off-season for the team all around.
“We’re all just excited to get started,” he said before the first training camp practice. “We all put a lot of hard work in this summer. Pretty much everyone was here in September working out with each other. It was a good off-season.”
He hadn’t lost any enthusiasm after the first few days of intense, competitive practices where playing time is up for grabs across the board.
“It’s going great,” he said. “Everyone came in camp in pretty good shape. Now we’re trying to build on that. We’re doing a good job. Everyone’s communicating with each other. We had a good team meeting before training camp started, letting everyone know we’ve got each other’s back. We’re going to be real with one another and each and every one of us has to take criticism and accept it. We’re all on the same page.”
Stuckey has long thirsted to play at a faster tempo and Frank insists on it. The Pistons haven’t had the personnel or the depth to accommodate a full-bore running game in the past, but they’re getting there. One element will be the motor that comes with young players like English and Kyle Singler, who in pickup games at The Palace prior to camp were constantly filling the wings and creating easy targets for Knight in transition.
Another critical piece will come from the shot-blocking and running ability of young big men Andre Drummond and Slava Kravtsov, who at 7 feet run with the ease of guards and could be devastatingly effective as trailers. Stuckey thinks the young big guys are going to make their presence felt, sooner or later.
“That’s going to help us out a lot, just knowing you have big guys like that behind you, that can protect you,” he said. “We have numerous guys like that. We’re just excited. We’ve just got to keep working hard and getting better. As long as we’re all on the same page on defense, I think we’ll be fine. That’s what we’re trying to focus on before the season starts and throughout this month – our defensive talk, being in position and just helping each other out. So if we get on the same page defensively, we’ll be good.”
The franchise has changed dramatically in the five years since they drafted Stuckey. He joined a veteran team laden with All-Stars and decorated by rings. They knew how to attune themselves to the rhythm of the long NBA season, but Stuckey didn’t always feel in sync. Now he feeds off the energy of a team with six new faces, five of them rookies.
“It’s different,” he said. “In my past, we had veteran teams. I had veteran guys around me, older guys. Now we’ve got all young guys. It’s hard to get guys off the court. Guys want to do extra stuff. It’s a good thing to have, a good feeling in here. We’re a team. We’re a family. We preached that in our meeting and we’re sticking with it.”