Stuckey Staying Put

Singler’s star turn won’t disrupt Pistons lineup, but he’s a rotation fixture

Rodney Stuckey was back at practice Thursday.
Garrett Ellwood (NBAE/Getty)
There might come a time when Lawrence Frank decides Kyle Singler should be a Pistons starter, but it’s not today. Rodney Stuckey, back at practice Thursday after missing Tuesday’s session and Wednesday’s game at Philadelphia due to illness, remains the starter next to Brandon Knight in the backcourt.

Under normal circumstances, there wouldn’t be much about that fact to qualify it as news. Bona fide starters who miss a game and are ready to return invariably remain starters.

What makes this case at least semi-unique is this: Singler played a team-high 40 minutes and scored 16 points in a game the Pistons won, on the road, after eight consecutive losses to open their season.

And it wasn’t a hang-on-by-your-fingernails win, either. It came against a rising Eastern Conference opponent coming off back-to-back playoff appearances and considered a solid bet to make it three straight. The Pistons led by 18 at halftime and by 23 midway through the fourth quarter. It wasn’t a win, it was a masterpiece.

“I just really liked our spirit last night,” Frank said after Thursday’s practice. “I thought our spirit, our energy, our focus was very, very good.”

Singler was back at the practice facility by noon, along with the four other rookies, reporting a full hour before the rest of the team was scheduled for practice. He and Kim English were the last to leave the practice floor, working again with assistant coach Steve Hetzel on individual skills.

Singler, as Greg Monroe noted after Tuesday’s win in which he put up 19 points and 18 rebounds, has been as consistent as anyone on the roster so far. Frank repeated what he’s been saying about Singler since early in the preseason: “As we’ve said a bunch about Kyle, very, very comfortable with Kyle.” Remarkably for a rookie, Singler gives Frank a comfort zone: He knows what to expect from him every time out. Even if Singler’s shot isn’t falling, Frank knows he’s going to get effort and perpetual motion, the kind that creates scoring chances for his team and disrupts them for the other guys, often above and beyond what the box score reflects.

And that probably plays some small part in Frank’s angst-free decision to continue with Stuckey as the starter. He knows he’ll get the best out of Singler starting or coming off the bench. Stuckey, for his part, says he’s fine with coming off the bench, but Frank has to consider the implications of making a lineup switch at this point. The concern is always for the team when decisions are made – from what plays to install to how to set up the rotation – over the interests of the individual, Frank has said often. Stuckey is too important to the team’s present to risk undermining his confidence at a time he’s showing signs of shrugging off early-season doldrums.

In Monday’s loss to Oklahoma City, for instance, Stuckey put up 19 points, five assists and three rebounds on 7 of 13 shooting. Maybe Stuckey would thrive as a second unit go-to guy, but is that a luxury the Pistons can afford at this point? In the starting lineup, nobody is more apt to score by breaking down a defense than Stuckey. The Pistons operated with admirable efficiency without him against Philadelphia, but Frank isn’t about to set a lineup decision in stone based on the flimsy evidence of a one-game sample, even if Stuckey expressed his openness to coming off the bench as the focal point of the attack.

“I would love doing that,” he said. “I have no problems. Whatever L wants me to do. I thought Kyle played phenomenal. He did an excellent job and I was just happy to see him go out there and play the way he did. … I don’t care about starting. The only thing that happens when you start is they call your name. Whatever helps our team win. If Kyle is better with the first group, I think he should start.”

Singler has shown the Pistons enough already to give them confidence he’ll grow into a solid NBA starter. Stuckey’s simply done it for longer stretches. The two-month sample he gave Frank last year was critical to the turnaround the Pistons executed from their 4-20 start.

To be their best, the Pistons need to get the best out of both Rodney Stuckey and Kyle Singler. Until more evidence comes in that tells them the way to do that is to start Singler and bring Stuckey off the bench behind him, they’ll go the other way. In the meantime, it’s fair to say that Singler has put forth his best foot in providing another option.