A Dose of Good News
Stuckey’s thumb healing on schedule, still possible for opener
It won’t appear on their lengthy injury report, but the Pistons these days are sporting a stiff upper lip. Their goal of incorporating eight new players into a cohesive unit was undermined less than a week into training camp. By the 10-day mark the availability of their expected starting backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey for the season opener was imperiled.
They got a dose of relatively good news on Saturday, though, when Stuckey – who had his thumb X-rayed and re-examined on Friday, two days after breaking the tip of it by slamming it in his car door – was cleared for limited basketball activities. Stuckey, now wearing a hard plastic splint over the end of the thumb, which he said he wouldn’t wear when playing, wouldn’t rule out being ready for the opener. It will come down to his pain tolerance and the functionality of the thumb.
Maurice Cheeks said he wouldn’t necessarily have to see Stuckey go through a five-on-five practice before using him in a game, but would prefer it. The Pistons have three more days of practice scheduled before the opener.
And in the grand tradition of the NBA, they’re prepared to go forward with whoever’s hale and hearty come Wednesday when Washington shows up at The Palace to open the regular season.
“That’s been tough,” Chauncey Billups said of the double whammy of losing Jennings to a hairline fracture of the mandible that resulted in his jaw being wired shut for three weeks and Stuckey’s thumb injury. “It really has been tough, not having Stuck or Brandon pretty much all of the preseason. Those two guys are going to mean so much to what we do offensively, defensively. Really, nobody has been able to see a real depiction of what our team has been able to look like. But that’s just part of the business.
“Neither one of them are long-term injuries, so we’ll make it up.”
“It’s big,” said Will Bynum, whose role went from uncertain to prominent. “They’re a big part of what we do.”
The loss of Jennings was especially damaging, and not just because the only Piston he’s ever counted as a teammate is the also-injured Gigi Datome, five years ago when they mostly sat on the bench with Rome in the Italian league. As the point guard, whose job it is to strike harmony among the various parts that make up an offense, Jennings will now have to conduct his experimentation during the real stakes of the regular season.
Maurice Cheeks, who knows something about the acclimation of a point guard, is banking on Jennings’ point guard instincts and four years of NBA experience to expedite the process.
“A good point guard doesn’t take long because he figures out, you’ve got big guys, you figure out where they want the ball, who can get the ball, who can score the ball,” he said. “That thing is not really rocket science. Once you see your guys playing and see what they can do, you figure it out.”
One of the reasons the Pistons made the trade for Jennings was his greater pick-and-roll productivity than Brandon Knight provided. The frontcourt of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith all offer potent pick-and-roll partners for Jennings, Drummond a particularly inviting target for his explosive dunking ability. While good pick-and-roll partners depend on great chemistry – akin to a quarterback and wide receiver trusting each other to recognize a defense shifting to a different coverage at the snap of the football – Drummond doesn’t believe it should take him long to find a rhythm with Jennings.
“Will (Bynum) and I, it happened overnight,” Drummond said. “It’s something we continue to work on every day. Same thing with Brandon and I. We have to work on every day and get beter it. It’s going to be fun, though. He can shoot the ball. Will can shoot the ball, well, too, but he’s looking to pass the ball first before he shoots it. For Brandon, it’s going to be a lot more fun for him because he can actually come off the ball and be wide open and take shots. It should be good this year.”
Billups says the time with his jaw wired shut doesn’t need to be a complete loss for Jennings. Just by watching games from the sideline, observing practices and studying tape, a comfort level can be achieved.
“You learn where they’ll be most served out there,” he said. “Brandon can watch and see the pace that we play at, the gaps we see in pick and rolls. Stuck, the same thing. You can always learn a lot through watching.” Other things, Billups admits, can only be gained through repetition and familiarity. “There’s no substitute for that,” he said.
Monroe accepts that there will be an adjustment period, especially the interplay between Jennings and his teammates, but thinks the Pistons can survive the transition without undue impact.
“Of course we need those guys. They’re obviously going to be in the rotation whenever they get healthy,” he said. “It’s a little tough because there’s still a lot of new guys. Playing with people that are new, you’re adjusting to him and now you kind of have to go through that whole adjustment period. I’ve played with Stuckey for a few years, but with Brandon Jennings, the adjustment period we had in preseason, we kind of have to go through it a little now to get familiar with how he plays. I don’t think it’ll be a problem. If we continue to play defense like we’re playing, that’ll all take care of itself. But early on, it will be a little bit of an adjustment period.”
“We would love to have those guys on the court,” Smith said. “But I’m glad that it happened early so we could get it out of the way and we could focus on the regular season and getting some wins. We really need those guys. We’re going to depend on those guys to be our floor generals, with Chauncey and Will, and I think we’re going to be pretty good.”