This has the makings of a buddy movie. The NBA veteran from Seattle and the rookie from Europe, pairing up and going off together to work on their game after practice.
More specifically, to shoot. And shoot. And shoot.
Rodney Stuckey and Damjan Rudež have made a practice of putting up dozens and dozens of three-pointers after Pacers practices this season, and they have the stats to prove the benefit of their work. Stuckey is shooting a career-high .398 from the three-point line, along with a career-high .455 on all field goals, while Rudež leads all NBA rookies with a .388 three-point percentage.
The number of shots they put up varies, depending on the rigors of the day's practice and the upcoming schedule, but Friday, following a light team workout at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, they had the time and energy to shoot until each had made 150 three-pointers. They were the last players off the court by a long shot, pun intended.
Stuckey refers to the extra work whenever the subject of his improved shooting comes up. He hit just .273 from the three-point line with Detroit last season, and his previous career-best over seven seasons was .317. Rudež, meanwhile, has ridden his three-point shooting into the NBA. He shot .410 over six European professional seasons, and a career-best .454 last season.
The two realized early this season they shared a mutual thirst for extra work, so they teamed up. It's more efficient to work together, and makes it more feasible for coaches to rebound and pass for them. They often head for the BLF practice court to have more room to work, but used the main court on Friday. Frank Vogel has helped on occasion and assistant coach Popeye Jones has been a mainstay, but Friday it was assistant coaches Dan Burke and Nate McMillan and video assistant Dru Anthrop doing the dirty work of keeping the pace moving.
Stuckey was shooting .313 from the three-point line after his first 21 games, which was right in line with his career numbers. Since Dec. 23, however, he's hit .437 of his three-point attempts, .488 of his overall field goals and .882 from the foul line. The improvement has been so dramatic and obvious it makes one wonder if he's changed his form, but he insists he hasn't.
“He's been shooting with a lot of confidence,” Rudež said following Friday's overtime session. “He's just letting it fly.”
Just then, Stuckey walked by on his way to the locker room.
“I'm totally not talking about you right now,” Rudež said loudly enough for him to hear.
“He's just been a beast out there,” Rudež continued after Stuckey had passed. “You can see in his body language the confidence he has shooting the ball. He feels every shot is a good shot.”
Same goes for Rudež, who also started the season slowly. He was hitting .321 from the three-point line after his first 25 games, but has shot .475 in the 27 games he has played since then. He's shot .509 over the last 18 games, while hitting .545 on overall field goal attempts. He hit a season-best 5-of-7 three-pointers in Tuesday's win over Orlando.
“I was really upset when I saw my three-point percentage a couple of weeks ago,” he said. “I know it's still my rookie season and people have been taking that into consideration, but I haven't. I'm a shooter and I expect to have a high three-point percentage and I'm going to keep working on it until I'm satisfied.”
Stuckey will be with him, matching him shot for shot. Given recent trends, it will be interesting to see where it all leads.
“If you're not working on your shot every day, it's like personal hygiene … if you're a shooter you have to do it every day,” Rudež said. “If you're a piano player you have to practice the piano every day. That's how I approach my part of the job.
“That's what brought me here, so there's no reason to stop now.”
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