Rodney Stuckey is missing a tooth, and will need surgery in November to have an implant installed.
Which, all things considered, isn't such a bad thing. Last season he was missing a healthy ankle and foot, and there's no implant for that.
Stuckey suffered through one of the more frustrating of his nine NBA seasons a year ago when sprains to his right ankle and foot kept him out of 24 games and limited his productivity in some of the games he played. He's back this season, feeling fit and feeling appropriate for new Pacers coach Nate McMillan's attacking style of play.
Stuckey has slipped through the cracks of the media's and public's consciousness during training camp. He's not a new player, he's not a starter, he's not injured and he doesn't have any dramatic off-season story to tell. That's exactly how he likes it. The only thing new with him is that he's healthier. He likes that, too.
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He's not forgotten, though. He expects to have a far more significant role than last season, when he played fewer minutes than in all of his NBA seasons but the first.
"Stuckey's looked real good," Paul George said. "We all know how quick and how good he is, and he's an extremely hard worker. He's another one of those guys who's going to force us to play fast. He's a luxury to have coming off the bench."
That was a luxury the Pacers didn't have often enough last season, when Stuckey played in just 58 games, averaged 8.9 points and hit just 24 percent of his 3-point shots. That was a major decline from the previous season – his first with the Pacers – when he averaged 12.6 points and hit 39 percent of his 3-pointers while playing in 71 games and starting 36.
Stuckey missed five games in November with a sprained ankle, suffered against Miami. He missed the next game, came back the following game to play against Orlando, then missed the next four. He returned to play in 26 consecutive games, then missed 18 more with a sprain and bone bruise in his right foot, suffered against Phoenix.
He played the final 25 regular season games, but was never quite right.
"I just didn't feel right. I was out of shape," he said. "I wasn't even able to practice when I came back. I was only able to play in the games."
He averaged just 7.7 points over that stretch and hit 29 percent of his 3-pointers. He finished the season with a small personal victory, however. After suffering through a horrific performance in Game 5 of the playoff series with Toronto, when he hit 1-of-10 field goals, both free throws and committed three turnovers. He bounced back to hit 70 percent of his field goal attempts, including 3-of-4 3-pointers, and play 34 minutes without a turnover in the final two games of the series.
His off-season priority was resting his foot and getting healthy again. He returned in August to being working out, and so far has looked a lot more like two seasons ago than last season.
One play in the controlled scrimmage at the end of Friday's practice proved that, when he found an opening and drove hard to the basket for a layup before the defense could get set up.
"Stuckey playing ball, man!" McMillan shouted. "Playing ball! Keep attacking."
Attacking is what Stuckey does best, utilizing his strength and quickness to get to the basket. It so happens that's the emphasis of McMillan's offense. Get the ball out, run and attack before the defense can get set up.
Stuckey has shifted between point guard and shooting guard the past two seasons, but will be strictly a shooting – or attacking – guard this season. That simplified role which caters to his assets should boost his comfort and productivity.
"Nate wants us to get out and go," Stuckey said. "It's going to help me a lot. He pretty much just wants us to be in attack mode, be aggressive and look for our shots and create for other people as well."
Conditioning always presents a conundrum for NBA coaches. The season is long and nagging injuries are a constant issue. So, how much do you focus on conditioning in practice? How much do you allow players to rest?
McMillan is taking a more aggressive approach to conditioning in training camp than former coach Frank Vogel, and plans to maintain that throughout the season. The players are running more, although most of it is in drills with the ball, rather than lining up and running sprints.
"It's not an everybody-on-the-baseline-and-run conditioning, it's playing conditioning," George said. "With the ball. That's the best kind of conditioning for us."
That was the case in Friday's 2 ½-hour practice on the main court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the sixth of training camp. McMillan had his players running fullcourt in controlled scrimmages and drills to push through their soreness and mental fatigue. They were to return that evening for a light session without basketballs, and will have no more two-a-day sessions leading up to Tuesday's pre-season opener at New Orleans.
McMillan hopes his approach makes a difference makes a difference, especially at the end of the season.
"I think it's very important," he said. "That's something we are certainly working on and focusing on. It kind of felt like last year in the playoffs Toronto was just stronger than us. When we needed to go hard and play through that seventh game, it seemed they were the stronger team."
McMillan put his players through a conditioning test in Tuesday's evening practice, mostly as a motivation for them to get in shape before training camp. Practices have been more demanding as well. He sees that as essential, given his style of play.
"Of course they're going to gripe about it, and they've said some things, but they're doing it," he said.
"The way we want to play, they have to be in shape. Normally when your pace (increases), you lose something on the defensive end of the floor. We don't want to lose anything on the defensive end of the floor. And we want to play at a pace on the offensive end."
George, however, doesn't consider it McMillan's responsibility to make sure the players are conditioined.
"We're pros and if you're out of shape, that's on you to get in shape," he said. "I don't think it's the coach's job to have his team in condition."
Turner attends practice
Myles Turner attended Thursday night's practice and most of Friday morning's session, but is not close to returning to action.
McMillan said the second-year center has passed the first stage of the NBA's protocol for concussion victims, but has four more steps to complete.
"He's feeling better," McMillan said.
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