Un-Stuck: Stuckey Flourishing in Reserve Role
Rodney Stuckey couldn't possibly care less, and doesn't mind telling you so.
"I just don't care, man," he says.
This might wave a red flag, coming from a guy once regarded as having a bad attitude, but Stuckey's brand of apathy is a blessing for the Pacers. What he doesn't care about is starting, which qualifies as one of the many positive elements of the Pacers' team chemistry. A guy like Stuckey, a ninth-year veteran who's started the majority of the games in his career and is established enough to have received a significant three-year contract from the Pacers last summer, could be forgiven for considering himself a starter. Could complain about playing off the bench. Could project negative ions into the locker room with his discontent.
But he doesn't care, and he's made that clear to friends and family members who might ask why he doesn't start.
"I've told them, 'Hey, I come off the bench, that's what I feel most comfortable doing,'" he said. "Love it, man. It's a good role for me."
Stuckey came off the bench for the 19th time in his 19 healthy games in Wednesday's 107-81 victory over Dallas, and lived and loved the role once again. He scored 12 points in 26 minutes, passed out a game-high seven assists and committed just one turnover. He even hit a 3-pointer, just his sixth of the season.
It was his third consecutive solid effort, a run in which he's scored in double figures each game for a total of 32 points while hitting 15-of-28 field goals.
"As long as I can come in and give my team some solid minutes off the bench and be aggressive, that's the most important thing," he said. "Just come in and give these guys a little time to breathe and get their feet under them. I'm comfortable with it now."
Stuckey had been barely noticeable throughout most of the early schedule, failing to recapture the momentum he had established last season. A sprained ankle kept him out of five games in a six-game stretch in December, and he was physically limited when he returned. He's re-emerged lately, adding another blunt force weapon to a deep bench that lately has overwhelmed opponents.
"He's doing what he does," C.J. Miles said. "Defensively, he plays hard. Gets to the basket and the free throw line. Passes the ball well. Another mid-range assassin like Monta (Ellis). He's solid – physically and basketball-wise. When he hits guys, they lay on the floor.
"We were playing so well and playing so deep, and with the threes and the pace, he kind of got lost there for awhile, but he fits in that pace because he goes coast to coast as well as anybody."
He's contributed something else, unseen to most observers.
"What nobody sees is his leadership," Vogel said. "He's really dialed in to what we need to do to win games each night. He knows what the plan is and thinks about what's happening on the court. We've been the kind of team, the strength of ours is to figure out a game and see what's happening and make adjustments and find out weaknesses we can attack. Rodney's kind of leading that charge from a player's standpoint, of just figuring out the game."
Stuckey's approach is one of the primary reasons Vogel considers this an easy team to coach. He prefers coming off the bench. Miles doesn't mind it, either, just as he doesn't mind switching back and forth between small forward and power forward. Solomon Hill, who played all 82 games last season and started 78, has accepted being out of the playing rotation. Glenn Robinson III, who oozes potential, is patiently waiting his turn. Everybody, in fact, appears to have remained flexible in their roles and assignments.
"You've got guys willing to be placed in the puzzle where they need to be to create the big picture," Miles said. "When you've got guys like that – and we have 15 – it makes everything easier on the coaching staff and the players.
"A lot of guys get stuck in the thinking that (not starting) is a demotion or something. I understand it; they've (started) their whole careers. Whatever. But when it comes to winning time and we need you to do whatever and you're down (with the plan), it makes other guys trust you even more."
Stuckey's greatest challenge now is to regain trust in his 3-point shot. He hit 39 percent of them last season after a slow start, well above his previous career-high of 32 percent in 2011-12. He's at 23 percent (6-of-26) heading into Friday's game against Brooklyn, but believes he can restore that.
Stuckey lifted his percentage last season by putting in the time after practice. He and Damo Rudež were tag team partners, making at least 100 each time out. Rudež is in Minnesota now, leaving Stuckey on his own, but he's following the same routine.
"It's going to come," he said. "I just have to continue with it. I'm not getting down on myself about it."
That's one of the benefits of being with a winning team and stable franchise. Stuckey readily admits to not having the same work ethic through most of his seven seasons in Detroit, where he played for six coaches and two owners, and left before the Pistons got on their current path in a better direction.
Stay after and shoot?
"I did some days, but the majority of days I just wanted to go home, to be honest with you," he said.
"When I was in Detroit, it wasn't necessarily a winning program. You'd show up to do what you have to do and then go home. Here, it's a great organization that makes you want to get better and go out there and compete."
In what role? He really doesn't care.
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