Lucky to get Stuckey
Dumars stocks backcourt with size and tough competitors
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – If Rodney Stuckey comes close to matching the comparisons to Dwyane Wade, wouldn’t that be fitting? Because Stuckey was obtained with the draft choice the Pistons got from Orlando in exchange for Darko Milicic – the player they chose with the No. 2 pick in the 2003 draft when Wade went three spots later to Miami.
Antonio McDyess decided not to opt out of his contract, which means he and the Pistons are likely to negotiate a two-year extension to the last remaining year on his contract.
Stuckey, who left Eastern Washington after two years in which he averaged 24.2 and 24.6 points a game, is an explosive, slashing, athletic player who can handle either guard spot. Sound familiar? Oh, yeah, he wore No. 3 at Eastern Washington.
“Dwyane Wade is my favorite player,” Stuckey said by phone from New York, where he was invited to attend the draft. “I’m blessed just to have some kind of similarities with him. I love watching his game. He’s relentless, he’s flashy. Just watching him, watching how he carries himself on the court and stuff, that’s how I’m going to try to be.”
The Pistons targeted four players with the No. 15 pick: Florida State forward Al Thornton, Georgia Tech small forward Thaddeus Young, USC shooting guard Nick Young and Stuckey, who can play either guard spot. The Pistons might have taken Thornton had the Los Angeles Clippers not “stunned” Pistons president Joe Dumars by taking him at 14, but Stuckey was no worse than the No. 2 choice among the four. Thaddeus Young went 12th to Philadelphia in another surprise – the 76ers had been linked most to Thornton.
That left the Pistons essentially choosing between Stuckey and Nick Young, who went one spot later to the Washington Wizards.
“It really wasn’t that hard of a decision,” Dumars said. “We wanted versatility. The fact he can play both positions really made it an easy choice to take him. He’s not simply a two-guard masquerading as a point guard. This kid can really pass, really see and can deliver the ball.”
Stuckey averaged 5.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds a game for Eastern Washington this season. He had to sit out his freshman season due to academics, then played two years in the Big Sky Conference.
The Pistons sprung something of a surprise with their second first-round selection, the 27th overall, when they took UCLA shooting guard Arron Afflalo. Dumars said he loved Afflalo’s ability to defend all three perimeter positions, his toughness and the fact he was the leading scorer for the past two seasons for a team that went to the Final Four both years.
“The think I like about (Afflalo’s) versatility is he can guard ones, twos and threes, he’s a flat-out tough guy, he’s a warrior, and he’s a big-time scorer,” Dumars said. “I don’t think UCLA has the success they had the last two years if he’s not the leading scorer on that team. He’s been on that big stage and knows what that’s like. He’s not going to be intimidated.”
With their second-round pick, the 57th overall, the Pistons stayed with the theme, drafting DePaul’s Sammy Mejia, a 6-foot-6 swingman who also can defend the three perimeter positions.
Dumars got good reports on Afflalo from Pistons Chauncey Billups and Tayshaun Prince, who’ve played against him in the summers at UCLA.
The draft began falling the Pistons’ way when Sacramento took Spencer Hawes with the 10th pick and Atlanta went with Acie Law at No. 11. Then Thaddeus Young went to Philly, which guaranteed the Pistons were going to get a shot at at least one of their three top prospects – Stuckey, Thornton or Nick Young.
They wound up getting to choose between Stuckey and Nick Young when New Orleans – thought to be choosing between the two Youngs – skipped Nick Young and went instead for Kansas forward Julian Wright.
Nick Young is a smooth and naturally gifted shooting guard with terrific size for his position at nearly 6-foot-7. Right now he’s a better 3-point shooter than Stuckey. But Stuckey’s ability to play both guard spots and his higher motor and demeanor ultimately won over Dumars and his staff.
On Wednesday in New York, Stuckey told ESPN.com of the prospect of playing for the Pistons, “It’s my style of play, and they’ve compared me to a Chauncey Billups-type guard. I’m a big guard and they need a backup point guard. I can learn from the best people – Rip Hamilton, Chauncey, Flip Saunders and Joe Dumars. It’s a great organization. It’s perfect for me.”
After the draft, Stuckey said he felt he was ready as a rookie to back up at both guard spots.
“I think I’m capable,” he said. “(Dumars is) not looking for a guy to sit on the bench for a couple of years. He’s looking for a guy to come in and help out right away. And I think I can do that. I can take the pressure off of Chauncey and Rip and help them out. I’m excited to learn from one of the best 1-2 combos in the league.”
Other players on the board when the Pistons took Afflalo at 27 were big men Glen “Big Baby” Davis of LSU and Josh McRoberts of Duke, both of whom were projected to be gone before the Pistons picked. Others on the board were Vanderbilt shooting guard Derrick Byars and Arizona small forward Marcus Williams, but the Pistons chose to further stock their backcourt.
“I was going to take another perimeter guy,” Dumars said. “To be quite honest with you, when we’ve gotten hurt or struggled in the playoffs, it’s been on the perimeter. It’s been from the standpoint of not being able to score buckets from the perimeter or not being able to defend on the perimeter like we should. I never thought we’ve really been dominated in the paint in the playoffs.”
Assuming the Pistons re-sign Billups, they’d have Billups and Hamilton starting, backed up by Stuckey and Afflalo. Also still on the roster are veterans Flip Murray and Lindsey Hunter. The Pistons might try to trade Murray, who chose not to exercise his option to opt out of the last year of his contract; Hunter has one year left on his contract and might decide to retire instead. There’s also Alex Acker, who played with the Pistons two seasons ago and spent last year emerging as one of the top American players in the Euroleague.
Dumars said Thursday night that there still might be room for Acker, but it almost certainly would require that either Hunter or Murray – or perhaps even both – aren’t back.