The loss of Lance Stephenson is a catastrophe for the Pacers. He was the best playmaker on a team starved for shot creation and a key component on what was arguably the best defense of all time. As of now, their contingency plan appears to be signing Rodney Stuckey for the minimum and plugging him in on the void left by Stephenson.
Stuckey is a very talented scorer near the basket. He gets into the lane with consistency due to his speed on straight line drives and by being a difficult player to defend in isolation and attacking off the pick-and-roll because he doesn’t favor either hand. Stuckey doesn’t play above the rim (dunking only 35 times in his 14,000-minute pro career) but has great balance in the air and touch to finish at rim level. 27.7% of his shots were at the rim and he made them at a 64.8% clip, aside from averaging 5.4 free throw attempts per 36 minutes. Possessing strength on his six-foot-five, 205-pound frame, he proved himself able to finish through contact, with 14.3% of his free throws coming on And-1s.
But Stuckey isn’t as effective in any other area of his game. Among the team’s rotation players, only Kentavious Caldwell-Pope passed the ball fewer times per game. He spent 95% of his time sharing the court with either Brandon Jennings or Will Bynum, so his purpose on the offense was not to distribute. And he was often Detroit’s emergency valve with the shot clock running down, as a third of his shots came within 10 seconds remaining. But he also did a lot of catch-and-holding and rarely looked for passing lanes that weren’t evidently in his path. The Pistons posted a higher assist rate without him on the floor each of the last two seasons.
And he is also a poor shooter, both off the bounce and spotting up. Stuckey hit just 37.2% of approximately 270 pull-up attempts. He gets good elevation and jumps straight up-and-down but doesn’t keep his off-hand pointed up, often shooting the ball with both hands. The issue is the same when he is off the ball. Stuckey hit just 31.2% of his 80 catch-and-shoot attempts from three-point range and was even only just about average from the corner, hitting 36.7%. Due to his struggles, Stuckey was a significantly less willing gunner, with only a tenth of his shots coming from three-point range and only 15% of his possessions coming on spot-ups.
Overall, Stuckey is a severe downgrade on offense. Stephenson is a far better passer and a significantly more capable shooter. Considering the Pacers often relied on him to create the few easy scores off assists they got, it’s confusing why they targeted Stuckey to plug this hole, even considering their financial limitations. Mo Williams, Aaron Brooks and Shelvin Mack were probably better options. Indiana added more shooting this offseason by signing CJ Miles and Damjan Rudez, aside from not cutting Chris Copeland via the stretch provision, and it probably hopes Stuckey’s dribble penetration can result in more opportunities for these shooters to make an impact on the Pacers’ so called offense, which ranked 29th in scoring per possession post February, 1st. Frank Voegel is yet to show the willingness to maintain multiple subpar defenders in his rotation, though, which makes it unclear how much Copeland & Rudez will play next season.
That’s a concession he will also have to make with Stuckey, who is not in the same stratosphere as Stephenson, a menace on ball defender. Part of why the Pacers were such a defensive juggernaut was because they relied so heavily on a unit that had no weak links. If Stuckey is in fact plugged in that unit, that will no longer be the case. His speed does not translate into lateral quickness fighting screens and he often died picks even without contact from the big. Pick-and-rolls accounted for almost a third of his defense and opponents shot 46%. Stuckey often took two steps inside the lane on the weak-side and didn’t recover to closeout on shooters with enough effort. Opponents he was guarding hit 38.7% of 111 attempts on spot-ups. Maybe he was coached to overhelp like that, in which case it will be easily corrected in Indiana thanks to Roy Hibbert’s presence. Nonetheless, Detroit allowed fewer points per possession without him on the floor each of the last two seasons.
Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.