After the return of Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey to the Detroit Pistons‘ lineup, there is much talk about the noticeable absence of the team’s top draft pick, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, from the rotation against the Boston Celtics on Sunday night. It’s clear that Pistons fans are longing to see what Detroit has in the 6-foot-5 shooting guard that GM Joe Dumars passed on a local favorite (Trey Burke) for.
After a preseason of mixed results, KCP played well against the Memphis Grizzlies, playing 18 minutes off the bench and scoring 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the field and a perfect 1-for-1 and 4-for-4 from the three point and free throw lines, respectively. It was an impressive performance for a rookie facing one of the league’s better defenses in only his second regular season game. After that outing, many fans thought Caldwell-Pope should have seen the lion’s share of minutes off the bench against Boston instead of longtime Pistons disappointment Stuckey.
The thing the current Stuckey detractors fail to acknowledge is the fact that KCP played rather poorly, at least offensively, against the Washington Wizards in the opener, and that Stuckey played significantly better than everyone in a Pistons jersey against the Grizzlies. It’s not as if the rest of the Pistons played poorly against Memphis either. Stuckey was efficient as he attacked the rim and took and made good shots. The team was playing noticeably better while he was on the floor that night. If I was coach Maurice Cheeks and I had to choose between Caldwell-Pope and Stuckey to play after the Memphis game, I wouldn’t hesitate to go with Stuckey.
It’s a small sample size, but we can break it down statistically and show that Stuckey has been the superior player through two games. Refer to the following table:
Player G MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% TRB AST STL PTS Caldwell-Pope 2 22.5 4.0 9.5 .421 0.5 2.0 .250 2.5 3.0 .833 0.5 1.5 1.0 11.0 Stuckey 2 25.5 4.5 9.0 .500 0.5 2.0 .250 5.0 6.0 .833 2.0 1.0 2.0 14.5
Perhaps Pistons fans know better, though. They’ve been here before. They’ve seen Stuckey go on a tear for five game stretches that makes him look like the future All-Star the organization thought they had in 2008, only to watch him stink it up and make selfish decisions for the next 15 contests. The problem here, however, is that Cheeks has been in Detroit for only a few short months. On top of that, Stuckey has experience. Even if he is just an average player in the league, Stuckey knows the NBA game at a level KCP probably can’t even begin to understand yet. If you’re a coach whose job relies on the performance of his players, it’s a pretty easy decision to make.
Regardless of who is playing better, the fact remains that the season has barely begun. We really don’t know what we’re going to get from either player at this point. Either player could fall to Earth and post terrible numbers the remainder of the season. Stuckey could be getting minutes simply because the Pistons are essentially auditioning him for their trade suitors. Perhaps Cheeks is still experimenting with his rotations.
It’s too early to make any firm assumptions at this point. Caldwell-Pope will get his chances. The Pistons finally have more talent than they know what to do with, and it’s going to take some work to get it all on the court in the best manner possible. Let’s have a little patience before we start criticizing moves and making assumptions about who’s the better player. We’re only three games in for crying out loud.