This isn’t what Joe Dumars had in mind when he signed them. It can’t be what owner Tom Gores is expecting for the money he’s paying them.
But it’s possible the Pistons – and coach Lawrence Frank — finally have found the right fit for two of the team’s overpaid, underperforming players: guard Rodney Stuckey and forward Charlie Villanueva. And that’s a big reason why the Pistons finally might be hitting their stride, winning five of eight and four in a row at home, including Wednesday night’s 117-77 rout of the Phoenix Suns.
For Stuckey, having ceded his starting role to rookie Kyle Singler, it’s back at point guard, leading a second unit that also features Villanueva, who didn’t play at all in nine of the first 11 games, at power forward. Wednesday against the Suns, in the second full game with this new rotation, those two combined for 37 points – on just 16 shots – along with 11 rebounds and six assists.
“I think they both played well,” Frank said. “Charlie’s played three very good games, and it’s not just the shot-making — it’s the other things. And I think Rodney, two games in a row he’s played with very, very good intensity. He put a lot of pressure on the defense with his backdowns and post-ups. … He’s just playing with force. His intensity there, you can feel it – it’s very tangible.”
The players can feel it, too. And it shows, with Stuckey doing what he does best – attacking the rim and getting to the free-throw line (10-of-11 against the Suns) and an energized Villanueva doing what he does best. Nine of his 18 made field goals the last three games were three-pointers.
With those two on the floor, along with rookie center Andre Drummond, it’s a second unit that can legitimately create matchup problems. There was a pretty pick-and-roll alley-oop from Stuckey to Drummond to start the second quarter, and then a run in which Stuckey, using his size and strength at the point, and Villanueva combined for 11 of 13 points as the Pistons’ bench turned a first-quarter tie into a double-digit halftime lead.
“It changes it a lot,” Stuckey said. “Other teams gotta respect that (Villanueva) is a pick-and-pop player – he’s a knock-down three-point shooter – and it opens up the lane so much. So it’s pick your poison. Dre’s in there to do the dirty work, pick-and-roll and roll to the basket and throw the ball up to him and whatnot. …
“We’re just trying to experiment with the second unit, just see what’s working. We had a really good night tonight. We’ve just got to build off this now.”
This experiment won’t work like that every night, obviously. The Suns were about as awful as a team can be Wednesday, playing their third game in four nights. And this weekend’s road swing throughMemphis and Dallas figures to be a good reality check, in that regard.
But, hey, at least it’s something, right? Even if they are $8 million-a-year backups now, at least Frank has them contributing, not sitting or sulking.