Rodney Stuckey proves he's a keeper

Pacers' reserve guard has excelled with his new team after someone with his previous organization bad-mouthed him.

Rodney Stuckey has found a home with the Indiana Pacers, although the reserve guard is convinced someone from his previous team tried to jeopardize his eighth-year NBA career.

Seven seasons with the Detroit Pistons had ended badly in a sixth consecutive losing season, after which Stuckey says a team executive bad-mouthed the free agent to other teams.

“I think a lot of people were questioning my character, you know, 'Oh, he's not a good teammate.' This and that. That and this,” Stuckey said. “I'm a great guy. I'm very humble. I come to work each and every day, do what I have to do, and do my business.

“It was just unfortunate, I'm not going to say no names but I know who it was, it was just unfortunate for that person to throw me underneath the bus.”

He didn’t hesitate when asked if the person was with the Pistons.

“Absolutely. Absolutely, which, it's not professional, but at the same time you've got to take what it is,” he said. “Everybody knows what type of person I am. You can ask each and every one of these guys. I'm a team-first guy, I'm very polite and I'm very humble, and that's how I've always been.”

The Pacers (30-35) have learned they can count on Stuckey, 28, who last month unselfishly asked head coach Frank Vogel to use him off the bench. That allowed him to flourish with the second unit while point guard George Hill kept the starters together. Typically at game’s end, both are on floor.

Stuckey averages 13.1 points per game, second on a balanced team to Hill’s 14.5. But he was scorching hot during the team’s seven-game winning streak, averaging 19.4 points per game, hitting 50 percent of his 3-pointers (13-of-26) and 48 percent of his shots overall (49-of-102).

“I don’t know if this is the best he’s ever played in his career,” Vogel said after Stuckey scored a season-high 34 points last Tuesday, “but it’s got to be close if it’s not.”

The Pacers’ bench has outscored the opposition in 49 games with a league-leading 42 points per game. The reserves, who also include forward Luis Scola, guard C.J. Watson and center Ian Mahinmi, are also No. 1 in rebounding at 19.9 per game.

“He’s obviously given us a huge lift,” Vogel said.

Not the opposition’s bench has the scoring advantage, the Pacers are just 3-13. That, in part, contributed to the winning streak coming to an end Saturday night.

Stuckey chose the Pacers because he wanted to play with two-time All-Star Paul George. Roles changed dramatically after George broke two bones in his lower right leg on Aug. 1. Stuckey was used as a starter, had his own injury issues, then eventually started coming off the bench. The Pacers are 13-3 since Feb. 4 and surged into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff chase for one of the last of eight berths.

In the first half of Monday’s home game against the Toronto Raptors, Stuckey already assured himself of scoring in double digits for the ninth consecutive game with 10 points.

“I think it’s just a matter of him being comfortable with this team and this culture and this locker room and these surroundings,” Vogel said.

Stuckey’s decision to join the Pacers in a one-year deal wasn’t about money. He wanted to play for a winner with a proven track record of giving players a chance to flourish.

“I was just worrying about a good situation, a situation where I thought was best for me to be able to play and stuff like that,” he said. “This situation right here I thought was best, playing alongside a guy like P.G. and (David) West and G. Hill and those guys, and seeing the type of success they've been having over the past couple of years, I wanted to be a part of this. That's why I came here.”

Now that he’s made a difference, he would still like to experience playing alongside George, who has been practicing with the team and hopes to return before season’s end. If that doesn’t happen, Stuckey is adamant about wanting to return next season.

“I'm going to be here,” he said. “When that time comes, we'll definitely figure something out.”

And Vogel wants Stuckey to stay.

“I love it here, man,” Stuckey said. “I'm staying in the city, close to everything. I love it here. My family loves it here. I love the people in this organization. Definitely, I want to come back. That's a no-brainer. Having a guy like Paul George here, of course I want to come play with an All-Star. Who doesn't? Definitely want to be back here.”

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.


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