BY VINCENT GOODWILL THE DETROIT NEWS
Auburn Hills — Observing Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey is often a study in perfect contrast between his on-court style, so-called reputation and his soft-spoken demeanor.
On the floor, Stuckey is aggressive, sometimes on the verge of reckless as he craves contact, thrusting his 200-pound frame toward bigger and stronger defenders.
Off it, he appears to be more comfortable in his own skin for the first time in a long time, no longer burdened by expectations or drama, ready to start his sixth NBA campaign with a clear head and sound body.
"Stuck has transformed completely, especially since moving him to the off-guard spot," said backup guard Will Bynum, who's been Stuckey's teammate since the 2008-09 season, Stuckey's first as a starter.
"I think he's always been comfortable with his talent but playing the point guard early, you have to be in charge of yourself first and then direct grown men in position to score. You have to have the right personality."
Stuckey's persona has never appeared to be an outsized presence, one who commands attention. He's always preferred to blend in with the crowd and although he's arguably the Pistons' best two-way player, perhaps he's in his best position to succeed.
It's not that the pressure is off Stuckey; it's that he doesn't have to carry the burden alone of being "The Man," which is what he was tagged as four years ago when Chauncey Billups was traded.
"Chauncey's an excellent player and a better person. Plus, he won a title here," Bynum said. "It's an unfair expectation. Stuckey is his own man and creates his own expectations."
Now, there's a sense of calmness surrounding the 26-year-old Washington native. Well, calm as long as you're not guarding him, standing between the 6-foot-5 guard and the rim.
"Once you have more experience under your belt, you feel more calm and collected," Stuckey said. "I feel now I know how the game is going to go as far as pace and what spots I need to get to."
Never was that approach more evident than in March. Stuckey played like a top-flight shooting guard on both ends of the floor. The directions and expectations were clear: attack and we'll figure out everything else later.
"Just being aggressive," Stuckey said. "I was doing what I wanted to do out there. My main focus is to be more consistent through the season, all 82 games."
He said the ultimate key to the stretch, where he averaged 20.3 points and 4.8 assists, all while shooting 49 percent from the field and 41 from 3-point range, was being healthy, a tough task considering his bruising style.
He admits to learning more about himself as his NBA journey continues, not succumbing to frustration or rebelling against his coach, criticisms leveled during his time in Detroit. Mentally, he said, he's more in-tune than ever.
"If coach gets on me, it's none of that putting my head down and getting mad," Stuckey said. "It's taking it in and listening to what they have to say and trying to get better at it. I really am getting better at it."
During one stoppage of play in the preseason, Pistons coach Lawrence Frank pulled Stuckey aside and got on him for making a bad play. Stuckey put his arm around Frank and seconds later, both were laughing as play resumed, a sight that would've been impossible to imagine in previous years.
"We all make mistakes, it's how you bounce back from them," Stuckey said "That's what I'm trying to do, instead of turning those into negative thoughts, I'm trying to be positive and turning it into a better outcome."
Stuckey saw a psychologist before last season, which he said helped clear his mind and he also was given some summer reading from Frank, a book called "The Energy Bus" by Jon Gordon.
"It's a really good book, it's about being positive," Stuckey said. "He gave it to the majority of us. It's giving you different situations and dealing with different kinds of people. It was really helpful."
The one word Frank repeatedly used to describe Stuckey was the one people have been clamoring for once they saw how much talent he possesses: consistency.
"He's demonstrated good leadership skills with action and talk," Frank said. "He's very sharp, very engaged. He's committed on defense, attacked on offense. He's been very coachable. I really like him and the direction he's going."
Stuckey very quietly can take the next step and turn into an elite shooting guard this season. "It's all about being confident and staying at your own pace," he said. "If it's not me scoring 15 or 20 points a game, I'm trying to help my team out in different ways. We all have high expectations."