AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Perhaps Rodney Stuckey merits a coaching salary in addition to his playing salary.
After missing the Nov. 14 game in Philadelphia with an illness and watching his team earn its first victory of the season with Kyle Singler in the lineup, Stuckey had a suggestion for coach Lawrence Frank. The idea was to start Singler and have Stuckey come off the bench.
Since then, the Pistons are 4-3 and seem to have discovered a second unit that is clicking and complementing the starting group. It’s not going to work every game as perfectly as it did in Wednesday night’s 117-77 drubbing of the Phoenix Suns, but it’s something to build upon, as numerous players and Frank said.
“We’re just trying to experiment with the second unit and see what was working,” Stuckey said. “We made some minor adjustments. Charlie’s (Villanueva) coming off the bench now and he’s been helping us phenomenally. We just gotta continue to build on this.”
Villanueva scored a team-high 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting in Wednesday’s win — Brandon Knight also finished with 19 points. Since joining the second unit mix the last three games, Villanueva has scored 17, 10 and now 19 points. Villanueva also had six rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot.
Stuckey had 18 points with five rebounds, four assists, a steal and a blocked shot with zero turnovers.
“It definitely helps us out a lot when you’ve got guys coming off the bench and play how well they played,” Knight said. “It really lifted us up. You’re talking about the offensive end but those guys really got after it on the defensive end as well, really stepped it up on that side. They played with energy and it translated to them having a great game. I gotta congratulate both of those guys.”
After the game, veteran Corey Maggette congratulated all of his teammates, gathering them on the court for a quick message.
“We’ve never done that before but Corey being one of our veteran leaders wanted to bring it in and tell us how proud he was of how we’ve been playing,” rookie Andre Drummond said. “We’ve got a two-game winning streak right now so we’ve just got to keep it up and not let this game get us because we’ve got a lot more work to do.”
Drummond had six points, nine rebounds, a steal and two blocked shots.
After a decent first quarter in which they shot 60 percent, the Suns looked like a tired team. They shot 34 percent for the game with just 11 assists, while turning the ball over 19 times.
Suns coach Alvin Gentry, a former Pistons coach, did not mince his words when it came to his team’s performance.
“I wish there were an easier way to put it but we sucked in all phases of the game,” Gentry said. “There was nothing that we did that you could say was even NCAA quality. It’s the first game that I can say that I didn’t think we competed hard and didn’t try to match their energy level. We’ve got to move on but that was, it was beyond embarrassing.
“I don’t want to take anything away from those guys (the Pistons) because they played great. They did a great job, they shared the ball, they did a good job of executing their offense. But at the end of the day, we can’t do what we did to ourselves.”
The young Pistons seem to be determined to not repeat earlier mistakes. They’ve had double-digit leads before — albeit not 40-point leads — and let tired teams hang around enough to come back and win.
“Just learning from those times,” Knight said. “You watch the Milwaukee-Chicago game recently where Milwaukee was down 27 and came back and won. It was so recent that it was fresh in our minds as well. Coach made a point about that our last practice. Just thinking about things like that around the NBA, knowing that we were kind of in a similar situation, so just making sure we close it out.”
The Pistons have won four consecutive games at home and improved to 5-11 overall. But as Drummond said, they’ve still got more work to do.
“We’ve started to put together better play at home, now we have to take the show on the road against two of the better teams,” Frank said. “One that’s arguably the best team in the Western Conference (Memphis) and a Dallas team that’s very good.”