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November 8, 2012
Stuckey's Slump
A Historically Slow Start

by Kevin Pelton

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Rodney Stuckey probably wishes this NBA season had started late because of a lockout, because early October and November haven't gone so well for the Detroit Pistons guard. During his team's first three games of the year, Stuckey made just one shot in 23 attempts.

To put Stuckey's slump in historic perspective, I used the context of SCHOENE's projections that Stuckey would make 43.7 percent of his two-point attempts and 29.7 percent of his three-point attempts this season. Based on those, and binomial probability theory, we can generate the following chart describing his start:

Shot     P     N    Avg    SD   Act  Act%   Z-S
-----------------------------------------------
2P     .437   16    7.0   2.0    1   .063   3.0
3P     .297    7    2.1   1.2    0   .000   1.7
All    .394   23    9.1   2.3    1   .043   3.4

Given his expected performance on twos and threes (P), Stuckey should have been expected to make about nine (Avg.) of his first 23 shots (N). That he actually made just one put him a remarkable 3.4 standard deviations worse than the mean (Z-score). For context, events that are normally distributed--and players' shots generally fall into this category, with the caveat that the opposing defense means they are not entirely independent--will fall at least three standard deviations outside the mean only about 0.3 percent of the time. Stuckey's shooting fell even farther beyond this typical range. He would be expected to shoot so poorly about once every 3,500 sets of 23 shots--basically, once in his career thus far.

In practice, Stuckey had never shot quite this poorly. Basketball-Reference.com tracks shot-by-shot performance, so I was able to figure out how many shots Stuckey had made over every 23-shot period during his seven NBA seasons. He's had a couple of 3-of-23 stretches, but never made just two before, let alone only one out of 23 shots. So this stretch would have stood out at any point of the season. That it came at the start only reinforced how poorly Stuckey is shooting, since it's tanked his season stats.

By making two shots in six attempts Wednesday against the Kings, Stuckey improved his shooting percentage all the way to 17.4 percent--still the worst mark by any player with at least 25 attempts. Nobody else in the league is shooting worse than 25 percent.

If we run the same math on Stuckey's full season to date, his performance looks ever so slightly more normal.

Shot     P     N    Avg    SD   Act  Act%   Z-S
-----------------------------------------------
2P     .437   30   13.1   2.7    5   .167   3.0
3P     .297   16    4.8   1.8    3   .188   1.0
All    .388   46   17.9   3.3    8   .174   3.0

Both Stuckey's two-point percentage and his overall shooting percentage remain three standard deviations removed from his average performance over this number of shots. Carrying out the math, he should shoot so poorly about once in every 721 groups of 46 shot attempts--more or less once a season. In practice, he had never been so bad over 46 shots. His worst stretch was 9-of-46 shooting as a rookie.

For Stuckey and the Pistons, what's more important than the low likelihood of his shooting to date is what it indicates about his performance going forward. It's worth noting that even if Stuckey was making twos and threes at his projected rate, his shooting percentage (38.8 percent) would be the lowest of his NBA career, and substantially worse than the 42.9 percent he shot last season. This reflects a troubling change in Stuckey's shot selection. More than a third of his shot attempts have been threes, up from about 1 in 6 in 2011-12 and 1 in 9 the year before that.

Watching through all of Stuckey's shot attempts this season thanks to mySynergySports.com, I wonder if his early struggles didn't cause him to become gunshy offensively. In particular, Stuckey had a tough time finishing at the rim in the season opener against the Houston Rockets, missing three of his four tries per Hoopdata.com. Since then, Stuckey has just three shot attempts at the rim in the last four games total (missing all three). So while his three-point tries are up, his more effective two-point tries are down. That's a problematic combination.

Beyond that, Stuckey just doesn't seem as aggressive overall. During his first five games of the season, Stuckey has attempted six field goals twice and seven one other time. Last year, Stuckey took so few shots about once every four games; so far it's three out of five. This can be traced in part to Brandon Knight having the ball in his hands more frequently during his second NBA campaign, but Stuckey appears to be a different player. It's only natural that a shooting slump might have affected Stuckey's mindset. He's also dealing with an ear infection and migraines, per teammate Corey Maggette, which might explain his difficulty finishing. In time, Stuckey should be able to get back to normal and put this terrible start to the season behind him.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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