It's on the 'House
In leading resurgent Detroit, Jerry Stackhouse has learned the joys of passing
When Pistons shooting guard Jerry Stackhouse talks about the recent changes in his life, he sounds as if he has found religion. The truth is that he's learned how to pass and how to lead.
Last Thursday at New Jersey, Detroit was trailing 78-77 with two minutes remaining when backup point guard Damon Jones dished to Stackhouse. Instead of forcing a three-pointer over 6'7" Richard Jefferson, Stackhouse zipped the ball back to Jones, whose wide-open three from the corner gave the Pistons a lead they wouldn't relinquish in an 85-80 victory. "Last year I probably would have taken that shot," says Stackhouse. "I didn't used to feel this way, but I care as much about making an assist now as scoring a bucket."
Stackhouse is content with his scoring average of 23.0 points-down 6.8 points from last season—because at week's end the Pistons were 28-22, nine games ahead of their 2000-01 pace. Detroit had also won six straight on the road, its best streak in 12 seasons. At the heart of the team's success is the 6'6" Stackhouse, who was leading the Pistons with 5.2 assists per game, the third-best average among NBA shooting guards. "His all-around game has [risen] to an amazingly high level," says 76ers coach Larry Brown, who dealt Stackhouse to Detroit four seasons ago.
Much of the credit for Stack-house's ascent goes to rookie coach Rick Carlisle, who had developed a reputation for aloofness as an assistant with the Pacers. After Indiana passed over him and hired Isiah Thomas last season, Carlisle became a part-time broadcaster in Seattle and a full-time student of coaching, learning the importance of having close relationships with the players, especially with the stars. "I told Rick that Jerry is not unreasonable and not uncoachable," says Detroit CM. Joe Dumars, who played 1� seasons with Stackhouse. "He was a good person who really needed direction and guidance."
Last May, the day after Dumars hired Carlisle, the new coach spent more than two hours conveying to Stackhouse his vision of a ball-sharing team. "It was like an oral exam, the way Rick was picking my brain," recalls Stackhouse, 27. "My first reaction was, How many teams really use everybody!"
Playing Carlisle's way, the Pistons—who were picked by SI to finish 14th in the East—got off to a 14-6 start. When they dropped 12 of their next 14, however, Stackhouse's many critics were sure he would revert to his old shoot-first form. Instead he continued to spread the wealth and at week's end had taken the Pistons on a 12-4 run that placed them a game behind the Bucks for the best record in the Central Division. "Once the pressure was on, he responded extremely well," says Heat coach Pat Riley. "He's making plays, he's unselfish, he's a better defender, he's a better outside shooter, and we already knew he could slash and score."
Despite his improved all-around play, Stackhouse, a two-time Ail-Star in his more selfish days, wasn't chosen for this year's squad. "That's a bad message to send," says Trail Blazers guard Steve Kerr, who rates Stackhouse with Vince Carter and Michael Finley among wing players, a cut below Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Tracy McGrady.
Stackhouse hopes to make the league pay by advancing in the playoffs for the first time in his career. The grinding, defensive-minded Pistons stand out in the underachieving East, where the Bucks, Raptors and Sixers have more talent but show less passion. Stackhouse's 35.8 minutes per game are 4.4 fewer than last season, which allows him to burn more energy at the defensive end. Despite a groin injury he suffered in November, Stackhouse says, "For the first time I feel like I'm getting stronger each month."
Carlisle calls the majority of the plays in order to dictate tempo and make sure the scoring is shared. That's fine with Stack, who says he limits his freelancing to "like, one play each half," then gets more freedom from Carlisle to take control over the final three minutes when the game is close. "I've bought into numbers," he says. "Rick has statistics showing that when we move the ball from side to side, our scoring percentages are off the charts."