If someone were to sit you down and explain to you what it is this series is about, you could be excused for thinking that P.J. Tucker would be the perfect sort of guy for it. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how much I liked him. Or, more importantly, how much I believed in him as a legitimate rotation player. A second round pick of the Raptors in 2006, Tucker played 83 minutes over 17 games before being waived in March 2007. He even played in the D-League, starting 12 games for the Colorado 14ers, then Toronto’s affiliate. After leaving Toronto, Tucker went on a five year European odyssey, playing in Israel, Ukraine, Israel again, Greece, Italy, Puerto Rico, and Germany before opting out of a contract in Russia to take another shot at the NBA in Summer League 2012 with the Phoenix Suns.
In 79 games (45 of them starts) for the Suns last season, Tucker posted per 36 minute averages of 9.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.2 steals on .473/.314/.744 shooting from the field, with a TS% .525 and an eFG% of .498. Hardly world-beating numbers, but as a guy brought in for defensive and energy-generating purposes, it was good enough to ensure his return for 2013-14. When considering that the 2012-13 Suns were a bad defensive team by any metric, Tucker even being an average defensive player would be a net positive. This was a team with the third worst point differential in the NBA last season. His flaw was his relative inability to shoot, specifically from the corners (15-48 on the season), where swingmen make their hay in today’s NBA. After electing to play on Phoenix’s LVSL team, which he ended up leading to the championship game, Tucker came into this season facing a much bigger role as the starting small forward and one of the veteran leaders of a squad poised to again be one of the worst in the league.
After 20 games, all of which Tucker has started, the Suns sit at 3rd in the Pacific division and 9th in the Western Conference, half a game out of a playoff spot. Under Jeff Hornacek, P.J. Tucker has transformed into a deadly three point shooter, shooting .500 on the season, and a whopping 24-46 from the corners. He’s rebounding at a similar rate, and while he’s still a very limited finisher inside due to his relative lack of athleticism, his shots in the paint seems to come primarily off of putbacks and cuts, shots every growing young energy guy needs. He’s 28 years old, so it stands to reason that if he can keep up a good pace from the corners, he can leverage this into a few years as a reasonably effective NBA role player, which is a damn sight better outlook than he had just three short years ago. Saying that hard work pays off is the king of cliches, but it’s hard to argue against the truth of it in this case.