Alando Tucker, the Suns second year understudy to the back up shooting guard, has not had a consistent opportunity to contribute on the court but that hasn't stopped him from finding a niche on the practice floor and in the veteran-filled locker room.
Tucker has logged the least minutes of any Suns player that has been with the team all season and is one of the few bench players that has yet to make a noticeable impact with his play. Despite that and some frustration with an early season injury that derailed a great summer league and preseason, Alando remains focused on his game and his other role on the team: sidekick to The Big Introducer.
I talked to Alando Tucker last week after Suns practice.
Tucker on this style of play
Coming into the NBA the scouting reports accurately predicted Tucker's exceptional shot selection and court awareness. I had the chance to watch Alando closely this past summer in Las Vegas where he was clearly the best Suns player on the floor and was very impressed with how he worked with his team mates and was willing to take big shots but never forced anything or looked to pad his stats.
I asked Tucker about this aspect of his game and he responded saying,
"It's kind of just the way I play. I learned to slow everything down playing through all my years in college. It's one of the things that's a positive for me and I just make sure I use that when I get on the court."
After watching a flashier player like Barbosa Suns fans might not be used to Tucker's less aggressive game and at some point he might be encouraged to take on more of the scoring load. For now though, on this Suns team loaded with experienced and talented scorers he's rightly been focused on his defense and moving the ball. He picks his spots wisely for the situation but at some point will need to prove that he can be a second or third option on the second unit to solidify his place in this league.
Tucker on his transition to the pro game
Tucker's NBA story has been about the transition from a post player in a slow down system in Wisconsin where he used his 38 inch vertical and exceptional athleticism and toughness to put up 19 points per game in the final two years of his five year college career (he was red shirted with a foot injury his sophomore season). He's now solidly established as a two guard playing behind Jason Richardson and Leandro Barbosa.
I asked Alando about his transition from a post player to a perimeter player. Tucker said,
"When I was in Wisconsin our style was me posting up and me doing things from 15 feet and in. I like to say that I can adjust to anything because I put in the work. I think the coaching staff here and weight training staff knows that I put in the work to try and get better. Every time I step on the court or every time I practice I try and work on different things the coaches tell me I need to improve to help the team. That's what I try to be. Adjustable."
Tucker is shooting 40% from three this year despite an unorthodox release and flat arc on his shot. Off the dribble he's shown the ability to absorb contact and finish and due to his college experience as a power forward has an advantage in the post over most players he will match up against. He has shown flashes of being able to use screens or a hard cross over to beat his man and get up a mid-range shot off the dribble.
He should continue to work on his outside shooting and defensive awareness mostly what Tucker needs is floor time.
Tucker on playing with the Suns bench
Tuck, as he's called by his team mates and coaches appreciates the opportunity to play with the other Suns reserves and practice against the big name starters on the team. I asked him what it was like playing with the other Suns bench players.
"For me it's been tough trying to get back from this knee injury and surgery to try and get my confidence back. I am constantly building it in practice. We take it to these starters everyday and when you get a chance to go against Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Shaq, Amare when he was here, Jason Richardson every day you build confidence because those are super stars in this league. It builds confidence for young players like our selves to step out and play against any other competition in the league."
That confidence and experience will be important for Tucker next season as he plays out the final guaranteed year of his rookie contract. The Suns have a team option for 2010/11 season and the right to match a qualify offer in 2011/12.
Tucker on Shaq
When Suns fans read Alando's blog post on Suns.com they learned about a very unique person who responded to a difficult environment in an admirable way. We learned in this post about the man's character and we were impressed.
What we've learned since then is more about Alando's comical personality which has earned him a position under Shaq's big wing.
"I grew up watching this guy [Shaq] all the time. I had his posters hanging in my room. He's taken me under his wing right now. He's constantly pulling me to the side and telling me things about how to score or how to be productive on the court. I listen to a guy like that because he's won four championships"
On the surface it might seem like an unlikely pairing but as Tucker's personality has had a chance to come out a bit more of late it starts to make more sense.
"He's a funny guy. Me and him click automatically. We're both jokesters. That relationship started kind of going back and forth playing pranks on each other. He's a good guy. I definitely admire the things he does in community. He knows that I am trying to learn and I want to get better. He's been there helping me out."
Alando Tucker is unique in another way among his fellow young players. He's a college graduate and a communication major. I've long felt that Shaq is very deliberate in what he does and how he promotes himself so I asked Alando to call on his education and first hand experience with his big mentor and tell me his thoughts on Shaq's media relation skills.
"Everything with him is well thought out. He's a king at keeping his face in the media's eye and doing things as far as staying in the public's eye. He's a king at that. He thinks of a few points he wants to make every time before he steps out in the media. When you think of what everybody's going to bring, some points you're going to hit it makes it easier for you to know and then his jokes, he tells his punch lines every time. He's great for that. He's one of the guys people need to look at as far as how to stay in the media and how to answer questions."
I predicted last summer that Tucker would have a breakout sophomore season and I believe if he hadn't been injured during the same time early in the year that Leandro was away from the team due to his mother's passing that he would have. Tucker had a fantastic summer league and led the Suns in scoring in the preseason until his knee injury. He was on track to step up and show the league he was ready to be a rotation player.
The season didn't played out that way for Tucker although he did score 16 points in his one and only start this year. Playing behind Barbosa and Richardson he understandably has not earned the playing time needed to develop his game.
Over these past few weeks with Barbosa side-lined he's played well but in comparison to the break out performances from Dudley and even Dragic has not stood out. I have a hard time faulting him for that though as his nature is not to step in front of his team mates which isn't to say he's afraid to shoot the ball either. He's a guy that's going to need consistent minutes over an extended period to really show what he can do on both ends of the floor at this level.
If you look at Jared Dudley it took several months of consistently getting little bits of time before Amare's injury and then getting more time after before he's only recently got to the point of being a real force off the bench on both ends of the floor. I believe that given a similar opportunity Tucker would have developed more as well. The great thing about Tucker is that he doesn't seem to mind at all. He's enjoying his job and unlike some players doesn't need the lime light to be happy.
Alando Tucker doesn't expect to be a big name player in the NBA but he should have a solid career ahead of him. He has the perfect mentality for a role player combining unselfishness, hard work and a positive attitude that makes him a net plus in the locker room. As he gets more experience and matures I have no problem seeing him as a team leader from the bench.
I could be wrong of course and with increased playing time Tucker might be exposed as over matched at this level. I doubt it, but if it happens that way don't worry about Alando Tucker. He has great potential and in 20 years will be looking back at a very productive career regardless of the profession.
Here's edited audio. I cut this into clips that match the order the quotes appear in the article