Here's your new fan fave: P.J. Tucker!
Tucker is smaller than Louis Amundson (6-foot-6 vs. 6-foot-8), stockier, doesn't block shots and has much better hands. They don't even play the same position (Lou is a PF/C while Tucker is a SF/PF). Their strengths and weaknesses are really different. But they are both scrappy, both like to make a difference down low, and both are too small to be effective for long stretches at a time.
"First and foremost," Tucker, 27, and five years removed from his first NBA stint, said to Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic after signing, "I'm going to help the young guys and always be a positive voice in the locker room. I look at myself as a defensive player first but I can rebound and handle the ball."
"I love P.J.," Suns summer coach Dan Majerle, once one of the scrappiest NBA players himself, said in July. "He's right after my own heart. That guy plays extremely hard. He does everything you ask of him."
Which simply means that Suns fans, in moments of frustration with the effort level of Beasley and Johnson, will clamor repeatedly to #freepjtucker.
"I just stick my neck out and play hard," Tucker told Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic. "I never let anyone outwork me."
So who is this P.J. Tucker? And if he's so good, why hasn't he played in the NBA in five years?
Tucker was drafted 35th overall in 2006 by Toronto but rarely played. Toronto's forwards were Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani (#1 overall rookie), Morris Peterson and Euro vet Jorge Garbajosa. The Raptors won 47 games that year, a year after winning only 27. Tucker just didn't get the minutes. He tells us himself what went wrong.
"It's been a long, grueling journey, but it's fulfilling," Tucker said. "I was so resentful in Toronto because I wasn't playing much. I was throwing fits. I was so young-minded. I didn't get the big picture or that it's a business. You have to understand your role on a team. You see kids come after you and do the same thing. So many never play and say they got screwed by the GM or coach. When you can be real with yourself and understand why, that's really when it comes to life."
Tucker attitude could come in handy on this youngish Suns squad that now boasts a couple of high draft picks (Beasley and Johnson) who have just not panned out yet in the NBA.
"The way I look at it now, I've grown up so much since then as a pro. It's unbelievable," Tucker told Ridiculous Upside last spring.
"I'm one of the real-est players there is with myself. So until guys can become real with themselves and look at their careers and ask, ‘where did I mess up,' it's only then that they can admit they could have handled a situation better. That way, going forward you know how the make the most out of each situation."
Will Beasley and Johnson listen to Tucker, a likely bit-player scrapping for minutes behind them on the depth chart? Only time will tell.
Tucker is a burly forward, a little short for his ideal PF position. Here's the draftexpress.com profile of Tucker in 2006.
If you can get past the fact that he is at least 2-3 inches undersized, Tucker has very good physical attributes. Unlike most players, though, he uses his to the fullest extent at all times. Tucker has an NBA ready frame and a super-hero's build, with very soft and strong hands, great upper and lower body strength, and a superb wingspan. He has a powerful first step and very solid ability to get off the ground and finish strong at the basket.
Defensively, Tucker is again tough as nails, fundamentally strong and absolutely tenacious due to his outstanding motor. He's not the most experienced perimeter defender, but will usually give his matchup hell regardless just because of the way he plays. As a rebounder is where he truly shines, going after every ball as if it was his last, and displaying superb timing and hands.
Read more at draftexpress.com
Tucker just couldn't get minutes in Toronto ahead of Bosh, Bargnani, Peterson and Garbajosa, and with a non-guaranteed contract he was one of the first out the door. As he said above, he wasn't the best locker-room guy or "team" guy back then.
But since then, Tucker has changed and figured out how to contribute to any team he joins. Hear former Sun Casey Jacobsen talk about Tucker. Sure appears that Tucker changed since being disappointed in Toronto.
"Of all my teammates that I've had, P.J. seamlessly integrated himself into the lineup and did so by doing all the little things and then eventually became the star of the team," said Jacobsen, who was a Brose Baskets Bamberg road roommate with Tucker. "Ten games into the season, it was clear that P.J. was our best player. He came to play every game or practice. The thing that I like most about him is he doesn't require you to run plays for him. He doesn't yell, 'Get me the ball.' He just found a way to be efficient and productive. Those are the kind of teammates that don't come along very often. What P.J. can do and the attitude he has is abnormal."
That's the kind of guy the Suns need.
And the kind of guy that will have Suns fans chanting "Free P.J. Tucker!"
Find lots of love for PJ Tucker on twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/search/pj%20tucker?q=pj+tucker
Choice one, from this week: