Generally, hearing the name P.J. Tucker mentioned in trade talks doesn’t exactly perk your interest. In the fantasy circles, Tucker gets ignored in all but the deepest of leagues. Why? Tucker is the starting small forward on a playoff team in the Western Conference (and one that plays over 30 minutes per game). There has to be a reason his team values him so highly yet his game doesn’t translate to fantasy. Why is it some players are just better real life players? I wanted to take a look at some of Tucker’s aspects that go underappreciated amongst those that just read box scores at the end of every night.
Defensive win shares is a statistic commonly overlooked by the common NBA fan/fantasy owner. Basketball reference defines defensive win shares as an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense. So far, we are around 51 games into the season for most teams. The NBA’s leader in defensive win shares to this point is Roy Hibbert with 4.5. By himself, Hibbert has won the Pacers 4.5 games due to his stellar defensive prowess. Tucker, the focus of the article, isn’t quite on that level of a defensive standout. Tucker’s DWS totals 1.5 which ranks him tied for 71st in the NBA. Surprisingly, he actually ranks higher than generally accepted lock down defender Mike Conley. While admittedly not elite, top 85 is certainly beyond usable. There are approximately 450 active players in the NBA at any given time. By that train of thought, Tucker in the top 16% of defensive players. Take for example this highlight reel which begins with Paul Pierce passing out of the post due to Tucker’s presence:
Little disturbances like these do not show up in the box score.
Furthermore, if you keep watching the video, you’ll see a variety of hustle plays throughout that specific game. Tucker isn’t quite Joakim Noah in terms of energy, but he’s not far behind. Due to his lack of elite talent, he has to make up for it by going up hard for every board and just overall hustling every play. "Hustle" technically doesn’t show up in any metric, but it certainly helps increase his team’s chances of winning. As for overall win shares, Tucker ranks even higher than defense alone. Tucker ties for 62nd overall in total win shares, putting him 0.1 WS below players like Andre Iguodala and Greg Monroe. According to my math, that puts Tucker in the top 14% of players in terms of contributing to his team’s wins. Wow. Iggy/Monroe are excellent NBA players and according to statistics, Tucker has essentially contributed to the same amount of his teams’ wins. How is that possible coming from a player that averages 9.4 PPG? Easily.
Tucker’s value does not come from one single facet of his game. In essence, he doesn’t do any one thing really well. He just does everything slightly above average which combined makes him a solid player. On a per-36 minute basis, Tucker’s stat line looks like 11.2 PPG, 1.1 3PM, 7.4 REB, 2.2 AST, 1.4 STL and 0.3 BLK. No single statistic even flirts with elite, but all together the stat line is considered solid. Tucker’s scoring is a little below average but he still shoots almost 41% (40.9) from beyond the arc. Also, he contributes on offense by providing 2.5 offensive rebounds per-36. Not only can he knock it down from three but he can clean it up from close. Unless your name is Kevin Love, that combination of traits is a rarity. Spawning from the nice offensive rebounding numbers, his overall rebounding numbers are upper echelon for his position. According to ESPN, of all SF eligible players, Tucker ranks 10th in rebounds per game (ignoring per-36). Of those players ranked ahead of him in REB/GM, he ranks higher per minute than four of them. The point I’m trying to make is he is a well above average rebounder. While 2.2 AST doesn’t seem impressive, Tucker plays on a team with two point guards. Bledsoe and Dragic spend a majority of time with the ball in their hands, so 2.2 AST is a lot for his limited opportunity. Lastly, Tucker’s 1.4 STL shows his excellent hands. We’ve already shown he’s a solid defender, so adding in the possibility of creating turnovers only furthers his cause. There is not much to dislike about P.J. Tucker’s game.
Will we ever consider Tucker a fantasy stud? Definitely not. He’s not the kind of player whose numbers will translate to a game focused on gambling statistics. What do I mean by that? Steals are a skill but can also be caused by bad defense and the same goes for blocks. By going for steals or blocks, you are taking the risk of leaving your defensive assignment in most instances. Tucker is too good and smart of a player to consistently take those risks, so he will never be elite in either. Instead, Tucker will continue to go about his business under the fantasy radar. Both he and the Suns are okay with that. Look at them; they are winning games. So while he’ll never contribute to your winning, he certainly will continue to help the Suns hold steady as an upper echelon team in the difficult Western Conference.