Say what you want about former general manager Lance Blanks; a few years after the fact, the greatest success story of his tenure, P.J. Tucker, remains the heart and soul of the Phoenix Suns.
Tucker originally signed with the Suns prior to the 2012-13 season for just about $1.5 million over 2 years, and quickly earned a reputation as a defensive stalwart and terrific rebounder for his size. He then earned a three-year, $16.5 million extension with the Suns back in July.
Since the All-Star break, Tucker has done his best to continue playing that 3-and-D role. He is averaging 12.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals over the past 6 games, or 14.5 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.1 steals per 36 minutes.
His shooting is admittedly streaky. Tucker has shot 44% from the field since the All-Star break, and only 26% from three-point range. He missed 11 consecutive threes before finally breaking that streak during last night's game against San Antonio. And overall, his three-point percentage has declined from 38.7% last season to 35.2% this year.
One thing that has remained consistent is his rebounding, which is terrific for a 6'5" small forward. Since the year 2000, only four players 6'5" or under have accumulated multiple seasons of at least 6.0 rebounds per game. They are Bonzi Wells (twice), Tucker (twice), Steve Francis (three times), and Jason Kidd (nine times!).
And of course, we can always rave about his defense. Tucker does not have the natural length or athleticism of a Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Andre Iguodala or Draymond Green. For that reason, I believe that he still has more trouble stopping truly transcendent offensive talents than the rest of the "defensive stoppers".
And yet, few players make the opposition work as hard to get a shot off. On average, Tucker holds his man to just 30.2% shooting from outside, whereas those players would normally shoot 35.0%. That differential of 4.8% is impressive. He has the strength to guard power forwards and the quickness to stop shooting guards, giving coach Hornacek quite a lot to work with. Here is a compilation of Tucker's defensive highlights that I made a couple of months ago.
We all know that Tucker has his limitations. At 29, he is possibly the only player in the starting lineup without much more room left for growth. And because of that, the Suns may need to consider getting an upgrade at the SF spot if they want to contend.
Regardless, as long as Tucker keeps up this level of hustle and energy he should always have a spot on the team.
Here are the recent highlights.
Don't forget to vote for your player of the week! To help you out, here's how key players have done since the All-Star break:
Eric Bledsoe: 36.2 MPG, 17.3 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 6.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 4.7 TPG, 49/33/73 shooting.
Brandon Knight: 31.1 MPG, 13.6 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 4.0 APG, 2.4 TPG, 39/33/75 shooting.
P.J. Tucker: 30.2 MPG, 12.2 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 1.5 TPG, 44/26/85 shooting.
Markieff Morris: 31.7 MPG, 14.8 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 1.8 TPG, 41/39/61 shooting.
Marcus Morris: 24.3 MPG, 13.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 1.2 TPG, 48/48/63 shooting.
Alex Len: 32 MPG, 8.8 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0.3 SPG, 2.8 BPG, 0.8 TPG, 44/00/70 shooting.