From the time P.J. Tucker joined the Suns in the disastrous 2012-13 season, he’s been one of my favorite players due to his all out, non-stop energy and hustle. He plays like his hair’s on fire every minute he’s in the game, despite possessing little actual hair. Still, Tucker’s skill set and production are lacking for a starter. There’s a place for him in the NBA, but should it be with the Suns going forward?
Let’s look at what he brings to the table.
At 10.2 points per 36 minutes and a 12.1 PER over his NBA career, Tucker isn’t much of a threat on this end. He profiles as a 3 and D specialist, but his 35% career 3 point % and 33% last season are hardly impressive, closer to league average.
Even on last season’s offensively challenged Suns, Tucker finished 20th in points/36 among all who played on the team and 8th in O-Rating. He can hit an open, corner 3 point shot, but isn’t a real threat and you cannot in any way call Tucker a strong offensive player.
If the rest of a team’s offense is high functioning, you can afford to have Tucker out there and he won’t be a liability, as he showed in the Suns surprising 2013-14 season when he posted an O-Rating of 113. An acceptable role player when surrounded by other scorers, but you don’t have Tucker on your roster for making a difference on offense.
Tucker enjoys a reputation as a defensive stopper on the Suns, and he is a strong defensive player...by Suns standards. He’s been tasked with defending elite offensive players such as LeBron James and James Harden, and held his own but didn’t really stop them.
His D-Rating last year was 109, below other Suns regulars Jon Leuer, Eric Bledsoe, Tyson Chandler, Alex Len, Markieff Morris (!!!) and Ronnie Price. D-Rating is a flawed stat, so let’s look at another: Defensive Box Plus/Minus. Tucker ranked second on the Suns there, behind only Alan Williams (small sample size), so one might say he was the Suns best defender. Then again, the Suns were 25th in the league in D-Rating as a team.
Tucker is an irritant and hustler on defense, but if he’s your team’s best defender, it probably means you have a bad defense.
This is where Tucker shines. Remember when he came to the Suns as a mutt of a former failed NBA player from overseas leagues, then earned a roster spot and eventually a starting spot due to his hard work? That’s the Tucker we love. Not long on talent, his game is as an undersized paint player playing on the perimeter.
Also, he works his eventual successor as starter over in practice, helping Warren get better. His willingness to mentor the player who will replace him is exactly what the Suns need right now. It’s similar to the reason the team brought Jared Dudley back when Dudley will be happy if youngsters Marquese Chriss or Dragan Bender take his job.
Tucker is due to make $5.3M in this last season of his contract. The Suns have plenty of cap room, so that’s no problem, but maybe they could trade him for some future asset if he’s not in their future plans? Maybe, but probably not. Tucker isn’t a player to put a team over the top; he’s a “try hard” role player, so doesn’t figure to have much value to a contender.
As such, I think Tucker’s perfect for the current Suns. He can be a mentor and role model for the young bucks. There’s no reason to get rid of him, and I’d be happy to see the Suns re-sign him next summer, all other factors considered then.