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Phoenix Suns 2015-16 Report Cards: P.J. Tucker hustles his way to another solid season

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The four-time Dan Majerle Hustle Award winner remained a fixture in the Suns' lineup for all 82 games.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

P.J. Tucker is the longest-tenured Phoenix Suns player left on the roster and has had the misfortune of suffering through two of the three worst seasons in Suns history. Despite playing for little more than pride over most of his four seasons spent in purple and orange, though, Tucker has been one of Phoenix's most consistent and reliable players year in and year out. And guess what? The 2015-16 season was no exception.

Offense

Tucker is not a gifted offensive player. Listed at 6'6'' and lacking exceptional length or athleticism, he has had to scrap for his offensive opportunities ever since joining the Suns back in 2012. That does not lend itself to success in an unstructured offense, however. As a niche player, he needs to operate within an offensive scheme — something lacking with this year's team.

This season, Tucker averaged 8.0 points per game, which was his lowest average since 2012-13, despite playing a career-high 31 minutes per game over a full 82-game slate. He also saw his shooting percentages dip, as he shot 41.1 percent from the field (career worst) and 33 percent from 3 (worst since 2012-13). His 74.6 percent from the free throw line was the second-best of his career, though.

Examining where Tucker got his points, 76.6 percent of his field goal attempts came from either the restricted area or the 3-point line, which was his highest combined percentage since his brief stint as a rookie with the Toronto Raptors. The problem was that he wasn't very efficient at either location, with both his restricted area percentage (51.7) and 3-point percentage being the second worst of his career.

A contributing factor in Tucker's diminished offensive numbers was that a career-low 35.7 percent of his 2-point field goals were assisted on. Considering the dearth of playmakers on the Suns' roster, that left Tucker unable to get many easy opportunities near the basket. Instead, much of his offense inside the 3-point arc consisted of posting up smaller players and converting offensive put-backs. That is opposed to his 3-point attempts, which were assisted upon a career-high 97.1 percent of the time (66 of 68 makes).

Looking closer at Tucker's 3-point shooting, he shot 35.7 percent from 3 in the right corner, 32.9 percent from 3 in the left corner, and 30.5 percent from 3 above the break. None of those numbers blow you away, but Tucker also shot 36.3 percent on catch-and-shoot opportunities from 3, which was better than last season's 34.8 percent. Unfortunately, the frequency with which he took catch-and-shoot 3s dropped from 37.3 percent in 2014-15 to 30.8 percent this season.

Another reflection of the impact losing Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight had on Tucker's offensive game is in his playmaking this season. Tucker averaged career-highs for both assists per game (2.2) and turnovers per game (1.4), which averaged out to the second-highest assist-to-turnover ratio (1.59) of his career. That assist-to-turnover ratio was behind only Ronnie Price (2.10), Bledsoe (1.73), and John Jenkins (1.63) on the team. He also set a career high with eight assists back on Jan. 26 and had the three highest assist games of his career this season. Even better, he never committed more than four turnovers in a game, meaning he didn't crack under the increased burden of being more of a facilitator this season.

Much like Tyson Chandler, Tucker's offensive game relies heavily on there being players who can set him up for his opportunities. But with most of Phoenix's playmakers either shelved or making plays for the wrong team, Tucker attempted fewer shots this season, and those he did take were usually of a lower quality, with only 24.7 percent of his field goals this season coming while wide open (a defender six or more feet away) — his lowest percentage since NBA.com began tracking that metric in 2013-14. Taking that into consideration, it becomes even more impressive that he managed to record five of his nine career 20-point games this year, including either tying or breaking his career high for points three times. Add in the fact that Tucker remade himself into one of the team's better playmakers, and his offense this season doesn't look nearly as bad as some of the traditional stats would lead one to believe.

Defense

Tucker has been the Suns' defensive stopper since joining the team. It's how he got noticed in Summer League and how he continues to carve out playing time for himself year after year.

This season, he averaged 1.3 steals and 0.2 blocks per game, which were down just a smidge from his past two season averages of 1.4 steals and 0.3 blocks. Those numbers were still good enough for him to lead the team in total steals (106), and he tied his career high of five steals twice this season. His fourth straight year of defensive consistency now ranks him 20th in franchise history in total steals with 385 and 25th in steals per game at 1.20.

But Tucker's defensive impact goes beyond the traditional stats. Over the course of the season, opponents shot 44.6 percent from the field against Tucker, which was 1.7 percent worse than their season average from the field — a difference that was bested only by Alan Williams' small sample size on the team. That number bests his previous two seasons, where opponents shot 0.6 percent worse than their average against him. The smallish Tucker even held his own close to the basket, where opponents shot 0.8 percent worse than their average from within eight feet and 0.5 percent worse than their average from within five feet. The only area where he struggled somewhat was guarding the 3-point line, where opponents shot 1.4 percent higher than their average. But with the Suns as a team allowing opponents to shoot 37.7 percent from 3 — the worst percentage in the NBA and third worst in franchise history — Tucker's number doesn't look too bad.

This area isn't too complicated. Tucker went out and gave the Suns another solid showing defensively, taking on the toughest defensive assignments and doing what he could to limit their effectiveness. He could stand to improve his defense at the 3-point line, but then again, so could the entire team.

Rebounding

For his height, Tucker is a good rebounder. There is something very Charles Barkley-esque about the way he crashes into the tall timber and rips rebounds away from bigger players. Usually, it's just a matter of Tucker wanting the ball more than anyone else, and when he gets those meat hooks on it, that ball belongs to him.

This season, Tucker averaged 6.2 rebounds per game, which was down from his past two seasons but still marked his third consecutive season averaging 6+ rebounds per game. That is the longest active streak in the NBA among qualified players 6'6'' or shorter and longest since Jason Kidd did it from 2005-06 to 2008-09. As for team history, only Barkley and Kidd (four consecutive seasons) have longer streaks than Tucker's. As well, Tucker averaged a career-high 2.01 offensive rebounds per game, which was behind only Tyson Chandler and Alex Len on the team.

Looking closer, 32.4 percent of Tucker's rebounds this season were contested rebounds, meaning there was at least one opponent within 3.5 feet of him. And when looking at his rebound percentage, only Russell Westbrook and Will Barton had a higher percentage this season than Tucker's 10.9 among qualified players 6'6'' and under.

Simply put, Tucker's rebounding this season was elite for a player his size and solid for anyone. He might not have the athletic gifts of some players, but he makes up for that with strength, a wide body, and tenacity.

Player Specific: Hustle

Ah, hustle. Such a difficult concept to quantify yet easily recognized when you see it. That is Tucker in a nutshell. Because of his hustle, he won his fourth consecutive Dan Majerle Hustle Award this season, beating out fellow hustle savant Ronnie Price for the honor. However, while NBA.com has started tracking what they call "Hustle Stats" like contesting shots, drawing charges, recovering loose balls, and deflections, those stats were not tracked for the 2015-16 regular season, making the task of breaking down Tucker's hustle more difficult.

One could start with how Tucker played all 82 games as a veteran for a bad Suns team and played a career-high 31 minutes per game at that. Or one could point out how he had the three highest minutes totals (46, 46, and 45) in a game by a Sun this season.

Similarly, one could talk about how Tucker seemed to absorb injury and bounce back better than most. He took a knee to the chest from Kawhi Leonard on Jan. 21 that knocked him out of the game, only to be in uniform playing the following game. He also took a knee to the right thigh in the 3rd quarter against the Charlotte Hornets on Jan. 6, only to return in the 4th quarter despite the pain, saying after the game, "I was going back out regardless. If I could walk, I could play."

Then there were those offensive rebounds that he battled for, helping the Suns score 65.7 percent of their second-chance points (756 of 1,150) while he was on the floor.

But watching Tucker is the best way to get a sense of his play style, so here is a highlight video of Tucker's (then) career-high 22 points scored against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 31, 2015.

Final Analysis

P.J. Tucker isn't a player you build around. He won't lead his team in scoring most nights nor will he make the ESPN highlights (unless he's knocking Blake Griffin in the face.) But he is the dirt worker every team needs. He's the guy who gets the big offensive rebound or denies the other team's best player the ball.

That is what he brought to the Suns this season and has brought every year since 2012. His individual numbers may have suffered a slight decline this season, but they were not significantly lower than previous seasons. Ultimately, Tucker gave the Suns everything he had this past season, and you can't fault a player for that.

Final Grade: B

P.J. Tucker Report Card

All stats courtesy of NBA.com and basketball-reference.com.