Updated Jul 19, 2013 - 9:02 am
The overlooked P.J. Tucker of the Phoenix Suns
In the NFL, it happened with quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Drew Brees, who were "too short" to play the position. Many teams ignored their skills, yet they still went on to post impressive accomplishments.
Successful wing players in the NBA are thought to be well-built, long, good creators and excellent outside shooters.
When you look at Phoenix Suns guard/forward P.J. Tucker, who is listed at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, you see a bulky, thick player who is a poor shooter.
His abilities aren't natural for his position, but it doesn't mean it can't work. It actually worked really well for Phoenix last year.
When Tucker was on the court, the Suns were 2.7 points better per 100 possessions offensively and 3.4 points better defensively -- good for a total of six points.
Even though last season was only the 28-year-old Tucker's second in the league, I would argue he has already established himself as an elite NBA defender.
Tucker guarded point guards, shooting guards and small forwards with extreme success. Here's is a chart with numbers from NBA.com that show the significance of his defense:
|Opponent||FG Made Tucker On||FG Attempts Tucker On||FG% Tucker On||FG Made Tucker Off||FG Attempts Tucker Off||FG% Tucker Off|
|James Harden - HOU||16||38||.421||13||25||.520|
|Chris Paul - LAC||4||10||.400||12||22||.545|
|LeBron James - MIA||5||13||.385||13||24||.542|
|Paul Pierce - BOS||5||14||.357||1||1||1.000|
|Joe Johnson - BKN||5||14||.357||3||5||.600|
|Carmelo Anthony - NYK||5||15||.333||6||12||.500|
|Kobe Bryant - LAK||7||29||.241||11||20||.550|
|Kevin Durant - OKC||26||53||.491||11||23||.478|
That is a list of some of the elite offensive players in the NBA. When Tucker was playing, they combined to shoot 39 percent compared to 53 percent when he wasn't playing.
What sets Tucker apart from most defenders are his size and incredible foot speed -- it gives him the ability to stay in front quicker players while also having the strength to battle the bullies.
Offensively, I would expect current head coach Jeff Hornacek to make better use of Tucker's unique skills than the previous staff did.
His unusual foot speed that lets him guard smaller players -- meaning those same players also have to defend him. Tucker can be used a significant amount in the post, as an off-ball screener and on-ball screener.
His shooting is going to need to improve; a .525 true shooting percentage isn't going to cut it.
Tucker shot only 56 percent around the rim and 34 percent on corner threes, where the majority of Tucker's shots should be taken based on the context of what his role will most likely end up being in the Suns offensive system. These numbers will have to trend up for him to reach his potential.
The Suns have a fascinating piece to use and it will be interesting to see how Tucker gets utilized under the new regime.
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