PHOENIX, Ariz. — Bruce Bowen and Mario Elie.
To the Phoenix Suns and their fans, they are two of their bigger nemeses.
To P.J. Tucker, they are two players he’s tried to model his game after; that hard-nosed defender who can hit the game-changing and back-breaking shot.
“You look at those championship teams, they always have one of those guys — Tony Allen with Boston. They always got one of those glue guys that can kind of do everything, D-up and be able to finish plays on offense and bring that energy. I think you can look on any team throughout the years that won championships, they always got that guy,” he said.
Tucker wants to be that guy for the Suns.
He’s halfway there.
Tucker solidified his role as a strong one-on-one defender last season, often getting matched up against the opposing team’s best player.
That role remains unchanged this season, though now he’s become more proficient at shooting the three.
After nine games, Tucker, who made three-of-four threes against Brooklyn, is the NBA’s third-best three-point shooter (12-of-22, .545) trailing only Milwaukee’s Gary Neal (.548) and New Orleans’ Anthony Morrow (.556).
“I want to take my game to another level,” Tucker said Monday.
He’s certainly put in the work, especially over the offseason, working with player development coaches Irving Roland and Corey Gaines.
“We just shoot until I couldn’t shoot no more, coming in with Irv, Corey; guys really just pushing me, trying to get better shooting the ball,” Tucker said. “I felt like I could always shoot. It’s just the confidence and having the confidence in myself to be able to step out and knock it down. It’s all confidence.”
Tucker also got an assist from head coach Jeff Hornacek, who worked with him on shooting quicker and at a higher release point.
“It’s good for us when he makes those threes because our guys can penetrate; they look for him, and he’s done a great job so far at that,” Hornacek said. “You can’t just be one-dimensional in this league. One-dimensional could get you some bench minutes, but to be a starter you’ve got to be able to do both sides of it. That’s just a bonus for us. P.J. is a great defensive player, so when he can make those shots it spreads the floor.”
Tucker, who shot only 31.4 percent (22-of-70) from three last season, is doing most of his damage from the corner.
“That’s just always where the shots come from,” he said. “When you’ve got somebody like Goran (Dragic) who is such a good scorer, (defenders) have to help in, especially with Miles (Plumlee) rolling. The backside is always open; corner threes. For a wing (player), it’s always priority for the corner; definitely anywhere out there, but definitely get to those corners because that’s what we emphasize running to the corners.”
And as far as being mentioned along the same lines as a Bowen or an Elie, Tucker embraces the opportunity.
“There’s a reason (fans) don’t like them. In a game, clutch shots. Those defensive stops. Of course. Those are the guys that people love to hate. I’m all for that,” he said.