P.J. Tucker’s intangibles for Suns make him a wanted commodity on trade market

Jan 25, 2017, 6:30 AM | Updated: 11:30 am

Toronto Raptors' DeMar DeRozan, left, is fouled as he drives at Phoenix Suns' P.J. Tucker during se...

Toronto Raptors' DeMar DeRozan, left, is fouled as he drives at Phoenix Suns' P.J. Tucker during second half NBA basketball action in Toronto on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)

(Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)

The Phoenix Suns are near the bottom of the Western Conference, and a handful players on their roster are not going to be as valuable on their current team as they would a playoff team.

Small forward P.J. Tucker is one of them, and with a reasonable expiring contract and a set of intangibles that playoff teams are desperate for, he’s the most likely Suns player to be traded.

Despite all the good he does for the Suns, Tucker’s career-low field goal percentage of 41 exemplifies how he is ill-fit for Phoenix’s offense. While he takes fewer attempts per game than past years, the shots he is taking simply don’t fit his game.

He’s always been a poor finisher. Tucker’s percentages around the rim have been well below the league average of around 55 percent. In the past four seasons, Tucker is shooting 48.7, 55.7, 47.7 and 47.2 percent near the basket.

Tucker’s offense was the reason there was a six-year gap between his rookie year and return to the NBA.

In that break, Tucker became an average three-point shooter, a game-changer for his value.

He shot 48 percent from the left corner in the Suns’ 48-win season in 2013-14 and 39 percent overall, proving he could avoid being a negative on that end.

A decline has occurred since, with Tucker’s percentages dipping from 35 percent in 2014-15 to 30 percent this season.

The counter-argument would say Tucker’s best shooting year came on the only good team he’s played, and a team acquiring Tucker would not have to worry about the random midrange jumpers and finishes at the rim. Instead, a well-spaced team could solely have him shooting from the corners.

Those concerns should be alleviated by how much Tucker can help in other areas.

Tucker has always been a fan favorite in Phoenix since 2012 when he made the roster from the summer league team. His constant energy and relentlessness is infectious in the right situation, and his rebounding numbers are impressive.

Among players who have played in at least 30 games and average at least 20 minutes per game that are under 6-foot-7, Tucker trails only Russell Westbrook and James Harden in rebounding percentage. Even when stacked against much larger players at his position, Tucker is still ranked in the top eight at small forward, competing with the likes of 6-foot-11 Giannis Antetokounmpo and 6-foot-9 Kevin Durant.

Defensively, Tucker showed what he was all about in a two-game stretch when he limited superstars Anthony Davis and Carmelo Anthony to poor shooting nights. The two combined to shoot 7-of-32.

In another recent two-game stretch, he did it again against Anthony and the Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan.

The secret to success for Tucker on defense is facing scorers who want to be physical with him but don’t have the agility to blow by him. Besides those he’s done well on, it also makes him a better matchup than most on the likes of LeBron James and Draymond Green, two players teams looking to making noise in their respective conferences — and two players contenders will be trying to contain as much as possible.

Perhaps the area where Tucker’s defense shines the brightest is in the post against size mismatches, where he has routinely been the player to cover Sacramento Kings star center DeMarcus Cousins. In the Suns’ recent loss against Minnesota on Tuesday, his physicality perplexed their young franchise big man Karl-Anthony Towns.

However, when the occasion calls for it and Tucker doesn’t have a size disadvantage, he can stop quicker players, as he showed in the best defensive performance of his career against James Harden in 2015.

Tucker can’t move quite that fast anymore.

He struggles in the new age of perimeter-oriented scorers, who are faster than him and able to take his physicality and not get worn down.

Kawhi Leonard and this year’s MVP version of Harden — proving to be a nightmare for Tucker this time around with his rise and Tucker’s slight decline since 2015 — are difficult to stop for almost anyone, and their next-level athleticism combined with an arsenal of offensive weaponry is too much for Tucker to handle.

The advanced stats support this. According to Synergy Sports, Tucker is below average or downright bad at covering players as the pick-and-roll ball handler or in spot ups, two situations that demand quickness and can be challenging for players trying to overcome that.

In isolations, however, when it’s just him and his man, he’s in the 76th percentile of points per possession, making him one of the best in the NBA.

The weaknesses limit his value as a “defensive stopper,” but teams acquiring Tucker will not likely be looking at him to lock these guys up, but rather be as physical and annoying as possible when he’s matched up with them. There aren’t many players in the league who could do that job better than him.

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P.J. Tucker’s intangibles for Suns make him a wanted commodity on trade market