P.J. Tucker: Not Perfect, But Always Looking to Improve

Discounting Steve Nash’s last shebang back in 2009-10, there hasn’t been a darker start to a decade in Suns history. Still, P.J. Tucker is doing his part to keep the torch lit for Phoenix.

In all four years with the franchise, Tucker has won the Dan Majerle Hustle Award. A diamond in the rough who can contain anyone on the floor at positions 1-4, he is arguably the most underrated and overlooked defender in the NBA, reasonable since the Suns haven’t made the playoffs in six seasons. Tucker uses his seven-foot wingspan, never-say-die determination, and immense basketball IQ to his advantage, out-smarting and out-working his opponents on a regular basis.

Five years away from the NBA at age 22-26, including overseas stops in Israel, Ukraine, Italy, and Germany, had to help him become the consummate grinder we know today. In 337 games career NBA games, the former Texas Longhorn has adequate averages of 7.9 points (43.6 FG, 34.9 3Pt, 74.7 FT) 6.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.1 steals, and 0.3 blocks in 29 minutes per contest. Tucker is earning a modest $5.3 million in 2016-17, and he is set to become a free agent next summer at 32 years of age. Jared Dudley turned 31 this summer and he signed for three years, $30 million, which you can pencil Tucker in for as well if he has another healthy season here in 2016-17.

Tucker was the only Sun to see action in all 82 games during 2015-16, and he’s the only player on the team besides Dudley who has proven capable of covering multiple positions. He’s also the first Sun to total 15 points, 15 rebounds, and four assists in a game since Shawn Marion.

Tucker has missed a grand total of eight games during his four years and counting with the Suns, three of those due to a suspension for DUI back in August 2014. NBA players are human beings. They make mistakes both big and small just like the rest of us, but it’s how we respond to adversity that defines us. Tucker’s since apology and continued effort in the community shows a person striving to be better every day. P.J. was given a second chance to live having driven under his condition, and he has not wasted it nor taken it for granted. Years before he received a second shot to play in the NBA, and he has been a success on the court despite Phoenix’s relative struggles.

Tucker has become an excellent corner three-point shooter, which helps hide an otherwise banal offensive game outside of offensive rebounds (two per game last year). However, that’s just what the doctor ordered in Phoenix. Most of the men taking the floor were more invested on the offensive side of the ball, and that’s the end where everyone expect Tyson Chandler had the most to offer last year. Dudley helps in adding balance to the roster with a focus on defense and intangibles that mirrors Tucker’s, and it will be those three veterans who are forced to set an example and hold teammates accountable on D.

Perhaps the addition of Dudley actually makes Tucker more expendable when another front office inevitably comes calling. Then again, the Suns should consider keeping its longest-tenured player for the foreseeable future. With most guys you worry they’ll start slowing down in their 30s, but given that Tucker doesn’t have as many miles under his belt as most 32-year-olds seeing close to 30 minutes per night, he might be worth paying if it helps build chemistry on a young team with a lot of talent to develop (especially considering he seems to like it there). A pseudo-contender like the Clippers could be the perfect fit for a versatile wing defender who cans corner triples, but they don’t have a first round pick to trade in return and the Suns may have all the kids they can handle.

The Suns believed in the Raptors’ former second round pick and international hoops star years after he made his original NBA debut. In his second campaign with Phoenix, Tucker started 81 games and the team won 48. Unsurprisingly, he did a whole lot of winning during his time overseas, which helped build his résumé and earn him another chance to make it in the NBA. If things go well in Phoenix and dudes like Devin Booker, Dragan Bender, and Tyler Ulis can pick up some tricks of the trade from Tucker, sunny days could be on the horizon sooner than expected.

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