P.J. Tucker’s journey as a professional basketball player has been one straight out of Hollywood. From being the 35th pick in the 2006 draft by the Toronto Raptors to playing in Israel, Tucker has an interesting story, to say the least.
Tucker scored 1,164 points and grabbed 714 rebounds in three seasons at the University of Texas. He was named to the All-American Second Team, and he was also a Big-12 Player of the Year. That’s a pretty good resumé for the NBA, but after falling into the second round of the 2006 draft, not all seemed sure. After 17 games, logging only 5 minutes per game for Toronto, he was sent down to the D-League.
He lasted only a few months before the Raptors waived him. Adjusting from being “the man” in Texas to a scrub in Toronto was a struggle as it is for most second round draft picks who were stars at their respective colleges.
“A lot of stuff goes into play,” said Tucker about this year. “It definitely was different from Texas being the man and pretty much running stuff to having to be a rotation player in the league. It was definitely an adjustment.”
The next five years consisted of him persevering through the trials of his journey back to the NBA by traveling from country to country.
During that time, Tucker enjoyed the great food in Italy, the huge country of Ukraine, the ancient sights of Israel, the beautiful beaches of Puerto Rico and then he eventually landed in Germany. Obviously, being an ex-NBA player, he was a top player in all of these countries, but he really hit his stride in Germany. He was the second leading scorer (16.2 PPG) and fifth in rebounding (7.1) in the German league. He was awarded the “Import Player” and “Forward of the Year” awards. He also led his team to a championship.
After his impressive run in Germany, he was signed by a team in Russia (they actually play basketball there), and he also got an opportunity to play for the Suns during the 2012 NBA Summer League. Tucker said of the Suns:
“I know a lot of people in the front office from prior relationships. I know a couple of guys on the team already . . . a lot of guys leaving and a lot of guys coming, and there is a lot of energy and a lot of newness.”
After a statistically unimpressive performance, the Suns brought Tucker back for training camp, and he eventually made the team. This was another transition point in Tucker’s career, but his struggles with Toronto taught him valuable lessons.
“In Europe, I’m more of the go-to-guy, the scorer. On the Suns I’m more of an energy guy, defensive player, finishing plays,” said Tucker. “So it’s just what you’re comfortable with, and for me if I was going to come back, it would be to a situation where I could contribute and work my way into a position where I could play.”
Tucker wasn’t even expecting to come back to the NBA after he ventured into Europe:
“I wouldn’t say it was a storyboard, but a journey. Once I got comfortable [in Europe] and became a pretty big player in Europe, I wasn’t expecting to come back [to the NBA]. I wasn’t really looking to come back.”
For Tucker just to get back to the NBA was amazing, but what he has done there since then only adds to his inspirational story. Last year was a step in the right direction for the resurrection of his NBA career (24 MPG, 6.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG), but he has really hit his stride this year.
The Suns (27-18) have undoubtedly been the surprise team of the NBA this year, and Tucker is a huge part of that. Through 45 games, all of his stats are up: 30 MPG, 9.5 PPG, and 6.1 RPG. Looking at his advanced stats show his true value to the Suns. He has a 49.8% eFG (Effective Field-Goal Percentage), 112 oRtg (Offensive Rating), 106 dRtg (Defensive Rating), and an impressive 13.2 PER (Player Efficiency Rating). The Suns score an average of 3.1 more points than the opponent when he is on the court.
His effect isn’t truly known until watching him in a game setting. His intensity on defense and on the boards are second to none, truly showing he has adapted the role that the Suns need him to play.
I looked back at two of Tuckers games: 1/30 @ Indiana and 12/4 @ Houston.
In the game against Indiana, Tucker held Paul George to 12 points, which (I must say) is pretty good.
Even though George made the shot here, as a defender can you make a shot more difficult? Throughout this game, Tucker dominated George from beyond the arc to the post. Tucker guards the best scorer every game, further showing his value to this Suns team.
Although this seems like this isn’t much of a play by Tucker, it is a play you rarely see in the NBA. For most players, once they get screened, they stop playing. They usually leave their job to the help man, but not Tucker. He recognized the screen, fought through it, and then he blew up the play that the Pacers were trying to run.
You won’t see this play in the box score, but this was the play that won the game for the Suns. Look at the score and time, and then look at the play Tucker makes. He fights through another screen, doesn’t allow Paul George any room, and then he forces George to take an awful shot. He doesn’t stop playing, though, as he gets the rebound, outlet passes the ball to Goran Dragic, and suddenly, it is a 6-point game.
Here, we see Tucker’s intensity on the boards. When the shot was put up, he was situated at an impossible position to get the rebound. However, Tucker continued to fight, and he actually boxed out (yes, this actually happens [sometimes] in the NBA) to get an offensive rebound. He proceeded to get fouled on his putback attempt.
This is another EXTREMELY impressive play by Tucker. (Yes, that is Dwight Howard with the ball at the top of the key. Why? The basketball gods will never know). This play is sort of self-explanatory, but after watching it, I believe Tucker should start teaching a class for all NBA players on how to fight through screens successfully.
Tucker still has some work to do on the offensive side of the ball, but at this stage he is the X-Factor for the Suns’ chances of being a real contender in the West.
His story is extremely inspirational, and he is a player in the NBA that kids can actually respectfully look up to. He never quit and has continued to pursue his dream. In a league that the media portrays to be one full of “thugs” it is refreshing to see someone like P.J. Tucker defy that label