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Player Review: A three-month love affair with P.J. Tucker

Brought in as a piece to challenge the King, Tucker did just as much off the court as he did on it.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Toronto Raptors - Game Four Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

P.J. Tucker’s services were acquired from the Phoenix Suns in the Raptors’ push to load up for the Cavs, as Masai Ujiri traded a pair of second round picks and the warm body of Jared Sullinger in the hopes Tucker would be the defensive wing that could go toe-to-toe with LeBron. In his first night as a Rap, Tucker showed Toronto the type of player and person they were getting:

Even Tucker’s wife advised him against playing on that night against the Boston Celtics, but what did he do? Post a line of nine points and 10 rebounds while helping to shut down Mr. King of the Fourth, Isaiah Thomas, as the Raps erased a deficit that swelled as high as sixteen points in their first game without Kyle Lowry.

Everything was on display in the performance: relentless effort, timely shooting, vocal leadership during play and in the huddle, and just overall bad ass-ness that the team sorely lacked in the first two thirds of the season.

Tucker won the city over as quick as a John Wall fast break, and this fan base that has a history of devoting love to the grinders of the game had another name to chant in celebration. I bought his jersey the very next week, and he remains my laptop background to this day.

As a P.J. stan I believe there are only good things to talk about with his presence on this team. But if you’re a numbers guy you can probably find something negative. Let’s get to it.

The Good

This video should be taken down by YouTube and reported for a pornography violation, because it’s just so damn sexy to watch.

The ability to lock down an opposing star and give them 8-12 minutes of hellish on-ball defence is a skill that not many players in today’s NBA possess. When coupled with Tucker’s versatility to guard 1s through 4s (and even a small ball 5), it effectively made him coach Dwane Casey’s preferred option in closing down games at the small forward spot.

Tucker also managed to shoot 40% from three during his 24 regular season games and although that number regressed back to 32% on the playoff run, it felt like he was one of the few guys that wasn’t petrified to score if necessary against the length of the Bucks and the speed of the Cavs.

Maybe even more important than his play on the court was his presence in the locker room. Tucker provided a veteran voice, one that had returned to his first NBA home after a journeyman’s career, and savoured every moment of the playoff chase and his postseason debut.

He was the one who told DeMar DeRozan that the team needed him just as much on the defensive end as they needed him to score, and results followed. He was the enforcer any legit NBA team needs in the rotation, using his strength to both hold back Serge Ibaka in the face of evil and tell Lance Stephenson just how much of a bum ass he is.

Watch that entire episode and then tell me you aren’t a fan of P.J. Tucker. I know you’d be lying.

The Bad

While his three point shooting stood out on a team that was devoid of it for much of the spring, the rest of Tucker’s offensive game is limited. He doesn’t have the softest of touches around the rim, and (not by his own fault) was asked to make plays much more than a defensive specialist should in lineups that didn’t feature DeRozan or Kyle Lowry.

The Grade: A

Tucker filled his role extremely well and made watching the team that more fun each and every night. As he now enters free agency, I sincerely hope the Raps will choose the path of remaining competitive and find the space (ciao, Patrick Patterson) to re-sign Tucker so that we are treated to watching his artistry play out for an entire year.

With his top suitor right now rumoured to be the New York Knicks, that dream may very well become a reality.