Sunday, December 29, 2013

Suns Spot (Another Take on P.J. Tucker)

By, m.i.milliman

A fighters approach to the game.

Some of the things that I enjoy are these: My wife and daughters, biking, a good book, and playing and watching basketball––particularly NBA basketball. When watching the NBA it's good to see the highlight dunk as Wade tosses the ball up behind his head on a fastbreak, seemingly to no-one, only to see LeBron James leap in from another dimension and snatch it left-handed out of the air, putting it through the hoop and he ducks in order not to knock himself cold on the rim. That is a good play to watch. Another is seeing Stephen Curry weaving through down screens and pin-downs and other assorted picks, curling off the last one tightly as he receives the ball, watching him square up, even as he floats and fades and contorts himself into some impossible angle, effortlessly flicking the ball towards the basket and watching as it hits nothing but the latter part of the twine as it falls through the hoop. That is also a good play to watch. Both of those plays seem to happen with surprising regularity––at least once a game it seems––and whereas they are extremely difficult and eye-catching, they make it seem commonplace.

There are others as well. Watching Kevin Love put up points and devour rebounds like candy is a treat. You get the sense with Love that any night could be a 30/20 night. And seeing the maestro Chris Paul orchestrate complicated chord progressions out of a bunch of three-bar punk musicians is a thing to behold.

All of these are good and they make the game both interesting and a bore––interesting because you watch in awe as it unfolds and boring because you want it all the time––but the thing that goes largely unnoticed that I find interesting to watch is when a player becomes more than he actually is. When he becomes that piece of the whole that teams just seem to do better with than without. Those players whose contributions are hard to measure by any statistical yard-ruler, contemporary or otherwise. They are not capable of the spectacular and they do not sparkle in the sun. What they give is a result of effort and tenacity and a refusal to give up.

I find P.J. Tucker to be just such a player.

What he does, to the untrained eye, and, unfortunately, at times to the trained eye, is a thankless job––the job of a grunt. The job of a man who has had to fight for what and where he is, and who has been given no handouts. P.J. Tucker is a fighter. There's some junkyard-dog in him. Some my argue that he is the equivalent of a hockey goon, and that his game lacks the skill and refinement necessary to make any significant contribution. It is true that his aesthetic game lacks...aesthetics. He's not fast or athletic or nimble or fluid. He lacks a pure shooting touch, although he shoots the corner three at an above average 48%, and his handle on the ball is shaky at best. Some of the scariest and most comical moments of the game come when Tucker decides to put the ball on the floor and drive to the hoop. It's not a pretty thing to watch. Even when it ends up successfully you can't help but feel a little embarrassed by the whole ordeal. But it never lacks effort and it is nothing if not entertaining to watch.

Statistically, by most modern metric standards or otherwise, Tucker is a thoroughly average player, neither adding nor subtracting from his team's desired outcome. He zeros out. A non-factor some might say. I disagree. One reason is, because like all opinions based solely on a blind belief in numbers, the numbers can and will lie to you. According to a plus/minus statistic on, Reggie Jackson is more important to the outcome of the game than Kevin Durant, and Norris Cole more so than LeBron James. How could this be? Do there teams fair that much better when Cole and Jackson are playing? The plus/minus can't be all misleading––the Mavericks used it to great success determining there line-ups on there way to a title in 2011. But there it is. Reggie Jackson the fourth best plus/minus in the league. I'm buying it. And I don't think anyone should. Because to those who watch the game, and I have seen every Suns game this year so far, a fact I am both proud of and ashamed to admit, it is clear Tucker has a positive effect. He makes contributions that cannot be measured numerically.

Out of reach, never out of hustle.
Too many times I have seen Tucker dive for a ball out of reach, or give a smart solid foul, or fight for a 50/50 ball, or go hard after crucial rebound.

Every good team has that player in the starting line-up that you just can't figure out how he keeps his starting spot. For a long time the Lakers had that in Derrick Fisher. The Spurs had it in Bruce Bowen, the Celtics had Tony Allen, the Thunder have it in Thabo Sefolosha and the Heat have it in Shane Battier. They are the glue guys, or hustle guys or garbage guys or heart and soul guys or the whatever-label-you-want-to-put-on-them guys. They both hold the team together as a solid unit, and unstick them when they seem to get stuck.

Surely there are better players at his potion, but nothing keeps the downward momentum of the plasma rock that is this Suns team going like a steady dose of P.J. Tucker.