While it would be easy to look at P.J. Tucker’s statistics through the first three games of this current six-game road trip and assume he’s been struggling, the production of some players can’t be defined by a boxscore.
In contests at Philadelphia, Cleveland and Detroit, the forward has averaged 1.3 points and four rebounds per contest. But you’d never know that after hearing the way Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry praises him.
“Sometimes people have a tendency to look at the boxscore and see that somebody didn’t score, and it leads them to think that they struggled,” Gentry explains. “But I look at him and say that he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do, and to me that’s the most important thing.”
For the most part, what the Suns coaching staff has asked Tucker to do is provide their team with defense and toughness. And since the very beginning of the season, he has answered the call. But while his successes cannot be told in numbers, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Tucker would mind putting a few points on the boards when the Suns take on the Raptors on Friday night.
The contest will mark Tucker’s first opportunity to play against the team that originally drafted him out of the University of Texas. Unfortunately for Tucker, what followed after his selection in that 2006 NBA Draft was an up-and-down rookie campaign that saw several stops in Colorado playing for their NBA Development Team, the 14ers.
“It was hard,” Tucker said of bouncing back and forth between Toronto and Colorado. “Just being a rookie is always hard, but I knew I just had to stay mentally tough and keep doing what I needed to focus on getting better.”
Following an eventual release from the Raptors, Tucker’s basketball career took him everywhere from Puerto Rico to the Ukraine. Impressive if one is trying to locate Carmen Sandiego, but difficult if one is trying to settle down somewhere and make it their home. This past summer, however, Tucker managed to land a spot on the Summer League team of the Phoenix Suns where his style of play caught the attention of coach Dan Majerle.
“What stood out to me was his effort,” the former Suns player and current Suns assistant coach said of Tucker’s effort. “He played the game hard and had an ability to guard different positions. He was competitive and played extremely hard which I loved.”
“Thunder Dan” hesitates before saying that Tucker reminds him of himself, but after giving it some thought, even the Ring of Honor member has to admit that the similarities are there at least in terms of attitude.
“He reminded me a little bit of myself in the sense that he enjoys playing defense and seems to take it personally,” Majerle said. “I used to take it personally when I was guarding somebody and got scored upon, and I do see that a lot in P.J.”
Tucker’s play was impressive enough to land him a spot on the Phoenix Suns roster where he then caught the eyes of Suns fans in the team’s opener against the Golden State Warriors. In 23 minutes, the forward contributed 10 points, two rebounds and a blocked shot, but it appeared to be the reckless abandon with which he played that earned him ovation after ovation in the contests that followed. It’s an appreciation that Tucker has not taken for granted.
“The fan support has been crazy,” Tucker says with a smile. “Everything from Facebook to Twitter has been unreal. I’ve appreciated the love and support I’ve gotten from the fans knowing that the kind of players that they value are ones that they can see work extremely hard.”
Aside from the accolades that have come via social media, there is one other thing that Tucker values about playing in the Valley.
“This is probably the most comfortable I’ve felt as both a person and a professional basketball player,” Tucker said. “I felt pretty comfortable in Europe as a player, but being back here (in the United States) is definitely a more comfortable situation for sure.”
It hasn’t come easy for Tucker. But through his time in places like Italy, Greece and Germany, he has managed to transform into the player that Suns players have come to love.
“The more you play, the more you grow,” Tucker said. “Not just as a player but as a person you mature. You take away different things from different experiences and each of those teams I played for during that stretch matured me in a different way.”
Asked whether he’s more excited about showing off the person he has become since his days as a rookie or the player that he has become, Tucker seems to believe it’s a little of column A and a little of column B.
“I think it’s more about feeling like the total product,” Tucker said. “I’m looking forward to going back knowing that I worked hard enough to get back on an NBA team and have worked hard to become successful.”
But as tough as nails as Tucker may appear, the forward isn’t approaching the game with payback on his mind. Instead, he seems more intent on mending the very long bridge on which he departed.
“I haven’t been back at all since I left so it’s pretty exciting,” Tucker said. “Not just for the game but seeing some of the people I met during my time there too. I appreciated the time I spent there. It’s a cool city with good fans and I enjoyed myself.”
Hopefully for both Tucker and the Suns, fans in Phoenix can now appreciate the opportunity they have to watch him give it his all each and every night.