P.J. Tucker is not a statistic.
Nor he will be defined by one. Despite all of the statistical analysis that is pervasive in professional sports today, some players’ contributions aren’t quantifiable.
Numbers are all the rage in sports these days. ESPN’s stat expert John Hollinger became a front office executive with the Grizzlies.
The movie “Moneyball,” a film about how the Oakland A’s used statisitcal analysis to make their team more competitive, became a blockbuster hit last year. MIT’s Sloan Sports Analystics Conference has a lineup of speakers that feature the “who’s who” in professional sports.
And now, every front office in the NBA is poring over box scores to figure out how its team can be better. But if teams do just that, they’d be missing out on the rugged Suns swingman.
Tucker doesn’t light up the stat sheets. He’s only averaging 5.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 0.9 assists in 19 minutes a night.
However, he is shooting a respectable 48 percent from the floor and 36 percent from behind the arc. But if you are only going to look at box scores, you’ll have to look deeper.
On this current road trip, he held Bucks leading-scorer Monta Ellis to 5-of-19 shooting and five turnovers. The next night, Tucker limited Celtics leading scorer Paul Pierce to seven points on 3-of-10 shooting from the floor and two turnovers.
Having only played in 17 games in the NBA before this season, he has now inherited the challenge of defending the toughest perimeter opponent night-in and night-out.
“P.J. gives us a presence out there that we really need from a defensive standpoint,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said. “I also think that he comes up with some loose balls and makes plays that help you win games.”
Like Gentry alluded to, beyond his defense, there is a raw intensity to Tucker that is palpable on the court. When he enters the game, he raises the level of energy on the floor and changes the momentum.
It is a contribution that isn’t measureable. When Tucker gets into the shorts of the opposing team’s best player, strips him of the ball and creates a fast break that leads to a dunk, it only shows up as a steal and two points in the box score.
But for everyone watching live, a play like that is worth far more than two points. And as the season marches on, the Suns are going to rely on Tucker to change the tide of games with his fearless play and non-stop hustle.
But it’s just one of those things you have to see in person to appreciate.