When evaluating a potential playoff series match-up between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Miami Heat, could a major point of emphasis be as simple as one team has PJ Tucker and the other doesn’t?
At this point in the season, most definitely.
After he was perceived to be a high level role player with supreme defensive talent when joining Miami this off-season, the opinions have shifted dramatically in a positive direction. And rightfully so.
Simply, he can fill the shoes of whoever you ask him to, and he does it quite seamlessly.
When Bam Adebayo goes down to begin the month of December, who can takeover that back-line defensive task, while distributing on the offensive end on a similar level?
Oh, just PJ Tucker.
Who can emulate the mid-post that Jimmy Butler does when he goes down for continuous extended periods?
Oh, just PJ Tucker.
Who can raise the production of outside shooting when Duncan Robinson goes through slumps, Max Strus enters protocols, or there’s just limited perimeter players available?
Oh, just a 46.2% 3 point shooter named PJ Tucker, which ranks number one in percentage among the top 250 players in 3 point attempts per game.
To dive into that number a bit more, he’s shooting just under 47% from three on pure catch and shoot looks, while obtaining a 60.9% effective field goal percentage across the year. News flash: the reason this is so impressive is because attempts have risen, his role has gotten bigger, and the number of defensive eyes on him keep climbing.
Also, since he’s well known to be the catalyst of a corner specialist, 91.4% of his shots are coming from the corners, which is the highest mark of his career.
Many of these numbers are pretty absurd attached to Tucker’s play so far this season on the offensive end, but game film seems to be even more absurd.
Looking at the clip above, this is the new role for Tucker when Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler aren’t on the floor, and it’s something nobody could’ve predicted he’d be able to fill as a play-maker.
The ball is inserted into him inside that wing three, which pretty much triggers two things: Tucker play-making mode is activated with his back to the basket, and weak-side off-ball screening is going to be the main point of emphasis.
Tyler Herro looks to be setting Max Strus a screen to fly around the perimeter into a hand-off, but well, that would be too predictable in a Miami Heat offense, right?
Strus cuts back down baseline to reverse the hand-off the other way, as Herro rises up to the top of the key as a safety blanket. Two flash to Strus as they usually do, and he hits Tucker on that slip screen that he finds himself in so often.
From there, all Tucker needs is a 2 foot plant, a quick spring, and a one-hand floater that is becoming more of an offensive staple than his corner shooting that I brought up previously.
Of course it’s great to see that shot down low falling, but as I said before, the most intriguing part about that entire clip is the first 3 seconds. The offense being worked completely through Tucker with Adebayo and Butler on the sideline, and Lowry in the locker room, is not a temporary thing.
That’s a tool that Erik Spoelstra has found, and will not waste.
Here’s pretty much the same exact set except on the opposite side of the floor.
This time around, Omer Yurtseven is setting the end around screen for Strus to fly off of for the hand-off, yet the same outcome is found. Strus refuses it and cuts back-door, while Tucker throws a pass that pretty much sums up is unique new play-style this season.
But aside from the behind the back flashiness, one more thing stands out about Tucker here.
Go back and watch this play again, but focus on Tucker reading the floor. Jusuf Nurkic had to make a decision between finding Strus below the rim, stepping up to Yurtseven, or taking the gamble of playing the middle and betting on the recovery game.
Tucker smartly waits it out one extra second, which makes all the difference on plays like this, as Nurkic makes that predictable step up. As soon as he takes that step, Tucker hits Strus for the easy two, as no recovery can then be made.
That’s the definition of PJ Tucker. Waiting that extra second.
But as much as we sit here and talk about the unpredictable nature of Tucker as an offensive threat, I’d say he’s been pretty predictable on the defensive end to say the least.
Looking at some one-on-one match-ups, he has held Giannis Antetokounmpo to 3 of 9 shooting this season, Khris Middleton and Nikola Vucevic to 1 of 8 shooting, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to a 1 of 4 night, Domantas Sabonis has gone 0 of 3, Karl Anthony Towns went 1 of 4, Jayson Tatum shot 0 for 3, and the list here can go on and on and on.
Of course stats like this can never tell the full story in general terms like this, but with Tucker, he forces top level talents like those guys to rough nights.
He takes up the match-up of the best player no matter what position they are, since as seen above, that’s as broad positionally as you can get. And when teams begin forcing him into switches off their star player, Erik Spoelstra than schemes it up to make him guard the screener, which ultimately won them a game against the Utah Jazz early this season.
He’s reliable, he’s versatile, and he’s a winner. And most of all, he’s an Erik Spoelstra schematic favorite in terms of the amount of places he can be plugged into on both ends of the floor.
PJ Tucker has stepped up at an incredible level as the Heat are enduring a very awkward time without their top level talent every single night. But at this moment in time, and when Miami enters post-season mode, I believe Tucker is top level talent.
Of course he’s not at the level of a Jimmy Butler or Bam Adebayo, but I’d say he’s equally as important. And well, I don’t believe that’s a controversial or debatable statement at this stage, which says a lot about what this guy has been able to do over the first 39 games of the season.
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