One of the primary surprises in NBA free agency this season was seeing PJ Tucker land in Miami, strengthening the Heat’s theme and weakening Milwaukee’s. But as surprising as that was, how come it seems as if this pick-up is being slightly overlooked?
Well, the answer to that question is quite clear.
Over the past two seasons, the starting front-court player next to Bam Adebayo has been an interesting discussion. The Meyers Leonard stretch had positive regular season aspects, but it was clear it wasn’t going to last through the post-season. This led to a trade deadline transition to Jae Crowder, who performed at a high level on both ends of the floor.
After that hot bubble stretch from Crowder, many began making instinctive observations about that starting 4 spot: a scorer is needed to maximize this team. In a lot of ways, that was correct. (Emphasis on *was*)
Kendrick Nunn was fantastic for Miami in many stretches, but one of the overarching issues was consistency. Miami didn’t really know what they were going to get from him on any given night, meaning the combination of an inconsistent 1 and a non-scoring 4 was never going to work.
But now, the conversation shifts.
Many seem to be upholding that same point about the acquisition of Tucker, but there aren’t any true parallels. Adding Kyle Lowry means that inconsistencies in the back-court will no longer be an issue. Of course everybody has off nights, but a player of Lowry’s caliber can counteract that with strong defensive play and offensive control with veteran leadership and facilitating capabilities.
That one major element makes the Tucker pick-up an obvious fit into what Miami is looking to do. And ultimately, it’s leading to this move flying under the radar quite a bit, which the Heat always love.
He’s not going to be huge in the scoring column in the regular season. He may not even be that huge on the entire stat-sheet many nights aside from his minutes. But that type of player is what Miami needs with the emerging weapons on the current roster.
They need a guy who can semi-slow down players like Kevin Durant in a playoff series, allowing their defensive player of the year candidate, Adebayo, to do what he does best by constantly switching to cause major disruption on that end of the floor.
Tucker is Adebayo’s safety blanket, and it’s been quite some time since Adebayo has had that. A tough minded 4 who won’t back down. A versatile defender who can not only guard down like Trevor Ariza, but guard up when Adebayo ends up in isolation on the perimeter. If you want to let that type of guy fly under the radar, then I don’t know what to tell you.
That’s an Erik Spoelstra weapon if I’ve ever seen one. That entire description and dialogue is what Coach Spo will trust down the stretch game after game. Not to hit big shots on the offensive end or take total on-court control, but to be super sound on both ends in an understanding role to allow others to succeed.
When I asked Tucker after the signing about playing in that type of role next to Jimmy Butler specifically, he responded, “He’s always been one of those guys that everybody knows his competitive edge. He brings it every single night, and that’s the number one thing for me.”
And while Butler may be the headliner for that type of comment, there are multiple guys on this updated roster that quote could relate to. And well, one of those guys is PJ Tucker.
Ever since Butler joined the Heat, the roster has never been defined by a specific theme. Of course they had a team get to the NBA Finals without a certain theme, but it’s still never been apparent. Now, for the first time, this roster will be walking into opposing arenas with teams immediately knowing what they’re getting themselves into.
A feisty and tough group who will play in the mud for as long as it takes on the defensive end. Playing like that consistently in the regular season may wear them down, but that will be more of a playoff staple.
The point is that aside from Tucker embodying everything the Heat embody, plugging him into this group makes more sense than some think. It wasn’t as important to find a scoring threat at that spot, considering the Lowry pick-up and the hopeful Adebayo ascension.
They just need him to do the small things, and he will do just that. PJ Tucker may be flying under the radar due to his age and play-style, but for close Heat observers, that shouldn’t be the case.
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