P.J. Tucker has been having a bit of a rough go of it since around Christmas. The rugged and versatile forward, whose stout defense and mostly reliable three-point shot helped get the Rockets off to a fast start this season, seems to have lost his confidence, particularly on the offensive end.
Since putting up a 10-point, 10-rebound double double in a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers back on December 20, Tucker hasn’t scored more than three points in any game. It’s culminated in back-to-back zero-point games, including the 22 minutes he played against the Golden State Warriors in which he finished with 1 rebound and 1 blocked shot to go along with that second consecutive goose egg on the scoreboard.
In the seven contests since that double-double a few weeks back, Tucker’s shooting has been a wasteland of wayward bricks. He’s shooting just 23.8 percent from the field in that time frame, and this three-point shot, a key part of his contributions earlier this season, has completely disappeared. Tucker is shooting 1-13 from beyond the arc since his struggles began.
That’s dropped his season averages to 38.5 percent overall from the field and 33.6 percent from three, and perhaps worst of all, Tucker’s lack of confidence in his shot is so profound at the moment, he’s pretty much stopped taking them altogether over the last two games, in which he’s shot 2 total three-point attempts. He usually averages over 3 per game on the season.
This total lack of offensive production from Tucker at the moment has also coincided with the toughest stretch of the Houston season. The Rockets have gone 2-5 since Tucker’s shooting woes began, and in the loss to the Warriors, his virtual no-show really punctuated the point that Tucker’s slump has directly affected the team struggles over the last few weeks.
The Rockets hung tough with Golden State for the majority of the game, and were getting performances from Gerald Green, Eric Gordon and Chris Paul to match up blow-for-blow with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. The Rockets just needed to get a little bit more from some of their role players, and the result could have been different.
And though Tucker isn’t the only culprit — Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza also stuggled — his near-total absence in the box score did make Tucker the most conspicuous of Rockets in a lack of secondary support for Houston’s three main scorers.
And it hasn’t just been his shooting. His defense has also struggled. Tucker’s defensive rating on the season sits at a relatively solid, if unspectacular, 104.1. During this slump, it’s an almost unbelievably sky-high 119.3.
In addition, Tucker, who had been a plus-minus monster (just look at some of his early-season plus-minus numbers) is now a cumulative -27 in the last seven games.
He did happen to win the double-overtime rematch with the Lakers on New Years Eve, knocking down a clutch shot, but don’t forget, that was Tucker’s only basket of the entire six-quarter night.
What is also exacerbating Tucker’s slump is that the Rockets need solid play from him now more than at any point in the season thus far. With James Harden, Luc Mbah a Moute, Clint Capela, and Nene all missing time with injuries, the Rockets have been looking for guys to step up to fill the void, and it just hasn’t happened with any regularity.
Capela is already back and Nene isn’t injured long-term, but both Harden and Mbah a Moute are likely multiple weeks away yet from returning, so if the Rockets wish to hold down the fort until the reinforcements arrive, they’re going to need Tucker to snap out of this current funk.
In fact, within the next week, they have tough games against the Detroit Pistons and the Portland Trail Blazers. Within the next two weeks, they have the Dubs again and the much-improved Minnesota Timberwolves.
And those are just the teams with winning records. When you’re playing as inconsistent as the Rockets currently are, with volatile contributions from your role players, no game in the NBA is an easy one.
And though Tucker isn’t the only Rocket currently mired in an awful muck (we’ll be talking about Ryan Anderson soon too), he is the one role player in the best position to help stabilize things. At his best, he brings shooting, tough defense, and a bulldog attitude — all things the Rockets need.
At his worst, he’s barely a blip on the box score. Let’s hope the Golden State game truly was rock bottom for Tucker. Cause that means up is the only way left to go.