Going into last year’s playoffs, there were still doubts among analysts about whether P.J. Tucker’s three-point shooting was trustworthy. Sure, he shot a solid-but-not-spectacular 37 percent in the regular season, but when teams began deliberately leaving him open to load up on bigger offensive threats, many wondered if he’d eventually go cold from deep like did in Toronto the year prior.
Luckily for Rockets’ fans, Tucker answered the call, burying 46.7 percent of his almost five attempts per game whilst playing arguably the best basketball of his life. But when that uber-efficient shooting carried into this season, it almost felt too good to be true. Was it sustainable? Was he peaking too early?
As the 33rd game of Tucker’s season passes on Christmas and it reaches a 50-game sample (including the 2018 playoffs) of Tucker shooting a blistering 43.1 percent on almost five attempts per game, one can’t help but wonder at what point his hot streak becomes the new norm.
Currently, Tucker sits fourth among power forwards and centers in three-point percentage and trails only Luka Doncic, Blake Griffin, LeBron James, Joe Ingles, Brook Lopez, and Danilo Gallinari for total three-point makes at either of those two positions. Considering Tucker’s career has defined the title “grinder” in every sense of the word, forecasting him in the top ten for either of those rankings as recent as a year ago would have sounded absurd.
So what’s behind the improved shooting? A remodeled form? Better looks? Well, none of it actually.
Tucker’s form is essentially the same as last year and he’s shooting the lowest proportion of his threes from the corner (the easiest three in basketball) in his career. Tucker’s just worked hard and gotten better, simple as that. Never underestimate the power of a focused offseason and a clearly defined role.
It’s entirely possible that Tucker regresses towards the mean eventually, but at this point, Tucker’s shooting is one of the Rockets’ best weapons; his gravity essential to keeping the Rockets’ offense afloat. If Tucker hadn’t improved as he has, it’s probable the Rockets would still be the Phoenix Suns dance partner in the western conference cellar.
So as the NBA shifts more and more towards a pace-and-space style of play and veterans of the previous era are forced to adapt or die, it’s clear which path Tucker, a natural survivor, has chosen. If the league continues on its current trajectory, this may only be the beginning of a late-career transformation into a souped-up Anthony Tolliver with elite switch-ability.
Either way, for now, P.J. Tucker has earned his status as an elite spot-up shooter. Not bad for a bruiser who didn’t attempt a three his entire rookie year.