When doing player recaps, I typically like to think of a literal summary of their season - a sentence or two that provides, what I believe to be, the most appropriate description. On Friday, May 10, it was already written for me.
After six games and a tough series loss to the Golden State Warriors, I felt bad for P.J. Tucker.
Two years ago, Houston Rockets fans were distraught that they had lost the grit and intensity of Patrick Beverley’s game. Little did they know the P.J. Tucker would come along; few knew what he would be worth. If Beverley was the heart and soul of that Rockets’ ‘16-’17 team, P.J. Tucker was the flesh and blood of this one. It might sound way too serious and oddly spiritual, but if you didn’t have spirit, then you wouldn’t have P.J.
Eight players in that Rockets-Warriors series averaged at least 38 minutes a game: The Warriors’ big four, James Harden, Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, and Tucker. Tucker also averaged the third-most minutes a game that series at 41. He did so, of course, because he had to guard Kevin Durant, who was playing a series-high 42.4 minutes. Even with that tall task at hand, Tucker managed to average a solid 10.8 points per game and 8.2 rebounds - good for third-best in the series. Those numbers don’t even factor the countless amounts of tip-outs he was able to get down low. If the Rockets had a chance late in a game that series, it was because P.J. never stopped working on the glass.
At 33 years old, Tucker started and played in the most games he ever has (82), while averaging a career-high of 34.2 minutes a game. He upped his scoring from last year from 6.1 points a game to 7.3, and shot his second-best career three-point percentage, 37.7-percent, on a career-high number of attempts, 4.7 a game. Tucker also averaged a career-high in steals at 1.6 per game and was fourth on the team in rebounding at 5.8 rebounds a game.
Tucker’s true measure - well - can’t be measured by stats. What Harden is to the Rockets on offense, Tucker is to Houston on defense. His sturdiness, lateral quickness, IQ, and overall grittiness saw that Tucker would be face-to-face with the opposing team’s best player on a nightly basis.
Averaging over 34 minutes a game is no accident. The Rockets had no size and no backup bigs for the front court. Couple that with the fact that Capela played only 67 games, Nene played 42 (13 MPG), and Kenneth Faried played 37, and the Rockets had no choice but to keep Tucker on the floor. At times this season, and especially in the playoffs, the 6’6” Tucker was expected to clog up the paint and keep the bigs off the boards. Luckily for them, he delivered.
This season for Tucker was more than just one about basketball. It told the story that Rockets fans discovered within the past two years, and other fans are figuring out just now: P.J. is a bad ass. And not a bad ass in the sense that he’s just barking and taking nothing from no one, though the latter is true, but he’s just an incredible guy who’s worked hard all his life.
If you need to know one thing about P.J. to love him, read what he said said about guarding Kevin Durant:
“Everybody dreams about scoring 30, getting the game-winner. No, no, no, not me. I love my role. I love what I do. … It sounds crazy, but this is my dream. I’m living my dream right now guarding Kevin Durant in the NBA playoffs.”
This was also the first year that Tucker received a player-exclusive shoes. After 14 years and plenty of ridiculously rare heat, Tucker got a pair of his own Hyperdunk X Lows, and couldn’t have been more excited about it.
13 seasons later, PJ Tucker finally gets his first PEs from Nike Basketball: Hyperdunk X Lows. pic.twitter.com/97qtaB3zQ0— SoleCollector.com (@SoleCollector) December 5, 2018
Tucker also teamed up with eBay to auction off some rare shoes for charity. And if you thought his shoe game clout couldn’t get any higher, the NBA Sneaker King actually had an incredible opportunity to collaborate and design a pair of shoes with the high-fashion Italian brand, Giuseppe Zanotti. What came out was a beautiful Rockets-inspired black and red masterpiece.
Did you know that P.J.’s worn up to six shoes in a game before? He also spends about four hours a day in his free time looking for and buying rare shoes to add to his collection, which is already in the thousands.
We got to know a little bit more about P.J. outside of basketball and sneakers and learn that he’s a self-proclaimed pancake pro with a large pancake following. Here’s an actual Instagram caption that Tucker gave to a picture of a delicious-looking pancake:
And here’s a really fun and delightful video where you get to see him get super excited about pancakes:
He’s even methodical about how he eats his breakfast foods.
On top of all his quirks and fun hobbies, Tucker also used his newfound media attention as an opportunity to show off the ride-or-die mentality he has on the court.
In a thoughtful and insightful piece to The Player’s Tribune, P.J. made the case for his teammate, James Harden, to repeat as MVP. He details Harden’s game, his strategy, and refers to him as “The Mad Scientist.”
“When you’re the defending MVP and you put up those kind of numbers, every team comes out with the same basic game plan: Don’t let that guy beat us. There’s a problem with that, though: James is a better basketball mind than anybody trying to stop him.”
Just this week, Scottie Pippen, oddly, and seemingly, tried to force Tucker to admit that the Rockets’ system couldn’t win a championship on live TV.
Tucker, calm, cool, and collected, gave his points, referred to the numbers, and didn’t give anyone the chance to make him or his team look bad. In an era where players asked to be traded via social media, this truly says a lot.
P.J. Tucker played the best basketball of his life in that Conference Semi-finals series. He played 82 games as a starter and key piece to a contending team. The world got to know how deep his passion really goes for shoes, and they got to know his passion for pancakes.
I can’t confirm for you myself, but this was probably Tuckers’ best season ever as a pro basketball player, and he deserved every second of it.