Recap: The Rockets acquired the services of P.J. Tucker back in July, 2017 when he signed a four-year $32 million deal. This signing has turned out to be one of the better values in the NBA. P.J. Tucker has gone from all around wing defender to playing “center” for the Rockets, evoking memories of Chuck Hayes, another versatile, strong, 6’5” player who could, most nights, control opposing power forwards and centers to a remarkable degree, like Tucker.
Tucker has not produced gaudy offensive stats, but that’s not why he’s on the team. Tucker’s role is to play lockdown defense and to knock down corner three-point attempts, which he was doing at around his career averages until suffering a neck injury (that he, naturally, played through). Despite his poor three-point shooting in the Bubble Seeding Games, PJ finished the regular season just one percentage point below his three-point shooting average with the Rockets, though his corner three percentage did dip slightly.
Tucker has been an iron man for the Rockets, along with James Harden. P.J. has played in every regular season game since coming to the Rockets. Time and again we see him take a hard fall, or get hit by an opponent, only for him to shrug it off and continue playing.
There has been some talk of decline in P.J. Tucker, but it’s difficult to see it in his stats, which are remarkably consistent in his three years with the Rockets. A slightly decline might be related to age, injury, or the more difficult role he plays on defense, now guarding far larger players on a regular basis.
2021 Outlook: Tucker is signed on his initial Rockets deal through the 2020-21 season, where he will make around $8 million. Tucker has asked for an extension, but it’s difficult to see how it happens this offseason given the Rockets various salary constraints, a declining cap, and ownership demands. Right now the Rockets salary picture looks much like last year, with almost all the savings of players coming off the books being absorbed by the increases in salaries for James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Eric Gordon in the upcoming season, whenever it may begin.
P.J. Tucker is tremendously valuable to the Rockets, moreso to them than any other team. He will also turn 36 over the summer. Age seems no impediment to him right now, as he averaged the but eventually, it will have to be. Unfortunately, the Rockets have been increasing P.J. Tucker’s minutes, with him reaching the highest per game minute total of his career, at 34.3 minutes per game (versus 34.2 last year), despite playing a more difficult role, as a center.
Where the NBA has best seen the later careers of players best managed is probably the San Antonio Spurs with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Boris Diaw all playing very effectively, but under strictly controlled minutes, and usage. The Rockets the past two seasons have utterly ignored that model and played P.J. Tucker the most minutes of his career. Despite the fact that he has played in every game, that seems more a testament to PJ’s personal toughness than any sound planning on the Rockets part.
It is easy to see P.J. Tucker being a valuable contributor for several more seasons, but not at his present usage rate. The Rockets desperately need to clone Tucker, reverse his aging, or barring that, find a larger person to play against the other very large people in the NBA.
The center position in the NBA has never been cheaper, and what the Rockets need is someone who can do what Tucker does: defend, switch onto anyone, rebound, and hit a corner three. This person really only needs to be able to do this about 20 minutes a night. If they could also spell Robert Covington, and bring this hypothetical player’s minutes to around 35 a game, better still. Who that will be, for what the Rockets can pay, the mid level exception, I don’t know. It might be better to find an undrafted gem of a player who is, say, taller than 6ft. Given the chaotic nature of the draft, and scouting, and the absence of an NCAA tournament, the odds of finding a taller Rockets version of Lu Dort seem fairly good.
In any case, P.J. Tucker needs help. It simply is inadequate, and a failing strategy, to have every game come down to demanding the Rockets do the exact same thing, only try much harder. Asking that for a season, and subsequent playoffs seems too much. Asking it of a 36 year old P.J. Tucker is almost cruel.
PJ Tucker’s Minutes Per Game?
This poll is closed
Fewer than last season.
More than last season.
The same as last season.
Rick Carlisle won’t be able to resist playing him 42mpg.