Since the All-Star break, P.J. Tucker is averaging 12.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game. Here are some of the defensive stopper's highlights.
Tucker originally signed with the Suns prior to the 2012-13 season for just about $1.5 million over 2 years, and quickly earned a reputation as a defensive stalwart and terrific rebounder for his size. He then earned a three-year, $16.5 million extension with the Suns back in July.
Since the All-Star break, Tucker has done his best to continue playing that 3-and-D role. He is averaging 12.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals over the past 6 games, or 14.5 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.1 steals per 36 minutes.
His shooting is admittedly streaky. Tucker has shot 44% from the field since the All-Star break, and only 26% from three-point range. He missed 11 consecutive threes before finally breaking that streak during last night's game against San Antonio. And overall, his three-point percentage has declined from 38.7% last season to 35.2% this year.
One thing that has remained consistent is his rebounding, which is terrific for a 6'5" small forward. Since the year 2000, only four players 6'5" or under have accumulated multiple seasons of at least 6.0 rebounds per game. They are Bonzi Wells (twice), Tucker (twice), Steve Francis (three times), and Jason Kidd (nine times!).
And of course, we can always rave about his defense. Tucker does not have the natural length or athleticism of a Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Andre Iguodala or Draymond Green. For that reason, I believe that he still has more trouble stopping truly transcendent offensive talents than the rest of the "defensive stoppers".
And yet, few players make the opposition work as hard to get a shot off. On average, Tucker holds his man to just 30.2% shooting from outside, whereas those players would normally shoot 35.0%. That differential of 4.8% is impressive. He has the strength to guard power forwards and the quickness to stop shooting guards, giving coach Hornacek quite a lot to work with. Here is a compilation of Tucker's defensive highlights that I made a couple of months ago.
We all know that Tucker has his limitations. At 29, he is possibly the only player in the starting lineup without much more room left for growth. And because of that, the Suns may need to consider getting an upgrade at the SF spot if they want to contend.
Regardless, as long as Tucker keeps up this level of hustle and energy he should always have a spot on the team.
Here are the recent highlights.
Don't forget to vote for your player of the week! To help you out, here's how key players have done since the All-Star break:
Eric Bledsoe: 36.2 MPG, 17.3 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 6.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 4.7 TPG, 49/33/73 shooting.
Brandon Knight: 31.1 MPG, 13.6 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 4.0 APG, 2.4 TPG, 39/33/75 shooting.
P.J. Tucker: 30.2 MPG, 12.2 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 1.5 TPG, 44/26/85 shooting.
Markieff Morris: 31.7 MPG, 14.8 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 1.8 TPG, 41/39/61 shooting.
Marcus Morris: 24.3 MPG, 13.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 1.2 TPG, 48/48/63 shooting.
Alex Len: 32 MPG, 8.8 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0.3 SPG, 2.8 BPG, 0.8 TPG, 44/00/70 shooting.
The morning after a game (the Suns lost to the Spurs 101-74), BSotS usually has a Locker Room Report loaded with videos of players talking about the game, but last night I had some guests with me and left with them before the locker room opened. Sorry no video.
Apparently, I missed a landmark moment. Rather than lament their own play - which was unnecessary because we all already knew how bad they played - the players expressed a great deal of frustration and disappointment with the fans at the game. Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris both gave rare interviews to the media regarding this frustration.
Immediately afterward, Keef knew he'd make some people mad so he took to twitter to head it off.
Taken out of context, one quote here or there can sound quite damning, especially after the Suns failed to show up for the game - shooting 14% in the first quarter, and less than 30% for the entire game. Why would anyone cheer for 14% shooting?
But if you listen to the entire interview, the Morris brothers have quite the valid point.
Here is the full transcript. You can also listen here, shared by Bryan Gibberman who was covering for ArizonaSports.com last night and shared the interview on soundcloud via twitter.
We gotta take the good with the bad. We need a home court advantage and it doesn't seem like a home court advantage at all.
Some games are gonna be bad. You can't win every game. That comes along with sports. Nobody wins every game. We need the support, us as a team, to know the fans are gonna be behind us. I don't feel like this year they're behind us like before.
We do have genuine Suns fans, but for the most part it felt like we had more San Antonio than Phoenix fans tonight.
(on whether Saturday night was an anomaly with lack of support)
It depends on who is playing here. When we get LeBron and D-Wade and those guys, we need the fans to help win the games. We need the energy from them to win a lot of games. We need that every night. Not just certain nights. Every night is not gonna be a great night. It's gonna happen. Stuff like that is gonna happen.
We need to expect more from them because I know they expect more from us.
(on the fact that the fans don't boo)
No, they don't boo. They don't care that much neither. We feed off, for the most part, off the energy of each other. I know Phoenix fans are a lot better than that. I know we have a lot of genuine fans in the first row, the second row, the third row, but once you go up it seems like fans are at the game just watching. We stand up and fight and I got to do this (mimicking riling up the fans) 15 times to get the fans up. I don't think that's fair to us, putting our heart and our soul out there trying to get in the playoffs for this organization and this city, to try and bring this city back to where it was, to get that type of treatment.
I'm not just talking about this game. I'm talking about the whole year. Still with that being said, like I said you gotta take the good with the bad.
(on whether fans are less vocal than last year)
You could say that. I just feel like we expect more from those guys, from the fans. That's basically what I'm getting to. We expect this to be a home court advantage every time we step on the court, no matter if we are playing Orlando or if we are playing Cleveland. It's as simple as that.
When I hit the jumper (against OKC at the end to give the Suns a 3-point lead). Even when they got the and-one (from Westbrook to tie it again), every body just sitting down. It's like, we're trying to make a playoff push here. We need every single game. Guys are diving on the floor, playing their hearts out.
Like I said, from this city we need that support, man. And that's not how it goes.
(on whether it's different for other teams in their cities)
You're damn right I feel a difference. It just don't feel like we got a home court advantage, like I said. It just feels like we got fans from all over they just cheer for everybody.
The Morris brothers are from Philadelphia, most infamous for its rabid fan base that vehemently boos their local teams when they play poorly. Fans have even thrown batteries at the heads of football players and every venue can quickly become a cacophony of boos even after a series of bad plays whether it's within the context of a convincing win or not.
But Phoenix is quite different. They sit quietly for almost the entire game, build little to no anticipatory cheering and largely ignore the attempts by the MC, Gorilla and cheer leaders to "get loud". When the team plays badly, everyone gets quiet. Booing is uncouth. We're almost as bad as Canada, we're so nice.
Anyone who's been to a game the last several years know this to be true. You're either a rabid fan who was frustrated by the lack of activity from the fans around you in your section, or you're one of those quiet fans yourself. Quiet breeds quiet. If no one around you is standing or cheering loudly, you don't do it either. But that's when you can easily hear the cheers of a few hundred, or even thousand, fans for the other team. If you've been to a game against a good team, or one with a future Hall of Famer in their lineup, you know the shame you felt when you heard an unexpected sustained cheer for an opponent score.
From 2004 to 2013, I shared season tickets with a friend in the 12th row of the lower bowl. I was one of those raucous fans who would cheer and yell and berate players from both teams so loudly the fans around me would shoot sideways glances my way on occasion and generally ignore me the rest of the time. My immediate circle would often cheer during the good parts of the game, even moreso than the rest of the section, but stand-up cheering and loud whoops were reserved for the very, very best and unexpected plays.
Note the time frame I reference. 2004 to 2013. The entire SSOL period in there. Sure, there were some GREAT games for the players and crowd. I lost my voice on many occasions from great regular season battles against the league's elite. I remember even getting dizzy a few times from cheering so loud, feeding off the crowd's energy during a 4th quarter run that kept us on our feet for most of the time.
But those, even during the SSOL days, were few and far between. I can count those games on one hand. It got so bad, I remember thinking in 2012 that one benefit from the team's epic downturn is that we could turn over the fan base a bit as old-timers dropped their season tickets to allow new folks to move in.
Fans who went to last night's game must have been sick to their stomachs (I know I was) to hear just how loud the visiting Spurs fans were from tipoff to the final three-pointer from Matt Bonner to put the game "out of reach" at 101-74 with a minute left.
It was sad.
But that's nothing new here in Phoenix. I now go to the games as a media member, sitting at the top of the lower bowl. I can hear the crowd, and often what I hear the loudest is the other team's fans cheering one of their made baskets. Sometimes, Suns fans get up and drown them out with boos, but often they let it happen way too much.
Last night was just a culmination of a lot of similar games, coupled with the team knowing they'd let everyone down.
When you read Markieff's comments, you know he's right. He's not making excuses for his own play. He knows the team played awfully. It was a no-good, very bad night of basketball for the Suns.
It's also true that the team themselves are not a loud, rile-you-up bunch. Gone are the days of "and one" yells to the rafters from Amare Stoudemire. Gone are the wide smiles and high fives from Leandro Barbosa and Steve Nash. Gone are the antics of Charles Barkley.
"We try to tell the guys," coach Hornacek said on Thursday night. "'Hey, say anything. Say something. Say there's a good-looking chick in the first row. Just say something, please,' because they all just stand there and watch the game and don't say anything."
They don't like to demonstrate. But like any human beings, they like being turned up by others. They want to be propped up when things aren't going well.
But picture this. At the end of the first quarter, after the Suns had gotten down 24-13 on epically bad shooting, what might have happened had the crowd spontaneously begun supporting and encouraging the team to play better? Or, if they had collectively begun booing the Suns for awful play? The game could have been completely different if the guys had suddenly gotten their ire up between quarters.
Heck, just the other night OKC scored only 15 points in their first quarter against the Suns, yet put up 98 points in the final three quarters with an offense less efficient than the Suns' on the year.
But the Suns never could find that extra gear, and the crowd admittedly didn't do anything to ignite it.
Even vociferous booing might have spurred the guys into action.
But apathy only breeds apathy.