P.J. Tucker was already a valuable player due to his defense and rebounding, but his improvement as a shooter allowed him to take a big step forward this season.

Humble Beginnings

P.J. Tucker was one of the very few bright spots from the 2012-13 season. He went from out of the league to a summer league invite to a roster spot and eventually a starting role. He won over fans, teammates and coaches alike with his heart and hustle.

Tucker was very good in his role as a defender, rebounder and all-around hustle guy. However, at 28 years old with limited offensive skill and physical upside, there did not appear to be much room for improvement for the journeyman. Fortunately for the Suns, nobody told Tucker that.

Making the Jump

Tucker returned to Las Vegas for another run with the Summer Suns, and nearly led them to a championship. He provided value to the team as he was, but to play a bigger role he knew he had to become more of a threat offensively. So he determined to turn himself into a shooter.

He locked himself in a gym and came back this season with a new weapon: the corner 3-pointer.

Last year, Tucker took just 70 3-pointers and shot 31.4 percent. This season, he MADE 74 and shot them at a 38.7 percent clip. Tucker nearly tripled his attempts and quadrupled his makes from deep. Adding this one tool to his arsenal opened up the rest of his game and allowed him to be a much more effective player overall.

Report from <a href="http://www.basketball-reference.com/" mce_href="http://www.basketball-reference.com/">Basketball-Reference.com</a>.

Tucker started 81 games and was second on the team in minutes, and his scoring and rebounding numbers spiked. Tucker's newfound ability to space the floor and make teams pay for leaving him open allowed Jeff Hornacek to play him more minutes and it paid off or the Suns.


Report from <a href="http://www.basketball-reference.com/" mce_href="http://www.basketball-reference.com/">Basketball-Reference.com</a>.

Tucker's advanced numbers improved as well. His offensive rating jumped from 109 to 113 and his defensive rating dropped from 109 to 106. While he didn't have the highest win shares per 48 minutes, he did finish third on the team in total win shares (tied with Gerald Green) due to his durability and reliability.

Excluding shots around the rim, the area where Tucker took most of his shots is the right corner. He shot 93 of them and made 33 for a fairly average percentage of 35.5. From the left wing, he only took 73 but his percentage spiked to nearly 50 percent. He was just 6-23 on above-the-break threes.

Unfortunately, Tucker's smart shot selection and knowledge of his own limitations did not extend inside the arc. Tucker's 2-point percentage dropped from 50.3 to 45.0. He shot just 50 percent in transition and 37.5 percent on offensive rebound plays. Tucker is a strong player in the open court and a beast on the offensive glass, but he is still just 6-foot-5 and has trouble finishing against the length one finds around the basket in the NBA. He can definitely get tunnel vision, but considering how hard he plays every second he is on the court, that's a trade-off I think the Suns are willing to make.

Despite his limitations, Tucker's improvement as a shooter means he is no longer an offensive liability. And that's all you're looking for, considering his best asset is his defense and rebounding.

Cleaning the Glass

Tucker really is one of the best inch-for-inch rebounders in the entire league. The only player 6-foot-6 or under with a higher rebound percentage than Tucker is Chuck Hayes, who is basically a midget center. The only other two perimeter players in double digits percentage-wise are Lance Stephenson and Russell Westbrook. Tucker is as strong a player as you'll find an he has long arms, great hands and terrific instincts. Toss in his high-intensity motor, and it's no surprise he's such a good rebounder.


Defense is how he made the Suns in the first place, and as his offensive game has improved he hasn't allowed his defense to slip one bit. Tucker was asked to guard the opposing team's best player every night, and not once did he ever back down. He isn't the quickest or most athletic of wings, but his strong, physical style of play and relentless effort allow him to make even the best of scorers work for every shot they get.

Tucker's tendency to get up in opponents's shirts and never leave earned him the nickname "Padlock" from Bright Siders.

Individually, Tucker locks down opponents as well as anyone. Per Synergy, opponents shot 32.3 percent against him in isolation, 35.2 percent as a pick-and-roll ball-handler and 29.3 percent off hand-offs. In comparison, Andre Iguodala - widely considered one of the very best perimeter defenders in the NBA - held opponents to 37.7 percent, 40.8 percent and  43.9 percent on those three play types. Iguodala forced more turnovers, but overall Tucker's results (on a much weaker defensive team) are very comparable.

In summary, Tucker is second on the Suns in minutes played and rebounds, third in 3-point percentage and win shares and the best perimeter defender on the team. And he did all of that for less than $1 million this season, making him the most underpaid player in the league according to Forbes.

Grade: A-

Tucker gets a slight downgrade for his transition adventures and struggles to finish among the tress, but taking everything into consideration he maximized his ability and played a huge part in the Suns' surprisingly successful season.

The Valley of the Suns crew is going 5-on-5 to reflect upon the Phoenix Suns’ memorable 2013-14 year. First up, we give our two cents on what we think are the most memorable games of the year....

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After years in hibernation, the Sunday Buffet is returning (at least momentarily) to the internets: a veritable plethora of basketball thoughts for your Sunday morning consumption.

No one asked my opinion on non-Suns topics, but I'm going to give them anyway.

Some people may remember me from years and years ago on the SportingNews fan blogs. I used to post every Sunday something called the Sunday Buffet (or maybe it was called 'Sunday Brunch'; it's been a long, long time).

Sunday Buffet is a smorgasbord of breakfast options centered around interesting news from all sports. As I am now solely on a Suns blog, I stuck that concept on the shelf for several years but decided to dust it off today in the wake of some interesting developments in the world.

Pineapple Upside Down Pancakes

The New York Knicks hired one of the best coaches in the history of the game to... run their basketball operations. And now, Phil jackson is reportedly interested in hiring one of the brightest young front office minds to... coach the team.

Brilliant! What could go wrong?

Well, let's see. Do you think there's any chance Phil might have an opinion on how Steve Kerr coaches the team? Of course, Phil will attend practices and such and their philosophy on coaching the team will be sympatico... until things go sour.

But even during the honeymoon, how many times will we be watching a Knicks game on TNT and there's a camera shot of a Knicks assistant whispering something in Kerr's ear during a timeout while handing him a folded up piece of paper? How many times will the camera shoot up to Jackson's seat to get his unvarnished reaction after a bad play or (gasp) a bad play call?

I really hope for Kerr's sake this marriage doesn't consummate.

Irish Weekend Fry Up

All I can do is shake my head. I've been surprised all my life at the racism that still exists in the US when it crops up from time to time. Of course, I know there are different races, but I don't ascribe to the notion that there is any qualitative difference between people of different colors and I don't suffer people who express an opposite opinion.

I can only hope that the NBA has the gumption to make a serious stand against the Clippers owner. Baseball did this years ago with Marge Schott - suspending her twice for racist and anti-semitic comments - and it is necessary to do it again. Eventually, Schott left her ownership position.

I truly hope the Clippers players win the whole championship now. All of it. Every single game from now on. All while their owner is being forcibly removed from his position.

And that's all I will say on this subject.

Breakfast Flambe


Man, that was a big-balls shot by Vince Carter yesterday to win the game over the Borg. 1.7 seconds left, pass into the corner, pump fake the bald spot, then BOOM!

Finally, after six frustrating years, the Roger Mason Christmas Day shot got turned around on those suckers. Suns fans will remember. Christmas Day 2008. Suns up by 2 after a glorious Grant Hill back door cut to lay the ball in with mere seconds left.

Spurs get the ball, with Tony Parker at the top of the key. Grant Hill guarding him. But Jason Richardson left Roger Mason to help on the Parker drive, got stuck in the middle, Parker tossed it to Mason and BOOM. Merry g@$$amn Christmas, Suns fans.

Finally, that three-to-win-the-game got turned on the #1 seed Spurs, who find themselves at a 2-1 deficit to the 8th seed. I have to admit, I love seeing the Grizzlies and Mavericks taking it to the vaunted Spurs and Thunder early in the first round of the playoffs.

The Suns fought hard to make the playoffs, but got sent home by the Mavs and Grizz in playoff-atmosphere games in the final weekend of the season. Mike Conley of the Grizzlies recently credited that round-robin for getting the Grizzlies into playoff mode early. Now the rest of the NBA gets to taste their moxie, and I'm loving it. The Western Conference is a BEAST.

Scrambled Eggs, Bacon, Cheeses and Sausage

There's nothing like playoff basketball in general. Intensity spikes. Players with big cajones step up, while others fade into the background.

Eventually, talent wins out for the most part, but early games in early rounds can be a wonderful testament to how much parity there is in professional sport.

#8 Atlanta is tied with #1 Indiana, 2-2

#6 Brooklyn leads #3 Toronto, 2-1

#5 Washington leads #4 Chicago, 2-1

#8 Dallas leads #1 San Antonio, 2-1

#7 Memphis is tied with #2 Oklahoma City, 2-2

#5 Trail Blazers lead #4 Houston, 2-1

That's six out of eight series either tied or upside down, and nearly every game coming down to the wire. I must say I've never enjoyed a non-Suns playoffs as much as this first round. Quite a scramble!


Got any more breakfast analogies, folks?

Feel free to add to the Buffet!

It has almost been taken for granted how greatly the Phoenix Suns improved from last season, and how much they exceeded expectations, but first year head coach Jeff Hornacek saw good things on the horizon for the team last August. The Suns more than lived up to his bold words.

When Jeff Hornacek spoke with Bright Side's own Jim Coughenour in August of 2013 to discuss the upcoming Suns season, the prognosis for this squad was decidedly modest to the vast majority of NBA analysts. Hornacek's own expectations were quite different, however, and he made a few optimistic statements regarding the prospects for the Suns on the offensive end that, at the time, sounded almost delusional in their bullishness.

There were plenty of skeptics then, myself among them, but the Suns easily achieved the specific performance measures Hornacek mentioned. It's easy to use a person's words in the past against them when they don't live up to those statements, so let's give Hornacek credit here for making confident statements, and then seeing his team deliver on them.

First of all, you really should go back and read all of Jim's piece here because it's a fantastic piece of writing, and a great basketball conversation between two sharp minds.

Are you back? OK, wasn't it brilliant? Now, let's break down a few of those Horny quotes.

In response to Jim's question of how many points the Suns will score this season:

"What did we average last year? (It was 95.2 by the way) Over 102.9, we would hope we can get there. If we can get there, I think that's a good start for us in our first year. So, hopefully, I would say yes.

Horny added the qualifier "hopefully,", but that was still a gutsy statement to say that he thought his team could improve their PPG average by 8. The 2012-13 Suns team was 29th in the NBA in O-Rating, and their new starting lineup for this season featured three players who had never been full-season NBA starters before (Tucker, Plumlee and Bledsoe), and another who was returning from a year off missed due to a potentially life-threatening heart ailment (Frye).

103 PPG? No problem! This season's Suns scored 105.2 PPG, and a faster pace wasn't the cause. The Suns were 9th in pace last season and 8th this season, but they were much more efficient with their possessions this year, taking smarter, higher percentage shots, and rising to 8th in O-Rating as a result.

The subject of greater efficiency and smarter shots leads us to our next quote:

"I think what else will help them is when we really get these guys to buy into the teamwork factor that when you don't have the shot right away, then you can drive it and create and dish it out to someone who is open. When you look at the good teams, that's what they do. They either have the shot or they're creating something for somebody else. Consequently, they'll get more open looks, which will help their percentages. I think that every guy that you saw on this team last year can have a better shooting percentage in the coming year."

And that is exactly what happened.

The only returning players from last season were Goran Dragic, P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris, but I'll extend this view to the Suns entire regular rotation, which consisted of those four plus Miles Plumlee, Channing Frye, Eric Bledsoe, Gerald Green and Ish Smith. Effective FG% consolidates raw FG% and 3-point % into one measure, so it's what I'll use here. The Suns rotation, their eFG%s this year as compared to last:

2012-13 eFG% 2013-14 eFG% Plus/Minus
Dragic 49.1 56.1 +7
Bledsoe 47.3 52.2 +4.9
Tucker 49.8 49.1 -0.7
Plumlee 23.8* 51.7 +27.9*
Green 43.5 54.7 +11.2
I. Smith 37.7 42.5 +4.8
Mook Morris 45.2 51.8 +6.6
Keef Morris 44.2 50.7 +6.5
*Extremely small sample size

Tucker was basically flat, but anyone watching the way he added the corner 3 to his game this season could see the way he improved as a shooter. Every other player was a big fat plus, with Dragic transforming from a pretty good player to an All-NBA candidate, Green reviving his career with a huge leap, and the Morris twins growing into solid players before our very eyes.

Hornacek made his bones as an assistant by being a shooting coach. As a player, Horny built himself from being a mutt of a 2nd round draft pick to becoming one of the greatest shooters of his era in the NBA. Shooting mechanics are part of that, but so is smart shot selection and total team basketball.

Green still displayed, as the esteemed Scott Howard noted, an "array of crazy-ass shots," but he also showed discipline in getting to his spot above the break to drill 3s in transition. That was a pretty play, and Green ended up making 204 3-point shots, converting them at a 40% rate. Horny was able to get an amazing performance out of Green, an athletic freak whose career had been left for dead after he flamed out in Indy.

Dragic was honored with the NBA Most Improved Player award, the Suns increased their win total by 23 games, and Hornacek finished 2nd in Coach of the Year voting, narrowly losing to basketball savant Gregg Popovich. Who thought all this was possible? Well, Hornacek, in measured language, saw some of it.

Many coaches speak in vague generalities and cliches, fearful that their statements will later be used against them. Hornacek spoke fairly openly in that August interview, and what he said proved to be well worth the listen. The Hornacek report card will be posted later, and this is not it, but you can probably tell what grade I would give him.

In the 2014 NBA Draft the Phoenix Suns will be drafting No. 14, 18, 27, and 44 at the very least. Let's look at these picks one at a time starting with the "lottery" pick.

Expectations are a line we create in our heads for something with the hope that they are exceeded and the fear that they will not be met. They exist in all walks of life. In the 2013-2014 NBA Season the Phoenix Suns were not supposed to win more than 21 games total. Then they went out and did that on January 15th.

Odds and expectations are very different.

With the 2014 NBA Draft coming up in the distance there like a mirage that was once all the hopes and dreams for a starving fan base in the desert is now just another mile marker on the path to where the team is going. It does not have the pazazz as it did less than six months ago. The prospects are all there. From Andrew Wiggins to Jabari Parker to Dante Exum, they are all waiting there, but the Suns are there to meet them with open arms.

So, full disclosure here, the Phoenix Suns will be drafting 14th, 3rd, 2nd, or 1st in the 2014 NBA Draft.

The odds for each pick are:

0.5% for No. 1

0.6% for No. 2

0.7% for No.3

98.2% for No. 14

In the nine year history of the No. 14 Overall Pick it has never moved into the Top 3 once. It has finished where it started every year. In fact the highest risers in the history of the lottery were the Cleveland Cavaliers (via the Los Angeles Clippers) in 2011 with the 8th best odds, the Chicago Bulls in 2008 with the 9th worst odds, and the Orlando Magic in 1993 with the 11th worst odds.

Moving up to potentially drape Wiggins, Parker, Embiid, Parker, or Exum in purple and orange is a desirable outcome, just not a realistic one.

Instead the talent pool looks more like Rashad McCants, Ronnie Brewer, Al Thornton, Anthony Randolph, former Sun Earl Clark, Patrick Patterson, current Sun Marcus Morris, John Henson, and Shabazz Muhammad. That group has an average PER of 13.8 over their individual careers with Henson (18.0) being the leader so far and Clark (10.3) holding up the bottom.

The league average for PER was 13.46 this past season, therefore the 14th pick generally wields a league average player.

Expectations are to win the lottery and or net an above average to great player with any pick. However the odds are that a good player will be available and will spend less than four years with the team that drafts them. In the current construction of the NBA Draft with 14 Lottery Picks the longest any player has lasted with the team that drafted them was 3.5 years, two of them are out of the league, and every one of them have played for more than one team, excluding the last two drafts.

Is this the year the odds play in the favor of the Suns? That will be determined on May 20th, but for now expectations should be tempered to the point of at least getting a league average player for the next 2-4 years.

The last two drafts saw the No. 14 Overall Pick traded either on draft night or the night before. That could be a three-peat this year with the mentality and aggressive nature of Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough. With three mid-value picks like the team has a trade is not out of the cards to move.

With the way things are currently constructed the Suns could use a traditional power forward to eventually take over those duties and more options on the perimeter for both shooting and defending.

Some prospects to keep an eye on include Michigan State Power Forward Adreian Payne (No. 12 Overall on NDI Rankings), Syracuse combo forward Jerami Grant (No. 15), and Creighton combo forward Doug McDermott (No. 16). Other than that the forward position is very light after you get past the first 5-7 picks. Payne can play inside and out with more traditional size at 6-10 and very good overall athleticism. He fits the mold as a potential two-way forward that can stretch the floor with his shooting, score in the paint, and defend NBA caliber forwards.

Both Grant and McDermott are combo forwards that will have limitations playing the three or the four at the next level.

On the wing the options are UCLA combo guard Zach LaVine (No. 14), Kentucky G/F James Young (No. 17), and Clemson wing K.J. McDaniels (No. 20). Others are sure to rise while some of these prospects could fall. Young has a hard time defending the fifth best player on the court in a college game so he will be drafted more for his offensive versatility. McDaniels will be an interesting option with his game resembling what would happen if you could merge P.J. Tucker and Gerald Green into one player. He is an elite athlete that defends at a very high level, has the ability to hit the three-point shot well, and maximizes his talent every game.

Last year the 14th and 21st picks were combined to move up to obtain the 9th Overall Pick. Is it worth trading a league average player and another asset to draft five spots higher?

The Suns can do that. They can also hold strong and potentially add one of these six names mentioned above with the No. 14 Overall Pick. There are so many options and the team has put themselves in an enviable position of having the assets and no need to make a drastic move in either direction.

Next up: A review of the No. 18 Overall Pick

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