The Suns have won four straight games, and the play of P.J. Tucker has been a big factor in that success.

A year-and-a-half ago, P.J. Tucker was just looking for a job in the NBA. He blew his first chance as a second round pick by Toronto in 2006, and spent the next five years playing overseas.

Last summer, Tucker got a second chance as the Suns invited him to Summer League. He impressed the Suns brass with his hustle, and made the team despite not lighting up Las Vegas statistically. Most of us figured he was a bottom of the bench guy who wouldn't be much of a factor. Most of us were wrong, as not only was he part of the rotation, he actually earned his way into the starting line-up and was one of the bright spots in an otherwise nightmarish season.

Tucker's aggressive style of defense and relentless hustle on the boards made him a valuable part of the rotation despite his offensive limitations. Tucker wasn't content with just getting back into the NBA, however, and put the work in this summer to improve his game.

He's started all 22 games this year, and is up from 24 minutes to 31 minutes per game this season. He's putting up 9.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.4 steals per game in addition to being the Suns' best wing defender. Most importantly, and perhaps most surprisingly for those that watched him play last year, he's shooting 47.4 percent from the 3-point line.

Tucker is coming off a tremendous four-game stretch, in which he showcased all the things he does well. He opened the Suns' four-game winning streak by scoring 18 points on 8-13 shooting to go with his six rebounds, four assists and four steals. Oh, he also completely shut down Houston's star shooting guard James Harden, who finished with 14 points on 3-17 shooting and five turnovers.

Next, he put up a double-double against the Toronto Raptors with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Against the Los Angeles Lakers, Tucker struggled offensively but still managed to contribute with 11 rebounds, including a clutch offensive rebound late that basically sealed the game. Finally, he nearly put up another double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds in the Suns' first win in three tries against the Sacramento Kings.

Let's take a look at how Tucker has been so effective.

This first play is a really simple one from early in the Houston game, showcasing Tucker's technique and strength on the offensive glass.

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In the above picture, Miles Plumlee is posting up on the right block while Tucker is on the baseline on the other side of the lane.

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Plumlee goes up with the hook shot, and right away Tucker begins fighting for position. Originally he was sealed along the baseline, but he slides in front of his man and begins pushing him back.

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Tucker simply overpowers his man, pushing him far enough back to give himself space to jump up and secure the board. He goes back up with it and gets fouled.

This next play shows off a couple of the things he is best at as defense leads to offense.

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Tucker is playing tight defense on Harden as Dwight Howard has the ball out on the perimeter. Dwight is looking to hand off to Harden, but Tucker can see it coming with his peripheral vision.

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Tucker stays right with Harden as he goes to take the hand-off, and punches it loose when Howard exposes the ball.

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Tucker out-hustles Harden and beats him to the loose ball ...

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Then takes it in for a nice reverse layup as Harden flies past him.

Finishing at the rim in transition is one of Tucker's strengths. He had another play very similar to this one in the Toronto game where he stole the ball and took it all the way for two points.

This final play from the Houston game shows off Tucker's aggressive style of defense, which is what he is most known for.

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Here, Harden is bringing the ball down in semi-transition, and Tucker is waiting for him.

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Harden keeps coming at him, but Tucker stays in front of him and Harden leaves his feet.

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Tucker didn't give him any room to get off a shot, and he had to kick it out to the perimeter,

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Harden goes out to either set a screen or take a hand-off, and Tucker jumps on the Rocket with the ball to trap him on the sideline.

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Harden gets the ball back, and Tucker recovers and gets back in front of him.

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Tucker jumps out and gets right in Harden's face. He prevents Harden from driving middle and instead pushes him to the outside.

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Harden gets past Tucker, but Tucker sticks with the play to make sure Harden can't get back to the middle while Markieff Morris slides over to protect the rim. Harden leaves his feet with nowhere to go and charges into Keef. Offensive foul.

This is the kind of defense Tucker played all game against Harden, and the defense he plays against everyone he faces. He made Harden work all game long just to get open, and was a big reason why Harden settled for 10 3-pointers (all of them misses).

This next play from the Toronto game shows the area he has most improved this season: as a shooter.

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The play begins as Miles Plumlee misses a free throw. Tucker reads where the ball is going, goes up and gets a hand on it, keeping the play alive.

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As the ball is tipped up and around and finally secured by the Suns, Tucker relocates to his favorite spot on the court: the left corner.

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He gets the ball in his sweet spot and his improved stroke pays off as he drills the three.

This season, Tucker is shooting 14-25 (56 percent from that corner). He's 10-24 from the other corner for 41.7 percent. He's only taken eight total above the break 3-pointers (making three of them). It looks like Tucker spent almost the entire summer working exclusively on that corner three shot, and it is paying off in a big way for the Suns this year.

Let's look at one more play, another offensive rebound. Suns fans should remember this one fondly as it was perhaps the clinching play in the win against the Lakers.

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It is a two-possession game with a minute remaining, and Channing Frye lets loose a 3-ball. Tucker is in his favorite corner, and when he sees the ball going up he runs to the rim...

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And right by one Mr. Kobe Bryant, who fails to box him out. There are three Lakers in the paint, but Tucker has pu himself in good position.

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He beats all three Lakers and is the first one to touch the ball ...

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Then secures it for the Suns and gets the ball out to Goran Dragic, effectively ending the game. Thanks for letting it happen Kobe.

P.J. Tucker is not an All-Star, but his contributions have been invaluable to this Suns team's surprising success. Whether you call him "The Garbage Man" as he was dubbed by Suns.com's Greg Esposito or "Padlock" as one of our own Bright Siders have named him, P.J. Tucker's strength and effort have allowed him to succeed despite not having prototypical height or athleticism. After five years playing overseas, he has proven that he belongs in the NBA and is here to stay.

The Suns had a short, but impressive week going 2-0 against the Lakers on the road, and the Kings at home. Many players had a part in both of the wins, but there were two in particular that stood out from the rest. Rather than narrowing it down to just one player of the week this time around, it's only right to nominate the dynamic duo in the Suns' back-court who both helped carry the Suns to victory.

The Players of the Week

Eric Bledsoe

Weekly Stat Averages:

Points: 23.0 FG%: .514 Assists: 8.5 Steals: 3.0 Rebounds: 4.5

In my opinion, Eric Bledsoe had the best week of his career thus far. Not only did he register a new career high in points against the Kings by scoring 28, he helped the team in a wide variety of ways this week as you can tell from his stat line. However, the most impressive thing of all in my opinion is how well he seemed to play along side of Dragic, and then make the transition to leading the team without Goran in the line-up as well.

Goran Dragic

Weekly Stat Averages:

Points: 30.0 FG%: .593 Assists: 4.0 Steals: 1.0 Rebounds: 3.0

There is no doubt that Goran Dragic has been the most consistent player on the Suns so far this season, and he's now becoming the Suns most lethal scoring threat as well. Dragic has had fewer assists in the last couple of weeks, but has significantly increased his scoring. Although it was only two games, he still managed to average 30 points this week...that's a pretty big deal. Not only that, he did so while shooting nearly 60% from the field, which includes hitting 6-11 from beyond the arc.

The Slash Brothers

This week, the Suns' starting back-court averaged a combined 53 points a game while shooting 55% from the field...tremendous! While Dragic led the tandem in both scoring and field goal percentage, Bledsoe had the most assists and steals...But they both contributed heavily in all aspects of the game. The most important thing is they really seem to be figuring out how to play together, now that they are both finally healthy at the same time.

However, they are also taking turns leading the team while the other one rests, which is just as, if not more important. This way the Suns are never without at least one of them on the floor...which should hopefully help them sustain leads and continue their winning ways.

Although the "Splash Brothers" of the Golden State Warriors are currently recognized as the premier back-court duo of the NBA, the "Slash Brothers" of the Suns are quickly building their case to be in that conversation. In fact, they may even have the upper hand if they can continue to perform at such a high level, since Dragic and Bledsoe possess so much more than just a lethal shooting game.

Time will tell...it's still far too early to draw any conclusions. But isn't it great just knowing that the Suns have a tandem that is even in the discussion?


Poll
Will Dragic and Bledsoe become the best back-court duo in the NBA this season?

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Ryan McDonough and the Phoenix Suns are willing to trade one or more of their draft picks for the loaded 2014 draft, but that’s not necessarily anything unexpected. McDonough told NBA.com on...

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PHOENIX – No doubt Phoenix Suns fans have to ask which of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe are future pieces. And if we’re not to get locked into thinking one of them has to go, the obvious answer...

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After losing two early-season games to the Kings, the Phoenix Suns showed their customary hustle to win an offensive shootout in the desert behind big efforts from Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe.

Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe both flirted with career high scoring efforts, as the Phoenix Suns finally got the monkey off the their backs in beating the Sacramento Kings,

After the Kings had closed a 12-point gap to 4 with 3 minutes left, Bledsoe got his career high in points a moment later on a three-pointer. He finished with 28 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds and 3 steals.

Miles Plumlee had a great game defending DeMarcus Cousins (only 13 points on 4-14 shooting), and pouring in 12 points of his own (all on dunks), grabbing 9 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 blocks. Very nice game for him. Maybe he got the Slava wake-up call?

Goran Dragic finished with 29 huge points - all in the first three quarters before Bledsoe took over the fourth - to get the Suns the lead heading into the fourth frame. He nearly tied that career high (32), but a three rimmed out.

And then there was P.J. Tucker. Frustrated all night by the foul calls and physical game, Tucker had a great fourth and helped close out the game with offensive boards and putbacks. He had 5 points and 5 rebounds in the fourth quarter alone (10 and 8 for the game).

Two of the Phoenix Suns nine losses have come at the hands of the Sacramento Kings, and none of their first 12 wins.

Two of the Kings meager six wins have been over the Phoenix Suns, and none of their first 14 losses.

In the NBA, sometimes a team is just a bad matchup. To wit, the Suns have beaten Portland twice this year, accounting for half of their losses in 23 games (Portland is 19-4 this year). Why the Suns have Portland's number, I don't know.

And why the Kings have the Suns' number I don't know. The Kings are a terrible offensive team playing it's first game with all of their new acquisitions in their lineup - Derrick Williams and Rudy Gay... and Aaron Gray, of course. Yet it doesn't matter who the Kings put around DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas, the Kings kill the Suns.

After the Suns charged out to a 13-2 lead, the Kings outscored the Suns 32-15 the rest of the quarter and led all the way through the second.

Aaron Gray played like a real NBA player, with 5 rebounds in 8 minutes of play in the first half. Derrick Williams put in 7 points and grabbed 2 rebounds in the first half - not big numbers, but he was in for both big Kings runs and was a +18 in 14 first half minutes of a 3-point game.

The Suns clawed close behind Goran Dragic's awesome first half - 21 points on 7-8 shooting (3-3 on threes) and 2 assists and 3 rebounds. But Dragic had 4 of the Suns' 12 first half turnovers.

Oh yeah, the turnovers. The Suns had 12 in the FIRST HALF ALONE, along with giving up 6 offensive rebounds to the Kings, to help account for the Kings taking 11 more shots than the Suns in 24 minutes of play.

The Suns trailed 61-58 at halftime. Two of those points were on techical fouls, called on Hornacek and Tucker protesting the refs whistles.

Could the Suns clamp down on the defensive end against a Kings team that only scores 98 a game? We shall see...

Plumlee didn't start the second half well, after having been pulled for Slava Kravtsov in the first half already. And when you're pulled for Slava, you know you're not having a good game. Kravtsov played terrible in Plumlee's wake. Really terrible.

And then Plumlee came out of nowhere to block Cousins on a breakaway dunk attempt to light up the crowd (and piss off Cousins). A possession later, Cousins fumbled a loose ball out of bounds in front of the Suns bench. Still heated from the embarrassing block, Cousins jawed with Dionte Christmas and was called for a technical to give the Suns the lead.

Could Cousins recapture his cool?

The Suns sprouted to a 5-point lead in the blink of an eye to force a Kings TO, as Mike Malone tried to regroup his troops.

It didn't work.

The Suns started rolling with aggression that was missing since early in the first quarter. Even when Miles Plumlee missed three straight point-blank shots in the paint (two were heavily contested at least), he tied up the Kings on the way back down, forced a jump ball that went the Suns way and ended in a Dragic three.

Suddenly, it was a 12 point lead for the Suns - a 19-4 run to start the second half.

The key to the game now was for the Suns to stay aggressive. Young teams tend to get comfortable, and either overextend (into fouls) or expect someone else to make the play. Staying sharp is the key.

The Suns did not stay sharp. Turnovers returned. Cousins and Thomas getting calls. Suns missing layups.

At the end of the third quarter, the Suns lead was only three points after they let little Isaiah Thomas drive the length of the court for a layup with seconds to go.

At the end of three:

  • Suns lead 85-82
  • Dragic had 29 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal
  • Bledsoe had 21 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals
  • Markieff Morris was the next leading scorer with 9 points, 5 rebounds
  • Miles Plumlee didn't have great success against Cousins, but still had 4 steals (a team season-high and Plumlee's career high) to go along with 4 points, 6 rebounds and a big block

In the fourth quarter, the Suns went small with the Morrii at the 4 and 5 for a couple of minutes before subbing out Dragic for Frye. It was Bledsoe's lead to hold.

Aaron Gray imposed his will/size again in the fourth with a couple of putback layins to bail out the Kings bad possessions. The Suns tried to use Frye to draw Gray out on defense, but it was Gray's work under his own basket that kept the Kings alive.

But Gerald Green and Channing Frye hit a couple of big threes to keep the Suns in a comfortable lead.

Then Plumlee came in with a couple of nice finish-dunks and another big block on a Cousins drive, leading to a Bledsoe fast break score, that gave the Suns a 12-point lead with 5:50 to go.

Hopefully, the Suns remember having had a 14-point lead with 3.5 minutes to go in Sacramento last month, and don't let their foot off the gas.

The Kings didn't die, but the Suns didn't have Eric Bledsoe in that first couple of losses either. Bledsoe put on a show in the fourth that was so good you wondered if Dragic would even get back in the game to match/beat his career high - he was only 3 points shy coming into the fourth.

Dragic came back with 4:35 to go, with he and Bledsoe a combined 5 points from their career highs.

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