Last season, Phoenix Suns all-everything P.J. Tucker was that guy who got the partially guaranteed contract thanks to a quality Summer League stint after spending several seasons overseas. He wasn't expected to play at all, sans injuries to the guys ahead of him on the depth chart.
Yet, by opening night, P.J. Tucker had established himself as a player you just can't put on the bench. He hustled, dove, got into the opponent on defense, and ran one-man fast breaks that probably should have qualified for most of the Suns "Top 10 plays of 2012-13".
Nonetheless, his play earned him a 25 minute highlight video on YouTube. If you haven't watched this video, you need to do it now (well, after reading this article I guess). You'll be a better basketball fans for it.
The video went viral last week when SB Nation wrote a feature story on the video maker, and Tucker said his twitter timeline blew up with mentions and links.
"Oh yeah, I saw it," he said with a big smile. "A lot of them, I even forgot about. A lot of stops on D. At the end of the day, I played 25-26 minutes a game so it wasn't hard for him to find 25 minutes of stuff, but it's the kind of stuff he did. I liked it though. It was nice."
As one of the oldest returning players this season, Tucker (28) has an opportunity to play a leadership role along with Goran Dragic and Channing Frye. General Manager Ryan McDonough mentioned the team's veterans - predictably leaving Tucker off the list, as it the norm for Tucker's career - as guys who can help the kids get better.
The problem is that none of these guys is vocal - they would rather lead by example through their play and work ethic.
"I've always been a leader in my own right, leading by example," he said. "I'm not much of 'tell guys what to do', I just try to lead with ‘this is the way we go'. We are going to put out the effort, either get on the train or get off."
In Europe, Tucker worked himself into being the best player on his team, the most important player because of his hustle and commitment on both ends of the court. Last season in Phoenix, Tucker was seen by coaches as the perfect example of how they wanted to play - with heart, hustle and never-say-die attitude - but that never resonated with the team.
This season, he's not looking to make any changes.
"It's gonna be tough", he says of the losing streaks a young team will face this season. "I'm going to handle it exactly how I handled it last year. Going into every game and playing it for what it is. Every game. In this league you gotta have a short memory. You can't linger on from the last game because whoever is coming in is going to be tough. So you gotta have a short memory and keep playing. You got to fight through it.
"Sometimes you go on losing streaks and it's not going so well. Sometimes you get tired. Guys got to tough it up and get through it. From me, I gotta show these guys to be resilient, to keep fighting no matter who we got next."
Hopefully, this season's cast of characters will respond to Tucker's play and emulate it rather than simply observe it. So far Tucker sees a lot of positives from the team through pickup games in September, but he knows this time of year can be deceiving.
"Coming into camp last year," he said, with a shake of his head. "We didn't think we would have the season we did. It felt good, everything was good. You just never know until you get into the season."
Asked how he sees this team playing this season, Tucker went back to his mantra: "Young and energetic. I think everybody that checks in is going to play hard. I think the way Jeff wants to play, get up and down, you know. Just being a tough, energetic team."
Suns fans can only hope that Tucker's vision for the Suns comes true. He's smart enough to know that the players have to prove it when the games count. But he's an optimistic sort who would rather expect the best than any alternative.
"There's a lot of positive energy right here, right now, going into Flag," Tucker concluded. "So we'll see."
Tucker's playing time this season might just be dependent on his ability to make a corner three, which he has been terrible at doing so far. With Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe pushing the ball down the court and into the teeth of the defense, they will need at least one reliable outlet shooter on the wing who can take the dump off pass and make a shot. The Suns are hoping that Channing Frye can be one of those outlets, but the small forward position might just be Marcus Morris' to lose because he's a much better 3-point shooter.
But then again, we're talking about P.J. Tucker. While head coach Jeff Hornacek might not trust Tucker setting up in the corner for an open three point attempt, he likely won't be able to deny Tucker playing time because of his hustle and commitment. Tucker is always the guy the coaches love, even though he's on his third coach in nine months.
"Jeff's so mild mannered, so cool and laid back," Tucker said of his new head coach. "He tells you exactly what he wants, how he wants it done, what you should do to get better. I was a fan of [former Suns coaches] Alvin [Gentry] and Lindsey [Hunter]. I think they have a lot of the same qualities. I like Jeff just as much as I liked those two."
For the past four episodes of the "Phoenix Suns Podcast on Bright Side of the Sun" we have turned the focus onto the Pacific Division and the teams combatants. This week we bring it back to the Valley with a two-parter previewing the Suns and looking ahead to the season.
In part one Dave and I break down the events at Media Day, philosophies on who to start at the forward positions, and how to pronounce Goran Dragic (DRAG ITCH). If you are a fan of phonetics then this podcast will be riveting!
Part One with Dave King Here: Phoenix Suns Podcast Episode 40 Part One (Dave King)
Continuing to get all the voices on Bright Side here on the podcast part two introduces Sreekar to the show to talk about Bill Simmons Grantland Preview for the Suns and how it is correct yet flawed. The video is embedded below. The flaws are obvious in the tired old complaints about the team and a coin flip that is almost older than basketball itself.
SPOILER ALERT: Sreekar and I break down Breaking Bad, the finale, the series, and the ideology of how people are never satisfied no matter the praise. That happens about 22-24 minutes into the show.
Part Two with Sreekar Jasthi Here: Phoenix Suns Podcast Episode 40 (Sreekar Jasthi)
This year we are going to rotate the hosts around to give the readers (and listeners) a chance to hear all of the takes, opinions, and offerings of the staff as a whole. Now that Dave and Sreekar are broken in and now that I think about this, this is all on me, but I did a poor job of hazing them as "newbies" to the show. Maybe I will make Jacob and Sean wear Hello Kitty backpacks?
Miles Plumlee may be one of the less heralded additions to the Phoenix Suns this off-season, but he may very well be a player that fans should keep an eye on.
Miles, who is the older brother of this year's 22nd overall draft pick Mason Plumlee, was also the 25th overall pick just a year earlier...In what many believe to be a much better draft class overall.
Now, this isn't to say Miles is better than Mason. However, he's certainly more than just trade or camp filler. Miles is a strong, athletic 7-footer who is versatile enough to play both the power forward position as well as center.
Add to that he already has one year of NBA and D-League experience under his belt from his time with the Indiana Pacers last season, and comes to Phoenix ready to compete for playing time amongst the other bigs who are currently on the Suns' roster.
So how does Miles fit with the new Phoenix Suns?
Yesterday, Miles attended the Phoenix Suns' media day, and provided some insight into what he brings as a player, his assessment of the coaching staff, and what he thinks about some of his new teammates. Here is some of what he had to say:
When Miles was asked about what people didn't know about him or what may surprise them he said,
My size and athleticism. I'm a hard working guy, a lot of energy so I think I'm going to fit in well with the program. I think we're going to play really fast up and down the court...I like to run and jump, so I think that will play to my strengths.
This certainly makes sense. Plumlee is a very underrated athlete, and although he wasn't a star player at Duke like his brother Miles, he showed a lot of potential. He could definitely surprise some fans with what he can do on the court.
He was then asked if there was anything that stood out to him about the Suns in general, or anyone he's played with in his brief time in Phoenix...This is what he had to say:
We are really fast. We have point guards who can really create off the dribble and get the ball to everyone.
Again, this certainly fits with everything else that's been reported about the style of play being embraced by the new coaching regime, and what is known about the young players....Good to hear the same opinion from one of the newest members.
When Miles was asked about the kinds of things he's been working on with the coaching staff since he arrived in Phoenix, he answered:
Improving my offensive package, working on all my pivots and moves to make them more natural....footwork.
This is an important statement because it is something Miles lacked in college. However, in Summer League with the Pacers, Miles impressed with not only his athleticism but also his finesse and skill in the post. Still, this is an area of his game he must continue to improve upon.
Miles was also asked about the Suns' coaching staff and how detail oriented they care. He responded:
Across the whole coaching staff everyone's got a great attention to detail. Even though it's pick up they're letting us know if we're not guarding ball screens correctly, or what we should be doing. A lot of teams during the summer just kind of let you play.
No surprises here. Hornacek is a technician, and it stands to reason he would surround himself with other coaches who would also demand precision and correct execution with everything they do.
Miles was also asked about new teammate Alex Len, and what he brings to the Suns. Miles had this to say:
I swear I think he's taller than when I played against him at Maryland. He's a big kid and he's got a lot of potential. He's really skilled and the more you get adjusted to the NBA game which is a slower process for bigs...I think he's going to be a great player.
Here's where things get a little interesting. When asked about whether or not thought Len would eventually be a top five pick when he played against him in Len's freshman year at Maryland...He replied:
I could see that...I mean, it's hard...it all depends on how things culminate one season. But I knew he had a lot of potential and I thought he was a really good player. I guess I wouldn't have said he'd be a top five pick, but once he was I wasn't necessarily surprised...He's earned it.
So Miles didn't necessarily see Len as a top five pick at the time, which is a very honest answer given the fact that Len was still a very raw freshman when they played against one another. But it's also apparent that Miles was very complimentary toward Alex overall...so nothing more to read into that.
Next, Miles was asked whether he thought his athleticism and mobility is his biggest advantage compared to the other centers on the roster...To this he responded:
If I had to hang my hat on something I'd say it's my athleticism and running; especially with the guards we have...you know, catching lobs, getting rebounds I shouldn't (be able to) get. I got to play with Gortat a little bit and Len. Obviously Gortat is really athletic as well. So I think we've just got a really nice blend of big guys.
Miles seems to understand his role should be an energy/hustle guy to begin with. He probably won't see a great deal of playing time to start with, so it will be up to him to earn minutes with his play.
Finally, Miles was asked about which if the point guards have really stood out to him thus far. Here's what he said:
Among the (point) guards who has really stood out to you?: All three of them in their own way have such an ability to really see things developing and hit you (with a pass)...I'm not used to getting hit (with passes like that) as a big guy...I haven't played with guards like that in a long time. I've gotten hit in the nose a few times...It's a great problem to have.
This is the politically correct response...One wouldn't expect him to single anyone out. If anything though, it does speak to the learning curve that bigs face as they adjust to playing at the NBA level...A very different animal altogether from college. The speed of the game and the talent of the players is difficult to get used to for many younger guys, but hopefully his year of experience with the Pacers and their D-League affiliate will serve him well.
Only time will tell what type of future Miles Plumlee has with the Phoenix Suns. However, he's certainly an intriguing player that fans should keep an eye on in the preseason...He just might be one of this year's surprises.