The prized addition to the Philadelphia 76ers‘ this offseason was P.J. Tucker. The franchise outbid a number of contenders and handed the 37-year-old a three-year contract worth $33 million with the third season as a player option just minutes into the start of free agency. The lack of toughness and inability of players to do the little things that contribute to winning basketball have been a problem for the Sixers and Tucker has been a proven solution to this throughout his career. The Sixers may be off to an 0-2 start to the season, but Tucker’s impact has already been felt and is being recognized by his teammates and the coaching staff.
The 11-year veteran has never been one to stand out on the stat sheet. He holds career averages of just 7.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.1 steals during his 29.0 minutes per game. This has proven to be the case through the first two games of the season. During his 72 minutes of game time, Tucker has attempted just eight field goal attempts. This should not overshadow the impact he has made which is being recognized by his coach and surrounding team.
James Harden’s Thoughts on Tucker:
One player who was already familiar with playing with Tucker is James Harden due to their time together in Houston. The two have run a number of two-man actions which have often resulted in the matchups that Harden desired and he has done a terrific job of capitalizing. Following the loss to the Bucks, Harden was asked about what the veteran brings to the offense that may not be shown on the stat sheet.
As Harden put it when speaking to the media, “It’s his knack for being in the right spot. So it’s like whether he is in the three, ready for a three-point corner shot, or his pick-and-roll finding a pocket and being a playmaker as well. So, offensively he’s vocal, he’s very good…he just has a knack and he knows. He’s a smart basketball player, he thinks the game rather than just going out there and running around.”
While it is too early in the season to be reading into these trends too much, Harden has been the most effective two-man partner with Tucker to start the season. The duo has outscored opponents by 1.6 points per 100 possessions and shared the court for 62 game minutes. They also have outperformed opponents on the boards and shot a better field-goal percentage. The Sixers will hope for the chemistry between this duo continues to grow throughout the season.
Small-Ball Lineup Flexibility
Another reason the Sixers targeted Tucker was due to the ability he possesses to play small-ball center. This was put on display during the matchup with the Bucks and shifted the momentum of the game in the Sixers’ favor.
Doc Rivers made this change with 34.8 seconds left in the third quarter with the Sixers trailing 68-59. He also rolled it out to start the fourth quarter with Tucker and Harden sharing the court with Tyrese Maxey, Danuel House Jr, and Tobias Harris. Harden took control of the unit and led them back to tie the game 80-80 with 6:42 left to play. Tucker had a notable steal and assist which led to the game-tying basket. The Sixer ultimately ended up losing the matchup 90-88, but Tucker’s impact playing the small-ball center was felt in a major way.
Following the game, Coach Rivers was asked about his decision to play Tucker as the primary big man. He revealed he was not happy with the play of either Paul Reed or Montrezl Harrell in the first half. This led Rivers to play Tucker. As he put it, “It’s tough because we tried matching PJ’s minutes with Giannis (Antetokounmpo) and then the one stretch, I just said ‘We’re gonna keep PJ out there’. He said he can take the minutes so we left him out there…We just had a lot of space for us to attack so that’s a good unit for us.”
The Sixers still have a great deal of work to do, but the early impact of Tucker is intriguing. The team will continue to play around with their rotations and minutes allocations as the year progresses. While not too much can be taken away from just two games, it is clear Tucker is going to have a vital role in this Sixers team moving forward.