The Philadelphia 76ers made a splash this offseason by giving a three-year contract to PJ Tucker worth roughly $33 million. This is set to be the highest-paid contract of the 37-year-old’s career. The Sixers have lacked the intangibles that Tucker is known for and are hoping his toughness, versatility, and playoff experience can help them to get over the postseason hump. The early signs are seeming positive as several of the members of the Sixers raved about his impact following the first day of camp.
When asked about the debut practice of the veteran, Doc Rivers told reporters:
“You can see certain guys like P.J. stand out, especially defensively. When he’s on the floor, when he’s off the floor, it is night and day. That’s what we’re challenging guys, because P.J.’s not playing 48 minutes. And it’s not just his defense. It’s his talking and it’s his knowledge,” Rivers stated following day one of training camp.
Tucker’s Importance on the Sixers
While it is still incredibly early, Tucker has already flashed the reasons the Sixers made him such a priority this offseason. The 11-year NBA veteran will be sure to play a role on the court with his corner three-point shooting and hard-nosed defense. However, it is the intangible qualities that made him such a desireable addition.
Rivers further emphasized how vocal Tucker has been when talking to reporters.
“It starts more with team defense than it does with individual offense. That’s where a P.J. Tucker, who’s a great talker, he immediately helps your team defense. He was so loud at one point, that on both ends you could hear him down the other end but you couldn’t hear the guys on the end I was standing,” Rivers told reporters following the opening practice.
Despite having Joel Embiid to anchor the defense and an eye-popping wing defender in Matisse Thybulle, the Sixers found themselves outside the top ten in several defensive metrics last season. They were 13th in defensive efficiency, 13th in opponents’ points in the paint, and 28th in opponents’ fastbreak points per game. Tucker will help raise the team’s ability on this side of the ball which will be especially important in the postseason.
Tucker to Play Small Forward?
There has not been an official announcement but all signs are pointing toward Tucker replacing Thybulle in the starting lineup this season. One of the concerns is the positional fit between Tucker and Tobias Harris. Both players play a hybrid role but are most comfortable operating as a stretch forward.
Harris has downplayed the importance of this saying that the small forward and power forward positions are nearly identical in Doc Rivers’ system. Rivers eluded to Tucker getting the priority at the power forward position but this will certainly be something that is evaluated with more time on the court.
Regardless of how the positions shake out, Tucker is making an early impact on the Sixers in a positive manner. The leadership and experience he brings are difficult to quantify, but several players have credited him with raising the intensity of practices thus far. It is terrific to see such a strong impression made this early, and count on this to continue throughout the season.