The Corner Comeback
P.J. Tucker's Journey to the Sweet Spot
P.J. Tucker was a tweener. Too small to be a forward, too thick to be a scoring guard, and too unskilled to be an effective player in the NBA. He was discarded by the league, as unwanted things often are, and shoved to the corner.
After a successful collegiate career at Texas, the 6-foot-6, 250-pound second-round pick was a quick bust. The Raptors selected him in 2006, and they cut him after 17 games.
In November of his first NBA season, a lifelong dream eluded him. Tucker went unclaimed as a free agent. December. January. February. March. By the ’07 playoffs, he called it. The league didn’t want him, and he didn’t want the league.
Tucker took his game overseas and played five seasons in Europe; Israel, Ukraine, Greece, Italy, and Germany. He won championships, MVPs, and never expected nor wanted to return to the NBA. It became a game owned by one-on-one players and 7-footers with athleticism, and Tucker’s style of play didn’t fit. Europe had a place for him. The NBA did not.
That changed in 2012. Just after Tucker signed a deal to play in Russia, he got an unlikely call from an NBA team. He was 27 years old, an aging role player with less than 100 minutes of NBA game action, and the Suns invited him to Summer Camp.
Then, out of the corners emerged P.J. Tucker; an armored tank and defensive ballhawk with a corner 3-ball as deadly as they come. After 11 seasons of patiently proving his value overseas and in the NBA, Tucker’s unique skillset fit the Rockets to a ‘T’ – and you can’t make a ‘T’ without two corners.
He was childhood friends with Chris Paul, and while James Harden dribbles and drives defenses to death, Tucker waits patiently in the corners ready to deliver at a moment’s notice. He saves his energy for the defensive end where he can guard positions 1-5 like a swiss-army knife. He’s the corner piece to the puzzle that allows Harden to play the style of game he likes; the glue guy if you will.
In seven NBA seasons, Tucker has never averaged double figures. Still, the 34-year-old started 82 games this season for the first time in his career, and he’s come to life in the playoffs.
In last night’s win, Tucker scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 42 minutes – more minutes than James Harden played – including three corner 3s, a highlight reel of hustle plays, and a +/- better than any player in the game… A game that featured seven all-stars, and the bust who went to Europe outworked them all.
Once outcast to the corners of the globe, P.J. Tucker returned to the corners of the NBA court, and he’s playing the role of the X-factor – and the underdog – to a ‘T’.