Tucker Becoming Two-Way Thorn Suns Fans Know

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Bruce Bowen. Mario Elie. Rick Fox.

Suns fans have more than enough history on the receiving end of perimeter pests, players who would get under a Phoenix player’s skin with defense and throw daggers from distance on offense.

The good news is Phoenix may finally have one of its own in P.J. Tucker, who happened to idolize those Suns tormentors past.

“There’s a reason [Suns fans] don’t like them,” Tucker laughed. “Clutch shots. Defensive stops. Those are the guys people love to hate. I’m all for that.”

The veteran forward’s defensive prowess is well-documented. He’s quick enough to check speedy guards and built enough to dig in against bulky forwards. He gives opposing players fits by giving them little room in which to operate, plenty of opportunities to miss a shot or cough over the ball.

Yet as much as Tucker’s defense endeared him to fans last season, he knew he needed to be at least respectable on the other end of the floor, particularly from beyond the arc.

P.J. Tucker shot chart

P.J. Tucker shot chart: 2012-13

“You can’t just be one-dimensional in this league,” said Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek. “One-dimensional will get you some bench minutes. To be a starter you’ve got to be able to do both sides of it.”

So he went to work, showing up at the Suns’ practice court every day to hoist jumpers from beyond the arc.v There was no minimum goal, whether it was shots attempted or made. “It’s not even a number,” Tucker said. “I’d shoot until I couldn’t shoot no more.”

The in-season results are jarring: 54.5 percent from deep, good for third-best in the league.

P.J. Tucker shot chart

P.J. Tucker shot chart: 2013-14 (9 games)

Tucker credits his offseason workout regime for his transformation to a reliable NBA three-point shooter. However he also said Head Coach Jeff Hornacek has thrown in enough tips and practice scenarios that have made the shot seem more routine.

“Jeff helped me out too, looking at spots on the rim, quick releases, shooting game shots, not really setting my feet, actually catching the ball and getting it up quick,” Tucker said.

Such pointers have made Tucker a lethal option when guards Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe drive and draw in opposing defenses. Like Elie and Bowen did during their respective careers, Tucker has taken to residing in the corners, where he has shot just under 30 percent of his field goal attempts on the season (the lower key area accounts for the other bulk of his shot attempts at 48.5 percent).

Of his 20 total attempts from the corner three spot so far this season, Tucker has made 11 of them.

“That’s always where the shots come from when you’re on the wing,” he said. “You’ve got somebody like Goran who’s such a good scorer, they have to help on him, especially with Miles rolling. The back side is always open.”

Knowing such opportunities would be constantly available, the Suns’ coaching staff been constantly reminding Tucker to take those shots in order to keep opposing defenses honest.

“I think he was hesitant about shooting it,” Hornacek said. “I think he felt that maybe that’s not his best shot and that he would rather drive it and get something inside. We harped on him during the summer and training camp and I would say probably until a week and a half ago, there was still the occasion where we had to say ‘P.J., shoot it!”, and he’d say ‘I know, I know.’”

Now, Tucker says, he no longer needs the encouragement.

“It’s just the confidence,” he said. “Having confidence in myself to be able to step out and knock it down.”