Unlike Others, Tucker's Effort Anything But Lackluster
When you talk to any member of the Suns' front office or coaching staff you’ll hear one resounding message. The future in Phoenix will include hard-nosed players willing to exert extreme effort on defense and give 100 percent every second they’re on the floor. That’s what makes losses like Wednesday’s 88-79 defeat at the hands of the Washington Wizards so frustrating for everyone involved.
“Quite a lackluster effort the first half,” coach Lindsey Hunter said in his opening postgame statement. “I was not happy with any of our young guys. And it wasn’t about mistakes they made. It was about effort. It was about fight, having a sense of urgency. Unacceptable. This is unacceptable. That is part of the reason they sat and watched the second half because we are going to play guys that play the way we want to play, and establish the type of culture that we are going to have.”
The question becomes, how do you transform a lackluster effort into a performance a coach, a player and an entire team can be proud of? Hunter has an idea.
“You have to show some resiliency and you have to show some fight,” he told the media. “Like I keep stating, guys that do that are the guys we go with, regardless.”
One of those guys on the roster is P.J. Tucker. The forward from Texas is the epitome of the blue-collar attitude the organization wants every player that dons the purple and orange to show on a nightly basis. Just two days after drawing the defensive assignment on the Lakers’ Steve Nash, in hopes of slowing down their offensive attack, the 6-5 banger was tasked with slowing down one of the fastest players in the game, John Wall. Per usual, he answered the call.
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Throughout the night he pestered Wall and any other player he had to man up. He had two steals and 10 rebounds on the evening while finding time to score 10 points, as well. While his double-double on the stat sheet was impressive considering the effort he was exerting on defense, it only tells part of the story.
The moment that pretty much explains everything that makes Tucker special came midway through the third quarter. As he sprinted down the court he went from NBA forward to NFL cornerback tracking down a long Wizards pass along the sideline and deflecting it. As his momentum carried him into the crowd, he noticed a small boy no older than 3 sitting courtside. All in one motion he jumped up and over two rows of chairs before landing on the cement between rows.
In a matter of moments, he had popped back up, ran back onto the court and took his place guarding his man with nothing more than a few spilled beverages. Resiliency and fight? Yeah, that pretty much exemplified it.
It is plays like that one that makes Tucker the prototype for what Hunter wants to see from all of his players.
“Definitely [P.J. Tucker is an example of what we want],” the coach remarked. “I can live with any mistake he makes because I know he’s playing with all his heart.”
It’s a lesson that many of Tucker’s teammates should take to heart. Even during a long season, every play matters and each second on the court is one they’ll be judged on moving forward.
“Nothing is given around here,” Hunter said. “Tomorrow is not promised to any of us. You have to bring it every single day. We’re not at a point where you can turn it on and off. We’re fighting an uphill battle trying to change our culture and how we do things. We’re going to do it. That’s not the problem. The problem is who will be on the bus when we get there.”
If he so chooses, Tucker could be driving that bus. He’s a hard-nosed player who’s journey around the world and back again has made it abundantly clear to him that tomorrow isn’t promised. But if you want it bad enough, you can will it to happen.