Hand-Crafted Among the Natural Formations
USA Today Sports
Basketball is a talent-driven game. Between the hyper-athletes, smooth shooters, and abnormally large men, there is little room for the type of player defined mostly by hard work. NBA players are born, not made. “Talent wins” is an overused cliche in the NBA, but it’s often true.
With every cliche, there are exceptions. Many members of the league are natural formations born to put the orange ball in the basket, but the occasional hand-crafted being finds their way to the hardwood. These blue-collar players shed light on what can be achieved through meticulous training, as opposed to the limitless wonder basketball prodigies fill us with.
The NBA’s tireless workers begin as shapeless blocks of marble. The potential may exist, but it is only achievable through the right mix of effort and situation. With the marble, the right hands need to carve the images of the mind. A heavy-handed man can make the one vital mistake that renders the marble useless. Precision, vision, timing and the desire to get as close to touching perfection as possible are all required in making a beautiful creation out of a simple block.
Those same qualities all matter in sculpting the NBA player in the medium of a less capable man. For all thirty teams, there is only a total of 450 roster spots. With teams constantly working to lure more glamorous professionals into the organization, the outcasts get a singular shot to write their story. In order to conjure up the NBA underdog story, many of the disposable players have to fail before one of them succeeds
P.J. Tucker amidst his second season with the Phoenix, and is becoming an integral part of the new Suns regime, but it wasn’t long ago that the NBA discarded him. A member of the 2006-07 Toronto Raptors, Tucker was sent off into the eastern nations after a paltry rookie season. His exodus for the States is common for a player of his talent level, as many other players suffer the same fate every year.
Once an individual is tossed aside from the NBA to other nations, the focus shifts from god-given ability to resolve. Tucker wasn’t the most talented player to play in Europe, he wasn’t even the most naturally gifted in Europe while he was there. Yet, he kept working. He kept perfecting the craft, regardless of if he was focused on an NBA return or not.
His effort didn’t go unnoticed, as the Suns invited him to play for their summer league team in 2012. In Vegas, he showed a penchant for hustling defense. Tucker lagged behind in offensive skills, but that ability to defend the other team’s best perimeter scorer with moderate levels of success caught the team’s eye. They consequently signed him to a two-year deal minimum deal, hoping the investment would turn out to be a bargain.
P.J. was that, and much more. When the Michael Beasley experiment went awry, Tucker was given a chance to take the reins at starting small forward for the team. He became one of the lone consistent forces in one of the darkest season for the Suns. A steal at $762,195 as a one-trick pony, Tucker could have used the offseason to reflect on taking the road less traveled to NBA grandeur.
When Jeff Hornacek and Ryan McDonough took over in Phoenix, the new regime changed the focus on the organization. With a new analytic focus, P.J. went back to work. He knew that adding a spot-up corner three would be the difference between being a nice player and vital to the team’s future, so over the summer he worked on expanding his skill-set by shooting 10,000 corner jumpers. The result? Tucker is shooting 50% from three in an offense that has placed him in the corner for 46 of his 52 attempts. Being able to shoot the three at that rate is valuable, but the ability to operate in the flow of the offense without the desire to excessively get involved is rare.
Tucker began his professional career as a vagabond, but now takes the mold of the more specialized players. The league now pays a premium for the three-and-D specialist, and P.J. is one of the very best in this role. The league is filled with natural formations, but the hand-crafted sculpture of P.J. Tucker is taking center stage by showing what painstaking work generate. Once the unformed block, he now owns his chiseled existence.
Editor’s Note: If you’re a big P.J. Tucker fan, Brian Schroeder also wrote about him over at Hardwood Paroxysm this morning.