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P.J. Tucker provides exactly what the Sixers need

A staple of recent Eastern Conference contenders, Tucker brings a much-needed skillset to the Sixers.

2022 NBA Playoffs - Miami Heat v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be profiling every player currently on the Sixers’ roster ahead of training camp, which begins on Sept. 27.

P.J. Tucker

Age: 37

Contract status: Signed three-year, $33.2 million contract; third year is a player option worth $11,539,000.

The Sixers made it a point this summer to bolster their wing depth, bringing in the likes of P.J. Tucker, Danuel House and De’Anthony Melton. While all should provide significant contributions, the Tucker signing, in particular, could prove to be a pivotal addition this upcoming season.

After winning the 2021 NBA title with the Milwaukee Bucks, Tucker signed with another Eastern Conference contender, the Miami Heat, in the ensuing offseason. Just like in his previous stops, he proved to still be one of the league’s premier role players. Across 70 games this past season, Tucker averaged 7.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, shooting a career-high 41.5 percent from deep on 2.7 attempts per game. He was one of the key cogs of a Heat team that finished with the East’s best record and made it all the way to the conference finals before eventually falling to the Boston Celtics.

As he has been for the majority of his career, Tucker remains a legitimate threat from deep. He is still one of the NBA’s foremost corner three maestros; Tucker converted on 71 of the 172 (41.3 percent) corner threes he took this past season, the eighth-most in the league. He had previously led the league in corner threes for three straight seasons between 2017-20. With teams likely to be frequently doubling Joel Embiid in the post and paying extra attention to James Harden drives, Tucker should expect to continue getting a healthy amount of shot attempts from his favorite spot on the court.

Yet most importantly for this Sixers team, he provides the kind of tough, versatile defense they have sorely lacked of late. Even at the age of 37, Tucker still has the motor and lateral quickness to competently defend wings to go along with the strength to hang with bigger players down low. The importance of bringing in a guy that spent last year defending the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, DeMar DeRozan, Devin Booker and Pascal Siakam and doing it at a high level can’t be understated.

Tucker is also a very underrated rebounder. Despite only standing at 6-foot-5, he’s uber physical and is constantly fighting for position down low. The Sixers learned it the hard way in the playoffs, with Tucker constantly making them pay for lackadaisical effort on the boards to create second-chance opportunities for the Heat. It’s safe to say the Sixers are probably glad to have that working to their advantage, now.

Season outlook: It’s rare to hear Embiid openly lobby the front office for a player like he did for Tucker. Yet following the Sixers’ second-round loss to the Heat, it was evident that the team lacked in a few key categories: toughness, proven playoff success and versatility. Tucker brings all three in spades, which will only elevate this team’s ceiling moving forward.

Assuming he doesn’t experience significant slippage in his overall conditioning, Tucker should be expected to guard the opposing team’s best perimeter threat. Capable wing defenders were hard to come by on the Sixers outside of Matisse Thybulle and, down the stretch of last season, Tobias Harris, so Tucker will clearly be vital in that regard. Additionally, should they decide to run out super-small lineups, Tucker is more than capable of eating up some minutes at the center position. That kind of legitimate defensive versatility is going to be invaluable.

On the offensive end, Tucker’s role is fairly simple: hang in the corner, set the occasional screen and fight for offensive rebounds whenever possible. Harden and Embiid will need all the spacing they can get to operate, and the presence of a guy like Tucker on the perimeter should only work to their advantage. Of course, it also helps that Tucker has a significant amount of familiarity with Harden. The two won a whole bunch of games during their shared tenures with the Houston Rockets, with Tucker thriving alongside Harden. Similar success is a reasonable expectation.

Should he be slotted in alongside the starters, there will of course be fans that have some amount of trepidation about Tucker being in the same lineup as Harris due to lingering PTSD from the failed Al Horford experiment. While those fears are understandable, this team fits much, much better than the 2019-20 squad. Embiid is a significantly improved player, Harden is a superior lead ball-handler, Tyrese Maxey’s combo-guard skills mesh a lot better with everyone else, and even Harris has shown signs of embracing a somewhat more refined role. It obviously remains to be seen how it will actually look, but it’s fair to assume Tucker should fit in without a hitch.

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