P.J. Tucker has had an impactful and lucrative NBA career by turning himself into the ultimate role player.
But it’s not as simple as becoming a 3-and-D wing and diving for loose balls. Tucker also connects with and motivates his team’s best players.
“Breathing that energy into your star players,” Tucker said as a guest on SB Nation’s Point Forward podcast, “that’s a part of the role.”
Speaking with hosts and former Sixers Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner, Tucker spoke at length about how he turned himself into the player he ultimately became.
Now a Sixer, Tucker was originally drafted by the Toronto Raptors in 2006 after an outstanding career at Texas. After playing only 17 games as a rookie, Tucker made the decision to play overseas with stops in Israel, Ukraine, Italy, Greece and Germany. He returned to the NBA in 2012, ready to transform himself into the ultimate team player.
Tucker and Iguodala — who had his own viral moment with former teammate Andrew Wiggins — both talked about how those moments can be perceived incorrectly. The veterans were just reminding their teammates that they’re capable of more.
“Everybody talks about that clip when I was cursing him out,” Tucker said. “But I’m like ‘Yo, what are we doing? Bro, get the fucking ball! Stop playing!’ …”
“They’re humans too. These are the best scorers in the world, the best players in the world, but they’re human. … But for them to have that trust in you to really be in the trenches together, you gotta do that.”
All three discussed the scrutiny that comes with players that face high expectations — and that sometimes guys need a little reminder about the type of player they are.
It was fascinating to hear Tucker and Iguodala discuss guarding some of the best players in the world. Iguodala famously won a Finals MVP with Golden State for his defense on LeBron James. Tucker was highlighted for his physical defense on Kevin Durant during the Milwaukee Bucks’ championship run. Tucker was also charged at times with guarding Steph Curry during battles with Iguodala’s Warriors.
KD would complain that Tucker fouled him on every play. Tucker said he wasn’t wrong.
“100 percent. Every play,” Tucker said. “Yeah, I’m fouling you. You think I’m just gonna sit back and let you kick my ass? No, no, no. You’re still going to score so it don’t matter.”
Iguodala mentioned that KD was so good that the Warriors’ second unit would double team him in practice.
If you’ll recall, Tucker’s Rockets had that loaded Golden State team on the ropes in the Western Conference Finals in 2018, holding a 3-2 lead. A Chris Paul injury and the worst shooting luck in NBA history doomed Houston.
Tucker said that entire season was dedicated to trying to stop the Warriors. He said the team’s second unit learned Golden State’s schemes and that they held practices specifically figuring out ways to slow down the Warriors’ high-powered offense.
And they came damn close. That’s why Tucker still laments that team not running it back.
“I, to this day ... there’s no way we didn’t run it back,” Tucker said. “We were No. 1 in the league that year. Won the most games. There’s no way you don’t do everything you can to bring every single person back in that situation. There’s no way.”
That’s an interesting quote since the man running Houston’s front office at that point was Daryl Morey. Morey infamously traded Paul to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Russell Westbrook. While the Rockets remained competitive, that was the beginning of the end of the James Harden era.
Now, Harden is embroiled in a bitter feud with Morey and wants out of Philadelphia. Tucker, one of Harden’s closest friends, is stuck in the middle.
Don’t let his rugged play fool you — Tucker is one of the more interesting and insightful players in the league. He’s as self-aware of a person that you’ll come across in professional sports.
You can watch the entire episode here to hear more about Tucker’s journey, fashion choices, his time in Houston and the first time he faced Iguodala when Texas played Arizona.