The Toronto Raptors’ acquisitions of power forward Serge Ibaka and small forward P.J. Tucker significantly increased the team’s chances of returning to the Eastern Conference Finals. In part two of a two-part article, we’ll examine Tucker’s impact on the Drakes.
Evaluating the Toronto Raptors’ Trade Acquisitions: Part Two
After being acquired on February 23rd, it didn’t take long for Tucker’s new coaches and teammates to learn what type of player he was. Prior to the Raptors’ February 24th match-up with the Celtics, Tucker was 30-hours sleep deprived, having flown into Toronto on a red-eye the morning of the game. The new Raptor chose to dress that night and surely surprised his coaching staff, finishing the game as the leading rebounder for both teams. Tucker added three steals, including two pivotal ones in the fourth quarter. To put the icing on the cake, he nailed four free throws in the final 19 seconds to close out the 107-97 win, all while playing 29 minutes. Toronto’s new small forward was ready for bed postgame (check out his first response).
Efforts like that are what Tucker is all about. The impact he has on games doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet, yet his intangibles always show up on the hardwood. Those intangibles are what made Raptors’ General Manager Masai Ujiri give up two second-round picks and Jared Sullinger for his services. Tucker’s most valuable intangible is his gritty defense, something Raptors’ star DeMar DeRozan knows first-hand.
A recent article by Raptors’ beat writer Doug Smith featured a quote from DeRozan, which highlighted how the four-time All-Star felt Tucker guarded him the best out of anyone in the NBA, prior to his arrival in Toronto.
“The crazy thing, people always used to ask me: Who are the three toughest players that guard me the best? I always put P.J. in there first,” DeRozan said.
If Tucker defends opponents the way he used to guard DeRozan, especially in the playoffs, teams should tread lightly. You never know when the 6’6″, 245-pound Tucker will rip the ball out of your hands.
Fourth Quarter Defender
With the addition of Tucker, Head Coach Dwane Casey has a proven defender he can insert into fourth quarter lineups. In his brief six-game tenure as a Raptor, Tucker has averaged 25 minutes per night, with most of those minutes coming in the fourth quarter. That shows how much trust Casey already has in Tucker in such a short time. With the playoffs a mere 19 regular season games away, it appears as though Tucker has supplanted the injured DeMarre Carroll as the player tasked with guarding LeBron James down the stretch in a potential Cavaliers-Raptors Eastern Conference Finals series. That is, if the Raptors advance deep into the playoffs, as they hope to.
Tucker is a prototypical ‘3-and-D’ player, with a stronger defensive presence than Carroll, and nearly identical three-point shooting percentage. If Carroll is healthy come playoff time, the Carroll/Tucker combo will be vital in guarding the opposing team’s best player. Casey could experiment with lineups featuring the duo, given their above-average ability to switch defensive assignments on the fly. That may be difficult, though, with Carroll’s latest injury.
In case you missed it: part one of this article focuses on Serge Ibaka.
DALLAS, TEXAS – MARCH 17: P.J. Tucker #2 of the Texas Longhorns shoots a free throw against the Pennsylvannia Quaker during the first half of the First Round game of the 2006 NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament on March 17, 2006 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)