After hours passed without landing a power forward, the Miami Heat got a player who will perfectly blend into their culture.
Miami inked championship forward P.J. Tucker to a two-year, $15 million deal Monday evening, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. He has a player option attached to the second year.
Tucker's deal includes a player option in Year 2, sources said. https://t.co/iZvPbhPyW9— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) August 3, 2021
In 52 combined games with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Houston Rockets, Tucker, 36, averaged 3.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 0.8 steals in 26.1 minutes per game last year. Tucker shot 37.3 percent and 33.6 percent from 3-point range — sporting a 51.0 true-shooting percentage with a 5.5 player efficiency rating (PER).
Tucker fortifies Miami’s starting power forward spot, vacated by Trevor Ariza, who signed a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers Monday.
Below, I dive into some film on how the hard-nosed, experienced forward fits in with the Heat.
Let’s get into it!
Anyone who’s watched P.J. Tucker over the last several years immediately can discern where he’s most comfortable offensively: On the corners.
For perspective with his shot distribution, Tucker’s taken at least 53 percent of his shots from the corner 3 in each of the last three seasons, per Cleaning the Glass. Each of the aforementioned seasons ranked in the 100th percentile — essentially nobody posts a higher corner 3-point frequency than Tucker.
Last year, Tucker took a career-high 57.5 percent of his shots from the corner 3-point line, netting them at measly 35 percent clip. By virtue consistently hoisting corner 3-point shots, a majority — if not all — will typically be spot-up attempts.
Each of the three clips provided below are spot-up attempts, but a theme is common: Each is created from the pick-and-roll.
The first features former Rocket James Harden getting blitzed by two Denver Nuggets defenders — Gary Harris and Paul Millsap. Harden’s able to deliver the pocket pass to Christian Wood with reigning MVP Nikola Jokic tagging from the corner.
With no additional help on the back-line, Tucker is left wide open. Harris makes a terrific effort to close out in time, but is unsuccessful.
This time, the pick-and-roll involves Daniel House as the lead ballhandler with DeMarcus Cousins as the screener. Kenrich Williams fights over the screen with forward Isaiah Roby partaking in a deeeeep drop, planting himself just outside the restricted area.
House attacks the #verydeepdrop before Aleksaj Pokusevski collapses from the corner — freeing Tucker. House eventually kicks it out to Tucker for the open 3-point conversion.
In the third and final clip above, Houston is set to run a pin-down with Victor Oladipo coming off Cousins’ screen. (Former) Heat guard Kendrick Nunn isn’t able to navigate the screen, generating a favorable 5-on-4 situation for the Rockets.
Oladipo reads the tagging Kelly Olynyk from the weakside corner, rifling a pass to an open Tucker before Olynyk’s late close out.
Point is, defenders pinching from the corners with create open shot opportunities for Tucker.
That’s where the addition of a true point guard — hello, Kyle Lowry — comes to light.
His insertion will almost certainly help Bam Adebayo’s development as a rolling facilitator, in addition to a more dangerous downhill threat in pick-and-roll and dribble hand-off actions. It will bend defenses and create open shots for Tucker in either corner.
As Miami’s top shot creator last year, Jimmy Butler was more than willing to pass up near-open layup attempts for open shots beyond the arc. In certain sets, the Heat had Andre Iguodala and Trevor Ariza deployed in the corner, as well as Moe Harkless and Avery Bradley (prior their mid-season departures).
Tucker immediately slides into that “role” offensively. He won’t hoist as many 3-point attempts as Crowder, Olynyk or Ariza, but open looks for Tucker will arise.
Max effort plus brute physicality:
It hasn’t been uncommon that Tucker gets matched-up on — or eventually switched onto — an opponent’s best shot-creating wing.
When 2019-20 Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo roams off the ball — one of his best skillsets — Tucker took the daunting assignments
Look no further than the Eastern Conference Semifinals when Tucker drew perhaps the toughest assignment of them all: Kevin Durant. Ever heard of him?
Though the end-result possession-by-possession didn’t always end in Tucker’s favor, he still made life more challenging for Durant throughout the series.
In the play above, Tucker began the possession shading Durant at the right corner — trying his best to impede Durant’s subsequent path. Durant rejects Joe Harris’ screen with Tucker draped all over him, fighting his way to receive the near hand-off from teammate Blake Griffin.
Tucker’s body positioning creates a difficult pass. As soon as Durant receives it, he attempts to rip through to his dominant side — but Tucker gets a hand on it. Durant and Tucker jostle for the loose ball before Tucker falls on it and initiates the fastbreak opportunity for Milwaukee.
That degree of physicality and effort isn’t taught.
This time, Durant’s able to rip through towards the baseline, but little progress is made thereafter.
Tucker’s physicality and frame makes it harder for Durant to create a clear angle for a potential layup attempt. It gives Bobby Portis just enough to intercept Durant in his path and reject his shot.
Miami hasn’t had a physical power forward since Jae Crowder during its improbable title run two seasons ago. Erik Spoelstra experimented with Moe Harkless, Nemanja Bjelica, Kelly Olynyk and Trevor Ariza — to name a few — next to Adebayo, but hasn’t found that physicality defensively that’s needed against opposing wings to mitigate damage.
Tucker ends that conversation; he matches the physicality that Crowder possessed — perhaps superseding it.
A switchable reinforcement, additional rebounder:
By pairing the additions of Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker with All-Defensive honorees Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, the Heat don’t need to switch every ball-screen.
A Lowry-Butler-Tucker-Adebayo is an extremely feisty, gritty quartet defensively; it exudes #HEATCULTURE™. They unlock added schematic flexibility and augments sheer defensive toughness throughout the hardwood.
If he chooses to, Spoelstra can elect to blitz, hedge or ice pick-and-rolls without switching Adebayo onto the perimeter every possible chance, though he is best when he’s defending in space. If Spoelstra still elects to switch with Dedmon on the floor instead of Adebayo, Tucker is the perfect reinforcement to do so.
In that aforementioned quartet, Tucker becomes the third, maybe fourth-best defender — which is ideal for him given his mileage and age. Make no mistake, he’s continually showcase his physicality whenever he’s on the floor (as I highlighted above).
That said, his defensive presence also shores up part of its rebounding deficiencies.
Miami recorded the second fewest rebounds (41.5 rpg) and placed in the bottom-third in rebounding percentage (49.1) last regular season (it was last in REB% in the playoffs at 43.0 percent).
Tucker isn’t a 7-foot rebounding menace; the 37-year-old forward averaged just 3.9 rebounds a year ago.
A microcosm of a switching defense means there isn’t enough near the rim — barring a scram switch — depending on the personnel on the floor. With the Adebayo-at-center lineups, The Heat lacked size when their budding 6-foot-9 star was forced onto the perimeter, shrinking their margin-for-error for securing rebounds.
By virtue of Adebayo — who averaged a team-high 8.7 rebounds per game last year — situated near the rim more often, in addition to Butler and Tucker’s physicality on box outs, Miami increases its ceiling on the glass.
Capable off-ball defender:
Tucker’s on-ball defense gets emphasized — as it should — but his capability as an off-ball defense gets brushed under the rug.
Dennis Schröder begins the possession by whipping a pass to Gasol, creating a better high-low angle for LeBron James, posted on the left block. Tucker recognizes the intention and darts like a linebacker to muck-up the play. He forces the turnover while incidentally knocking James over.
Tucker is subtly involved in multiple switching actions on this play: One on the fake dribble hand-off attempt and the other on the on-ball screen.
Shai Gilgeous Alexander, the lead ball handler, attempts to lob an entry pass to Hamidou Diallo on the roll. Tucker remains attached on the roll and leaps with his right hand to deflect the pass to Cousins in the corner.
When he’s at his best, he can wreck possessions in the passing lanes when he’s able to accurately anticipate an offense’s motive.
Above, Damian Lillard gets blitzed on the hand-off from Wood and David Nwaba. Lillard slings it to Enes Kanter on the roll. Oladipo doesn’t hold the tag on the weakside, but Tucker pinches from the strong side to meet Kanter at the restricted area arc.
Kanter fumbles the initial catch, eliminating the possibility for a quick push floater. He mistakenly brings the ball down, allowing Tucker to forcefully swipe the ball away for the turnover.
Tucker is best when he’s imposing his will on the ball, but has shown competent off-ball defense that can help Miami in necessary rotation situations.
How do you think Tucker fits in with the Miami Heat? Comment below.