Rockets: Why P.J. Tucker’s decline is being overstated

PJ Tucker #17 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
PJ Tucker #17 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

It’s a foregone conclusion that the Houston Rockets will be parting ways with P.J. Tucker, as the 3-and-D forward has rejected the team’s contract offer, which was reportedly less than 10 million annually. Tucker had expressed his dissatisfaction with not feeling that the Rockets were being loyal to him and made it a major talking point during the Rockets’ training camp.

With Tucker on an expiring deal and the Rockets riding a 13-game losing streak, the Rockets have been shopping the defensive ace around the league. But what exactly are they seeking?

Anyone who has followed the Rockets’ trade rumors can attest to the fact that the reports have been conflicting regarding what the Rockets want. It was initially reported that the Rockets were seeking three second-round draft picks for The Sneaker King, followed by later reports from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that the Rockets wanted young players as opposed to picks.

“Houston wants back not (draft) picks, but a player that they can plug back into their lineup,” Woj said in a television appearance late Saturday.

But can the Rockets realistically expect a team to give them back a young player for the 35-year-old Tucker, who is in an expiring year and could leave that team? Moreover, would adding Tucker be enough to put a team over the top, considering his decline this season?

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Why Houston Rockets’ forward P.J. Tucker’s decline is being overstated

For starters, it’s important to note that Tucker hasn’t exactly declined as much as many are stating. Tucker has been the best corner 3-point shooters in the league, as he’s led the league in corner threes in each of the last three seasons.

This season, Tucker has attempted the majority of his corner threes from the left corner, as he’s fired off 39 of his 72 corner treys from that side, and made 35.9 percent of them. By comparison, Tucker’s left corner 3-point percentage is much better than the 2018-19 season, in which he made just 33.9 percent of his long-range attempts.

Tucker has had an effective field goal percentage of 53.8 percent from the left corner, compared to the referenced season in which he had an effective field goal percentage of 50.9 percent from said corner. Granted, Tucker has always been a non-scorer, as he instead plays within his role of getting open in the corner and playing grizzly defense on the opposing end.

To the latter point, Tucker is still valuable on the defensive end, even approaching 36-years-old, as noted by a Western Conference official.

“He’s still a physical motherf–ker who can guard 2-5. I don’t think he can guard Damian Lillard for 48 minutes like he did three years ago, but on a game’s last possession, he can. Therein lies his value.”

Tucker has had a better defensive rating than John Wall and Eric Gordon, who are two of the better defenders in the league at their position. In addition, Tucker has the ability to defend opposing bigs, making him valuable for a team like the Milwaukee Bucks, who are limited in their ability to switch, as Brook Lopez presents a salivating defensive matchup for guards.

For this reason, it’s not surprising that the Houston Rockets reportedly rejected the Minnesota Timberwolves’ offer of a late 2020 first-round pick, not to mention the fact that the Rockets thought they could convince James Harden to buy in at the time. The latest reports on the Tucker front is that the Rockets sought Tyler Herro or Duncan Robinson in a trade involving him, which was a overblown story that created quite a stir on social media.

For starters, when trade negotiations are ongoing, it’s important to understand the game of leverage, from both angles. For the Rockets, for example, if they were willing to settle for Kendrick Nunn, in theory, it doesn’t benefit them to make it known that he’s their ultimate target, because for all they know, Miami may be willing to include more.

For that reason, the Rockets’ best move was to canvas the Heat and scope out exactly how much they value Tucker and what all they are willing to include to trade him. For Miami, it benefits them to leak the report to try and create enough of a backlash to scare opposing teams away, with the belief that the Rockets are being unreasonable and unrealistic in their asking price for Tucker, to drive away the other potential suitors.

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At the end of the day, Houston Rockets GM Rafael Stone likely knows the value that Tucker has, as it’s been reported that the Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, Denver Nuggets, and Heat are interested. For that reason, the Rockets are wise to remain firm in their asking price for Tucker, despite whatever Miami (or others) may be trying to do to tank his value and lower the asking price.