The Milwaukee Bucks made a big swing in the trade market, landing frontcourt veteran PJ Tucker from the Houston Rockets on Thursday night.
Tucker is often celebrated for maximizing his talents by playing alongside a superstar. He has long been a reliable role player, specializing in spotting up on the perimeter for an open look. That was a huge part of his game on the Rockets, flanked by James Harden, and it will be instrumental on the Bucks with back-to-back MVP recipient Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Harden, a longtime Tucker teammate who currently leads the league with 11.2 assists per game, is one of the game’s most celebrated playmakers. But while fans may not often associate Antetokounmpo with his passing, Tucker is in for a treat during his time with the Bucks, too.
Because of how much of a force he is an interior threat, defenders need to sag off the perimeter to slow him down inside. That means that he is often able to kick it out to someone spotting up beyond the arc.
In fact, Antetokounmpo has recorded 149 assists to three-pointers this season, via PBP Stats, which currently ranks as the most in the NBA. Starting with his first All-Star campaign, in 2016-17, only three players have assisted on more corner three-pointers.
Over the past 5+ seasons, PJ Tucker has made 100 more corner 3s than anyone else in the NBA
Most Corner 3s Last 5+ Seasons
1. P.J. Tucker ……………502
2. Danny Green ………..402
3. Klay Thompson …….396
4. Trevor Ariza ………….382
5. Bojan Bogdanovic …379 pic.twitter.com/F6FHOGcDzl
— Kirk Goldsberry (@kirkgoldsberry) March 18, 2021
The reason why that is important: Since his first season with the Rockets back in 2017-18, Tucker has been successful on more three-pointers (307) from the corner than any other player in the league.
Tucker is actually the player whose offense is far and away most dependent on this type of possession.
Surprisingly, more than half of his attempts from the field (52.3 percent) have come from the corner. No one else has come even remotely close to touching that rate – only three players have a frequency above 30 percent.
One look at his multi-year shot chart during this stretch and it becomes evidently clear that this strategy was never a secret for Houston opponents.
Whenever defenders collapsed onto Harden, trying to slow his offensive wizardry, you could trust Tucker was simply waiting to take an easy and uncontested attempt off the catch. He was able to maximize on the fact that Harden was far too good to not double-team, which often let Tucker without a man on him.
But it was also fairly obvious, especially after the trade that sent the 2018 NBA MVP to the Brooklyn Nets, that Tucker was simply ineffective when he was not playing alongside Harden.
While he shot a remarkable 54.5 percent on three-pointers during the 244 minutes that he was on the court with Harden this season, he was a putrid 23.4 percent when the All-Star guard was not on the floor.
Report: P.J. Tucker ‘irate’ over contract situation with Rockets https://t.co/BT5ktxbFMc
— The Rockets Wire (@TheRocketsWire) November 12, 2020
Evaluating Tucker solely based on this season is a bit unfair. In addition to COVID-19 complications impacting the league as a whole, he has played through injury and the frustration of stalled contract negotiations. However, the trend of his performance differing based on his teammates is not unique to 2020-21.
During his tenure with the Rockets, per 100 possessions, Tucker averaged 5.8 attempts from beyond the arc when Harden was on the floor. That number, according to data scraped from RotoGrinders, dropped dramatically to just 4.6 when Harden was off.
But based on what we learned above about Antetokounmpo, the league’s leader in assisting three-pointers, we can assume Tucker’s output will look closer to how it did when joined by Harden.
While the 35-year-old may not project as an offensive savant or sparkplug scorer off the bench, he is a versatile defender who can occasionally hit big shots from deep. If he is able to do that in the playoffs during high-impact moments, this will go down as a good trade for Milwaukee.