From the beginning, during preseason, coach Alvin Gentry saw the hints. He called P.J. Tucker, relatively unknown as a summer acquisition in a time the Suns added the likes of veterans Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and Jermaine O’Neal along with lottery pick Kendall Marshall, one of the standouts of camp. It was very early for a player trying to stick, but it was something.
Then came the regular season, when Tucker turned the training-camp optimism into a key reserve role with defense while backing up Michael Beasley, another Phoenix pickup with a bigger name, at small forward. And then came the last few days.
Tucker had 11 points on five-of-11 shooting in Wednesday’s win against the Trail Blazers and followed by contributing 15 points on five-of-eight shooting, including a couple of three-pointers, as Phoenix rallied from 19 down to beat the Hornets, and suddenly the Suns had something more than a one-dimensional specialist.
“Nobody knows what happens in Europe, so everybody is like, ‘He’s just a defensive player,’ ” Tucker told Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic of returning to the NBA after extensive overseas experience. “So I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m just a defensive player.’ It’s a surprise if I score or anything happens. That’s cool with me. I don’t care how people look at me.
“Cheat off. I’m going to shoot it and knock it down.”
People do know what happens in Europe, where the leagues are heavily scouted, but point taken. Tucker, a Texas product who played 17 games with the Raptors as a rookie in 2006-07 in his only previous NBA experience, was not known as an offensive weapon despite averaging 16.2 points last season in Germany, 19.4 in another campaign in Ukraine and putting up numbers in Israel, Greece and Puerto Rico.
Yet he is a different player from even then, for the strangest of reasons. Tucker was inadvertently poked in the eye by Scola during camp, suffered double vision and eventually needed surgery – a procedure Tucker credits for helping his game. After the Portland-New Orleans surge, he is all the way up to 54.9 percent from the field, with 5.3 points in 18.4 minutes.