The perception of the Toronto Raptors changed when president Masai Ujiri traded Rudy Gay to the Kings a little over three years ago. They went from soft to tough overnight and at the time, one of reasons was 6’6 center Chuck Hayes. Described as a bowling ball with arms by some and a tree stump by Patrick Patterson, Hayes was non-stop action on defense and the Raptors missed him after he was gone. Newcomer PJ Tucker brings back a lot of that physical presence and activity.
In just his second game with the Raptors, this season’s “bowling ball with arms” lived up to the description when he accidentally knocked out Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic’s teeth.
Like Hayes, the 6’5 Tucker was undersized as a big man coming out of college, but fortunately for the Raptors, Tucker figured out how to play multiple positions and still patrol the paint like a big man when needed.
“Tucker is one of the more versatile defenders in the league,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens volunteered. “When you think about guarding guys two thru five, the way that people play in the league right now. There is not a five that you can’t see him potentially guarding. You watch him play on film, he guarding everybody from DeRozan here to some of the bigger centers. He’s a tough guy.”
“He’s a tough guy man,” Serge Ibaka confirmed. “He’s one of those guys you need on your team.”
With the loss of Bismack Biyombo to free agency last summer and a preseason injury to his de facto replacement Jared Sullinger, the Raptors lost some of their toughness and a lot of their on the court communication on defense. It’s showed, this year’s version of the team has relied more on being able to outscore teams than get defensive stops, but the additions of Serge Ibaka and Tucker have changed all that.
Almost 32-years-old, Tucker is the “senior” player on the Raptors and he wasted no time putting his veteran stamp on his new team. Tucker is a talker and a leader, not just bowling ball causing havoc on defense.
“I don’t believe in adjustment periods,” Tucker said. “I think good players learn how to play with each other. They talk through it. They make adjustments during the game. Professional. Playing basketball, adjustment, I think that’s a cop out. You learn how to play together. You make adjustments and you play.
“I talk too much. Defense is half talking. Serge talks, DeMarre talks, DeMar doesn’t talk as much, but I got him talking a little bit. I think the more (DeMar) starts talking on defense too, we’ll be even better. Once he gets comfortable with it.
“We have our own timeouts and in timeouts we are over there talking, knowing what we are going to do in situations before coach even got there.”
It’s been a whirlwind of change in Toronto as the offensive powerhouse that was the Raptors earlier in the season is starting to look like a defensive juggernaut with the additions of Ibaka and the talking bowling ball with arms, P.J. Tucker.