New Orleans Pelicans MLE Tournament: PJ Tucker vs. Danny Granger

Published: June 9, 2014

The MLE Tournament takes a look at some free agents that the Pelicans could target and puts them head-tohead until there is only one winner. For other matchups in this series, click here. 

PJ Tucker (3 Years and $16 million)

by Michael McNamara

PJ Tucker is the dream acquisition for the Pelicans this summer. Start putting up boxes for what attributes this team needs from its small forward and he checks them all off. Defense – check. Rebounding – check. Corner three-point shooting – check. Toughness, leadership, and determination – check, check, and check. Quite honestly, if you were to try to create the perfect player to put next to this core, he would look a lot like PJ Tucker. With Holiday, Evans, Anderson, and Davis all needing their touches, you need to find a guy who can impact the game without the ball and knock down the occassional spot0up three when teams leave him. You need Bruce Bowen, and PJ Tucker is the closest thing we have in the league to Bowen. He is an ideal fit.

With other guys in this tournament I have argued that the Pelicans should go after the guy with the shorter or smaller contract so that they can target somebody in 2015. Not with PJ Tucker though, because even in that loaded free agent class, there may not be a better fit for the Pelicans than Tucker. Amongst perimeter players who have played 2400 or more minutes this season (basically, starters’ minutes), Tucker is tied for the lowest usage rate at 14.2%. He does not shoot much, averaging just under 9 FGA’s per 36 minutes, yet he was in the top 5 this season in corner three-point field goals made. Like Bowen, Tucker almost exclusively shoots his three’s from the corner, as 87% of his attempts came from one of the two corners. Over his 8 seasons with the Spurs, Bowen took 84% of his three’s from the corner.

In fact, Tucker’s numbers last year were so similar to Bowen’s career averages in San Antonio.

[table id=62 /]

Tucker is the slightly better offensive player, as he is able to post up ocasionally and can also put the ball on the ground and get to the basket. Where Tucker really exceeds Bowen’s production is on the boards where he was a top rebounding small forward, closer to current Spur Kawhi Leonard than Bruce Bowen. (Kawhi’s rebound percentage was 12.1 to Tucker’s 11.9) But if you look down to the end of the chart, you will see where these guys are really similar. They both were spot-up three point shooters that specialized on the corner three.

No two players are alike, but if there is one guy in this league that can be what Bowen was for the Spurs, it is PJ Tucker. He makes his living on the defensive end and has now added a corner three to his repetoire so that he doesn’t hurt his team on the other end. And like Bowen, PJ Tucker is a late bloomer. Bowen never really became a rotation player until late in his career, getting major minutes for the first time for the Heat at the age of 29. The Spurs signed him that next summer and his career took off, as he peaked from the age of 31 to 35. Tucker became a full-time starter for the first time in his NBA career this past season at the age of 28 (just turned 29 in May) and has plenty of tread left on his tires despite being a little older than the other players on the Pelicans current roster.

Granger, conversely, might just be done. I understand that he is a Louisiana native and a former All-Star, but neither of those things will get us wins next year. What will is a starting small forward who can produce on both ends of the floor, and quite frankly, I don’t know if Granger can produce on either end of the floor. Or even be on the floor. Over the past two seasons, he has played 46 games. Not on average; Total. And in those games he averaged about 7.5 points on 36% shooting. In 13 playoff game this year, he shot 27.5% from the field and 22.7% from three. That would be a slump for Aminu, you know, the guy we are desperate to get rid of? And it’s not like he is a stopper on defense.

Now the tough part with discussing Tucker’s defense is that I can’t just point to a bunch of numbers to quantify his impact. The defense side of the ball requires much more eye test than anything else, and when you watch Tucker on defense, you can’t take your eyes off of him. On some nights, the Suns would put him on a point guard like John Wall, and on other nights he would guard a wing like KD. In fact, he can even cover the 4 position. Whenever Phoenix played Minnesota or the Clippers, it was Tucker who covered Love and Griffin. That is how versatile he is on that end of the floor. The guy never backs down from a challenge, and quite frankly, he wins most of them. And if those clips didn’t win you over, this Griffin nut punch will do it for sure.

In fact, I should have just started and ended with this video. Case closed; PJ Tucker is the player this team needs and the player Gotham deserves. Or something like that.

Danny Granger (1 Year and $5 million)

by Joe Gerrity

It wasn’t too long ago that Danny Granger was the Indiana Pacers most legitimate building block, an All-star, the league’s Most Improved Player, and the fifth leading scorer in the NBA (25.8 points per game). In that breakout 2008-2009 season Granger had a PER of 21.88 and a three point shooting percentage north of 40%. On the defensive end he averaged a block every game and 1.4 steals.

He was, in technical terms, pretty damn good.

His role diminished slightly in the following seasons as the Pacers added Roy Hibbert and Paul George, but he remained an above average option at the small forward position, putting up PERs of 19.85, 17.89, and 18.68 while playing more than 33 minutes each season.

Injuries hit Granger hard in 2012 and he missed all but five games after undergoing surgery to address patellar tendinosis in his left knee in October. George and Lance Stephenson played well in his absence, and with the Pacers winning more and more, nearly toppling the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, Granger’s role on the team felt increasingly marginalized. It was unsurprising when he returned to the floor this last season it was not as a starter, but as a role player off the bench.

Coming off of injuries, Granger struggled to adjust to his new role with the Pacers last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. It wasn’t just his offense that struggled, but defensively he was not the player he once was. Never a defensive standout, Granger was adequate in the earlier years of his career, but that was not the case post-injury as he statistically made both the Clippers and the Pacers worse on defense while playing.

What we need to ask ourselves is simply this– which Danny Granger will show up next season? Is it going to be a former all-star on a one year deal looking to prove that he’s capable of adjusting into a non-starring role, or will it be a washed up, post-injury Granger hoping to simply jack up enough shots and stay healthy enough that someone, anyone, throws money at him the following year?

Granger produced some solid games in 2013-2014, leaving me to believe that with a full offseason of strength training and further rehabilitation, he could wind up having a nice comeback season. While 31 is no longer young in the NBA, Granger should have a few good years left in him if he’s truly healed. Are the odds good that he’ll return to his 08-12 production? No. But he doesn’t need to in order for it to be worth it to take a flier on him this offseason. All we need is a capable small forward to give us 20 or 25 decent minutes a night. It’s not unreasonable to think that Granger could step right into that role, especially in a city that he called home for so long.

Where does he fit in? While Granger is a small forward with ideal size, he’s no longer the athlete he once was. Even if he comes back in better shape than last year, he’s still going to lack the lateral quickness to stay with the elite athletes that occupy the small forward position in the NBA. He’s long enough to give those guys trouble, but he’s not going to strike fear into the hearts of the opposition. Ideally Granger would see some time as a stretch four in a small ball lineup with Anthony Davis at the center position, allowing Davis the space inside to have his way with defenders

While McNamara will undoubtedly shine a light on Granger’s woeful playoff performance this year, it’s worth noting that he played well enough during the regular season in Los Angeles that Doc and company gave him fairly substantial minutes in the postseason. They thought there was still something there, and stuck with him.. In the Clippers game four comeback it was Granger on the floor as a stretch four providing space for Blake Griffin to do work inside, while DeAndre Jordan road the pine.

PJ Tucker had a quality season with the Suns this year, I’ll give him that. But he’s largely an unknown quantity. With just three seasons of NBA experience under his belt in the past it’s risky to throw a multi year deal at him. While his numbers this past season are decent, he still put up a PER of just 13.31. Yes, he hit the three ball at a nice clip, but with only 261 three point attempts it’s unclear if we’ll get the player who hit just 31.4 percent of his threes like in 2012-2013, or the guy who shot 38.7 percent last season. Tucker is a superior defensive player to Granger at this point in their careers, but the Suns were still slightly worse when he was on the floor defensively.

If you think that Danny Granger could transition into a rotational player in the place he grew up, he is your guy. If you want to take a three year chance on a 29 year old who has played a grand total of 177 NBA games, a guy who wasn’t picked up by a team in his prime despite multiple Summer League and D- League opportunities, someone once waived by the Raptors in favor of Luke Jackson, PJ Tucker is your guy.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.