New Orleans Pelicans MLE Tournament: PJ Tucker vs. Jordan Hamilton

Published: June 19, 2014

This round of the MLE Tournament will feature PJ Tucker against Jordan Hamilton. For past matchups in the tournament, click here.

PJ Tucker (3 Years and $16 million)

by Michael McNamara

In the last round, I set up the player comparison for Tucker (Bruce Bowen) and laid out the tangible things that we can measure. So, in this round, I want to focus on the intangible things that PJ Tucker can bring to the New Orleans Pelicans. To start, lets take a quote from his coach Jeff Hornacek

We’ve really turned to him for his toughness and physicality all season long. P.J.’s a competitor – never takes a play off. For him, I think that’s the highest compliment he’d ever want – to be known as someone who works his tail off.

What better guy to have for a young team to look up to than somebody like Tucker, who not only works his butt off, but displays a toughness that this roster has not seen his David West left? As Anthony Davis continues to ascend, you know that the hard fouls will come. We know that the mind games will ensue as teams try anything and everything to slow down the games’ next superstar. When that happens, who do you trust on this current roster to be our enforcer when teams cross the line? Do I need to show you what PJ Tucker did to Blake Griffin again?

Now let me add a quote from the man, PJ Tucker himself

You want to take small leaps in everything, so even the stuff I’m really good at, I still want to get better. The stuff I’m not so good at, I want to take another step to get better at that.

Now, I understand that a lot of guys say this, but Tucker has the track record to back these words up. After not finding a role his first time in the league, he went overseas and worked like a dog to get another opportunity, and once he got it he went from a relative unknown to one of the most sought after free agents in this years class. After being essentially just a defensive stopper two years ago, Tucker put in tons of work on his jump shot over the summer and became one of the best corner three-point shooters in the league. With less than 7000 minutes of professional basketball on his legs, he still has plenty of room and ability to grow. Knowing his attitude and hunger, would you bet on another leap forward or on a decline?

And here is a quote from Suns GM Ryan McDonough

We feel like he was a big part of the team on the court and also off the court. His emotion and spirit and energy was really infectious and helped us out this year.

The Suns obviously value him both on the court and in the locker room – two places that the Pelicans need to continue to improve. You can’t help but get excited about the line that his “emotion and spirit and energy was infectious,”- especially as we come off consecutive seasons with Al-Farouq Aminu as our small forward. Tucker has all of Aminu’s strengths and none of his weaknesses. In fact, when you look at Aminu’s weaknesses – those are Tucker’s strengths. Attitude, intelligence, effort, leadership, and energy are all huge plusses for Tucker.

And lastly, here is a quote from Suns President of Basketball Ops Lon Babby

We place a value on him. The market will place a value on him. If there’s a disconnect, it’s something we have to address at the time.

I place this here, because some seem to think that Tucker is a pipe dream. They love the idea of him, but they don’t think the Suns will let him go. Dell targets restricted free agents – Tyreke Evans, Robin Lopez, and Ryan Anderson were his three biggest FA signings the last two years and they were all restricted free agents. He has done his homework, and is undoubtedly aware of this comment from Babby. Tucker can be had, so don’t let his restricted tag dissuade you.

And more than anything, don’t let Jordan Hamilton dissuade you. It is my job here to make arguments for guys and against others, whether I believe it or not. Truth be told, I preferred Jordan Hill to CJ Miles, but I argued the opposite because it was my job. I don’t need somebody to tell me to argue against Hamilton, though. Aside from maybe Marvin Williams, there is nobody in this tournament that would upset me more if Dell signed this summer. I don’t even know where to start. Should I start with the terrible field goal percentage (39%) or his terrible free throw rate (12%)? Maybe his below average PER this year (12.7) or the fact that he has declined in nearly every category since last year?

Look, I understand the contract is small, but every contract you offer over the minimum is going to take away cap space or use up part of an exception. I can go get a guy like Brandon Rush for the minimum after I sign PJ Tucker to give me a cheap backup with solid upside who has actually produced at a high level in this league. No need to use up part of my MLE to bring in Hamilton here. Yes he is young, but that only matters is you are improving. If you are declining, it doesn’t matter if you are 23 or 43. Give me a player who has done something in this league and appears to be on an upward trajectory. Give me PJ Tucker.

Jordan Hamilton (2 years and $5.5 million)

by Mason Ginsberg

In the first round, I gave a pretty comprehensive description of Jordan Hamilton’s skill set and how we can expect him to improve individually. Before getting to why landing Tucker may not be nearly as much of a score as advertised, let’s quickly review Hamilton’s main attributes:

  1. Measurables. Hamilton is only 23, so his growth trajectory is not yet certain. What is set in stone, however, is his 6’8″ size and even better wingspan. He has plus athleticism as well, which is further enforced by his steal rate of over 2% last season along with his strong rebounding ability from the wing position.
  2. Defensive Rebounding. Speaking of rebounding, Hamilton is one of the best wing rebounders in the NBA with a DRR of over 17% last season (for comparison’s sake – Greg Stiemsma, a center, came in at only 18%). This skill would be immensely valuable for a Pelicans team that struggles in the area with the ideal Davis/Anderson front court. The primary reason that Al-Farouq Aminu was given so many minutes despite his ineptitude on offense was due to his effectiveness on the defensive glass. Now imagine if he had a perimeter shot that defenses needed to respect!
  3. Perimeter Shooting. SPEAKING of perimeter shots, Hamilton is a player who has a career 3-point percentage of just under 36%. Is that great? No. Is it good enough to ensure that defenses are forced to pay attention to him? Absolutely. In addition, take a look at the scouting report on Hamilton on before he was selected late in the first round in the 2011 NBA Draft:“Shows great shooting mechanics … Release is very high and very quick … Squares up to the rim quickly … Range is already well beyond the NBA three-point line, showing the ability to make shots 25-28 feet from the basket”The above comments collectively tell me that, with the proper work and instruction, it is completely realistic to assume that his three-point percentage could see a huge boost. His clear dedication to where he takes his shots won’t hurt going forward, either. Speaking of…
  4. Shot Selection.  Hamilton took over half of his total shot attempts in 2013-14 from three point range and less than 13% of them from mid-range. Despite having good long range shooters, some Pelicans players have neglected to put themselves in position to knock down a three pointer. That won’t be an issue for Hamilton.

With most of his ability covered, it’s time to look at this battle against the guy who my esteemed opponent has been relentlessly promoting for months from a long-term perspective for the Pelicans. People, PJ Tucker guy is 29 years old and just had his “best” NBA season, in which he posted a pretty unremarkable PER of 13.3. Of course, PER doesn’t properly account for defensive ability, so that certainly makes up the gap, right? As it turns out, according to, his match-up at SF this season (where he played over 90% of his minutes) managed to achieve a PER of 15.4 in 2013-14, just above league average. In a vacuum, this wouldn’t be that much of a turn-off, as that stat indicates fair (but not great) defensive ability. However, when you’re putting up sub-league average numbers on offense, it’s a problem.

“But wait, 82games isn’t always the best measure of defensive prowess!” Very true, so let’s wander over to check out his defensive data on Synergy Sports… oh, same result. PJ Tucker ranked as the 292nd best defender in the NBA last season, with 0.92 points allowed per possession. He wasn’t bad when defending pick & roll ball-handlers, but apart from that, the data is just frightening for a player who is heavily touted as a “3 & D” type role player. Even in pick & roll defense, his points allowed per possession (0.77) is nowhere near a true lockdown defender like Kawhi Leonard (0.66). That difference may not look like much, but it’s the same as the difference between Tucker and Darius Miller. He defended spot-up shooters on 26.1% of possessions defended and allowed 1.12 points per possession, good for 322nd in the league in that category. Simply put, while PJ Tucker is held in high regard for his defense, the numbers simply do not back up that reputation. Combine that with the very small sample size that is Tucker’s NBA career despite being near 30, and the notion of paying him close to the full mid-level exception over the next 3 seasons is far more worrisome than most appear to believe.

For this match-up, the decision comes down to patience vs. taking a James Posey-esque gamble. While I don’t believe Tucker would be that ineffective if added to New Orleans’ roster, it’s not an unrealistic concern. Conversely, Hamilton is on a very cheap contract – especially given his youth, athleticism, and overall upside – who would be a much safer bet for the Pelicans, allowing them to simultaneously provide flexibility and build for the future. Be patient, New Orleans fans; the Pelicans will land their starting small forward soon. It just isn’t PJ Tucker. Let’s work on building up the rotation via a more risk averse transaction first.



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