New Orleans Pelicans MLE Tournament: PJ Tucker vs. Thabo Sefolosha

Published: June 24, 2014

PJ Tucker (3 Years and $16 Million)

by Michael McNamara

In the minds of some, it might look like this is a battle of two similar players with fairly similar contracts, but a closer look shows that we are comparing apples and oranges here. Yes, they are both guys who play good to great defense and take a large percentage of their shots from three-point range – Three and D guys, some might call them. But one guy defends the one and two positions, while the other one primarily defends 2’s and 3’s, with the ability to also cover 1’s and 4’s. And that same guy who can defend 1-4’s actually hit his three-pointers at a high rate this season, improving as the year went on, while the other simply faded into oblivion.

Thabo Sefolosha was a borderline great defender in isolation, holding his opponent to 32% shooting and just 0.73 points per possession, but of the 66 isolation possessions where he was on defense, only 4 came against guys who play small forward. The same holds true in the P&R, where he was 50th in the league according to Synnergy. He defended the ball in this situation 128 times, and 116 of those times, it was against a guard. When he plays San Antonio, he defends Parker or Ginobli. When he plays the Clippers, it is Paul or Reddick. Against us, he defended Gordon and against Memphis he was on Conley. Time and time again, when you put on the film, you see him defending guards and he does it well, but that is not a need for this Pelicans team.

Meanwhile, you watch Tucker on Synergy and you see him checking Durant, Melo, Lebron, Parsons, and Kawhi. You also see him take on guards in certain situations, as I pointed out in my first round piece on him. And he even battles with four’s like Love and Griffin, which allowed Phoenix to go small from time to time without losing anything on the defensive end, because Tucker can handle PF’s and he can rebound at an elite level. Tucker had a defensive rebound rate of 16.6% this season, which was more than twice that of Thabo Sefolosha (7.8%).

On the defensive end, it is clear who the superior fit is next to the Core Four. Monty said in his end of season presser that he doesn’t want Tyreke covering small forwards; that he is a guard and playing against SF’s hurt him. You add Thabo to this team, and you have Tyreke back in that position for the next three seasons. You also risk having one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA. If you are going to give Anderson big minutes, then you have to put a small forward on the court who rebounds like a power forward on the defensive glass. Tucker does that.

Meanwhile, on the offensive end, it isn’t as complicated. One guy hits shots, and the other does not. Sefolosha is not a very versatile offensive player, as 72.3% of his shots either come off of spot up opportunities or in transition. That isn’t the problem, as I would actually prefer that whoever we add focuses on these two these two areas. Here is the problem however – Sefolosha is terrible at converting in these two areas. He shot just 32% on spot ups this season overall (28% from three) and converted just 49% of the time in transition. That is terrible. Liek Aminu-esque terrible.

Meanwhile, Tucker shot over 41% in spot-up situations, almost all of which came from deep. Both guys took over 200 spot up shots, and Sefolosha scored 0.82 points per possession, while Tucker scored 1.07 points per possession. Sefolosha ranked 271st in the NBA in spot up situations according to Synergy and Tucker ranked 80th. Tucker was 5th in the league in corner three-pointers made and converted 41% of his attempts. Sefolosha hit just 33% of his. Oh, and PJ Tucker gets to the line at nearly twice the rate.

When you look at two things that are incredibly important – fit and production – Tucker wins this one by a landslide. He slides in perfectly with our Core Four on the defensive end, providing the defense on SF’s and the rebounding that unit needs to allow everyone to play where they are comfortable and effective. On offense, he provides the spot up shooting, particularly from the corner, that this unit was also lacking last year when it had Aminu on the court. I have said it before and I will say it again – if you were to create the perfect role player to insert into the lineup with the Core Four, he would look a lot like PJ Tucker. Meanwhile, Sefolosha either will be forced to defend a position he is not used to defending or will be the reason that Tyreke has to defend out of position. Now, if he was a knock down shooter on the other end, then I might be able to swallow that bullet, but he was terrible on the offensive end this past season.

So, what am I getting if I add Sefolosha to this team? Maybe I get a defensive minded guard off the bench who can spell Holiday and Evans, which wouldn’t be terrible if I didn’t already have that in Austin Rivers. You add Sefolosha to this team, and he will eventually end up where he did this last season – on the end of the bench, unable to get off because he is not needed on defense and is a black hole on offense. Personally, I will pay the extra $1.3 million a year to grab a guy who will have an impact on the court, not just a seat on the bench.

Thabo Sefolosha (3 Years and $12 million)

by Ryan Schwan

And now we come to PJ Tucker, the flavor of the hour.  He’s the sexy new thing – the scrappy youngin’ who joined a team with no expectations and helped propel it heights unexpected and wonderful.  He’s the guy no one wanted, but who worked hard, made good, and is the latest incarnation of Rudy.  Great story! I love it too!

But check your emotion at the door now, my friends.  We are team-building here, not trying to have an after school special.  So Goran Dragic led PJ and the upstart Suns to a surprise season.  Now turn your attention about 1000 miles to the east, where unheralded and unremembered, there was another wing player who was doing the same things for his team.  Except his team made the playoffs.  Except his team had a top 5 defense.  Except his team made him guard the most skilled sorts of players – guards. Westbrook getting killed?  Call Thabo!  Reggie Jackson’s speed not up to the task?  Call Thabo!  Ibaka in foul trouble due to porous perimeter defense?  Call Thabo!

And guess what?  He’s been doing that for years now.  PJ?  His team was purely mediocre defensively.  He’s been a starter for exactly one season.  And despite that, you need to remember PJ is only one year and 3 days younger than Thabo.  Oh, and lest I forget, he’s more expensive than Thabo, pulling in the dangerous “Mid Level’ style salary.  Remember this team trying to ditch Posey and Peterson not too long ago?  Can you remember a mid-level contract that was good through its entire life?  Can you remember a team signing a player who will be 29 years old, paying him 5+ mil a year, and it turning out well for the team doing the signing?  Ever?

It’s a dangerous combination, my friends.

Especially when you recognize PJ was just not the defender Thabo was last year.  Thabo was a better defender in isolation.  Thabo was a better defender on screens.  Thabo was a better defender on pick and roll ball handlers.  Tucker only advantages were a slight edge on spot up defense – and defending the post.  But what do we want our perimeter defensive ace to be defending anyways?  The guy with the ball, right?  In that case, Thabo is better.  So why would you pick the worse defender on a team that desperately needs defense?

Even on the flip side, Thabo remains better.  Thabo has shot better on average from deep over his last couple seasons (37.6%) than PJ Tucker (35.4%), and his career best year (.439) blows away Tuckers best (.376).  Oh and need I mention that Thabo has years and years of playoff experience?  PJ has played, well, zero NBA playoff games. Why would we be choosing PJ Tucker again?

Don’t.  Choose Thabo.



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