CHARLESTON, SC — PJ Tucker’s biographical information might say that he’s 37 years old. But, you wouldn’t know it by watching the way he carries himself in the gym.
When reporters were allowed into McAlister Field House on Tuesday afternoon, Tucker had the attentions of Joel Embiid, James Harden, and Tobias Harris. He was chatting it up with his teammates under the basket closest to where the Sixers’ off-court resting and exercise stations were set up. And then when Embiid left the court to get his post-practice ice treatment, Tucker followed him to the team’s chairs, sitting behind the big fella and continuing the conversation.
The Sixers’ defensive prowess starts and ends with Embiid committing himself to a consistent standard on that end of the floor. But, next in line is the veteran Tucker. The forward made quite the first impression on that side of the ball on the first day of training camp.
“You can see certain guys like PJ stand out, just especially defensively. When he’s on the floor, when he’s off the floor, it’s night and day,” head coach Doc Rivers said after practice. “That’s what we’re challenging guys. It’s not just the defense; it’s talking, and it’s knowledge. PJ went through the [Pat] Riley system, I’m through the Riley system. So for him, defensively, it’s very easy to pick up everything. But, we need more of that.”
Rivers went on to admit that the team’s spacing on offense needs to improve with Tucker on the floor.
From the sounds of it, as Tucker proves he can handle more defensive responsibilities, his role on that end of the floor might expand.
“With PJ, I would say it’s probably more three than four because we want PJ to be in his spots,” Rivers said. “But, we ran some four today with Paul Reed at the four and Joel at the five. Then, we ran some today with Tobias at the four and a small guy at the three. So, we moved that around a lot today.”
Of particular interest is the inclusion of Reed at the four. With the signing of Montrezl Harrell in the final few weeks of the offseason, some concluded that Reed’s opportunity with the Sixers had come and gone. But, Rivers appears willing to experiment with him at positions other than just the five.
Tucker’s vocal personality and intensity on the court also caught the attention of his teammates.
“Just hearing the rumors and stuff about us getting PJ, I felt like that was a huge pick-up for us,” fellow offseason addition De’Anthony Melton told reporters on Tuesday.
“Like everyone has been saying, bringing that dog factor. Even now, he’s the most vocal leader and he’s only been here for 2-3 weeks.”