Miami Heat: Why P.J. Tucker is not the answer at power forward

The Miami Heat organization has decided to weaken the current champions Milwaukee Bucks by signing forward P.J. Tucker. Miami signed Tucker to a $15 million contract over the next two seasons.

But is Tucker a good fit for the team? Yes and no. The Heat predominantly uses power forwards as floor spacers. Miami runs an offensive system revolving around dribble handoffs and pick and rolls.

They were second during the regular season in dribble handoffs, averaging 8.3 per game. Duncan Robinson and Jimmy Butler accounted for 42.2 percent of the dribble handoff possessions, averaging 3.5 per game.

Let’s take a look at why P.J. Tucker doesn’t have the skills to succeed at power forward in the Miami Heat offensive system

On the other hand, the team was 22nd in pick and rolls, averaging 17.9 per game. Butler led the team in the category, as he accounted for 36.9 percent of the possessions, averaging 6.6 pick and rolls per game.

The Heat’s offensive system forced power forwards to have to play the role of floor spacer. For instance, Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder took 53 percent of their shots from behind the arc after being acquired by the Heat in February of 2020, averaging 2.2 and 6.4, respectively.

At least 78 percent of those threes were catch and shoots as they averaged 1.9 and 5, respectively. A significant portion of those catch and shoots were from above the break as Iguodala and Crowder averaged 1.1 and 4.2 per game, respectively.

The team continued to use power forwards in the same fashion during the 2020-21 season, as Iguodala, Ariza, and Kelly Olynyk took 2.9, 4.8, and 5.7 threes per game, respectively. More than 85 percent of those attempts were catch and shoots as Iguodala, Ariza, and Olynyk took 2.4, 4, and 4.9 per game, respectively. Like the 2019-20 season, a portion of those catch and shoots came from above the break. Iguodala, Ariza, and Olynyk took 1.3, 2.6, and 4.5 per game, respectively.

Tucker has been an above-average shooter on catch and shoot threes, converting 36.8 percent of his attempts on 3 shots per game since 2013. However, he hasn’t thrived in the second facet, in which the Miami Heat uses power forwards: above the break threes.

Tucker has shot 30.8 percent from above the break on 0.8 attempts per game. More importantly, the Heat are unlikely to change how they use power forwards as Ariza struggled from above the break before joining the team.

Ariza shot 32.8 from above the break on 3.5 attempts per game. He continued to struggle from above the break in Miami, shooting 34.6 percent. If Miami wants to put Tucker in a position to succeed, they should put him in the corner.

Tucker has converted 37.6 percent of his corner threes since 2013 on 2.4 attempts per game. Unfortunately, corner threes were a strength of Ariza before joining Miami. He converted 40.5 percent of his shots on 2.4 per game. Upon arriving in Miami, only 43.7 percent of his threes were from the corner averaging 2.1 per game.

How P.J. Tucker fits into the Miami Heat defensive system

Although Tucker should struggle offensively, he will bring a lot of value on the defensive end. Miami is in pick-and-roll defense for a substantial portion of their defensive possessions. They defended the pick and roll 11.6 percent of the time last season, averaging 12.5 possessions per game. When defending the pick and roll, Miami likes to switch.

For example, Nunn was assigned to defend Damian Lillard midway through the second quarter of a home game against Portland. Unfortunately, Nunn was forced to switch assignments after Lillard went over a Derrick Jones Jr. screen. He guarded Robert Covington for the rest of the possession as Gabe Vincent picked up Lillard.

Tucker is an ideal fit for this defense as he has shown an ability to switch in the pick and roll on multiple occasions to stop opponents from scoring. For example, Tucker was defending Jeff Green late in the fourth quarter in 2018.

Green went to set a screen for John Wall at the top of the key. Once Wall went over the pick, Tucker left. Green unguarded to focus on Wall. Wall tried to blow by Tucker and was unsuccessful. Consequently, Wall went up for a mid-range jumper but lost the ball in mid-air.

Unfortunately, Tucker’s defensive value will be nullified by the expected offensive struggles in Miami’s system. Therefore, the team should use Tucker as a defensive closer who plays sparingly throughout the game until the final 3-5 minutes