How Trevor Ariza & P.J. Tucker could shape the Eastern Conference Championship race

How Trevor Ariza & P.J. Tucker could shape the Eastern Conference Championship race

Illustration for article titled How Trevor Ariza & P.J. Tucker could shape the Eastern Conference Championship race
Image: Getty Images

With the trade deadline now seven days away, there’s a whole lotta shit that still might happen.

Yesterday afternoon, the Miami Heat bombed first, parting with old-timely anti-Jewish-slur practitioner Meyers Leonard and a 2027 second-round pick in exchange for Trevor Ariza, the most traded player in NBA history. Hours later, as the Milwaukee Bucks were tipping off against the Philadelphia 76ers, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the team was acquiring P.J. Tucker from the Houston Rockets, among other moving parts.

Regarding names, it could get much bigger from here, especially when possibly garnering the attention of casual observers. But regarding impact, both players could have sizeable ones moving forward.

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P.J. Tucker

P.J. Tucker

Illustration for article titled How Trevor Ariza & P.J. Tucker could shape the Eastern Conference Championship race
Image: Getty Images

Tucker’s fit with the Bucks was briefly touched on here last week, and here’s what was said:

“Tucker’s essential skill-set has always entailed defensive versatility, rebounding, hustle, corner threes, and leadership. For Milwaukee, who has the league’s second-best net rating, a veteran who could provide all of the above, like Tucker when he’s on, would be perfect beside Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday. The Bucks currently lack depth at forward, and their off-the-bench efforts are primarily led by Bobby Portis, who has always been offensively gifted but never quite a defensive stopper. Lining Tucker up beside Porter to power the second unit would make sense, especially since the team is only in the bottom half of points allowed. He could start in place of Brook Lopez, but that isn’t something we should expect to see instantly, if at all.”

And regarding Tucker’s production, there was this:

“Tucker’s only averaging 4.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 0.9 steals per game this season, which becomes 5.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per 36 minutes. His field-goal, three-point, and free-throw percentage shooting splits are 36.6 / 31.4 / 78.3. His shooting strokes would be the worst tallies of his career outside of his free-throw percentage, which isn’t but so impactful since he gets to the line less than one time per game. Some advanced metrics are also at career-worsts, including his offensive rating (99), defensive rating (112), box plus-minus (-4.8), win-shares per-48 minutes (.039), and value over replacement player / VORP (-0.7).”

“That said, the soon-to-be-36-year-old has toiled away on a team that wouldn’t energize a veteran of Tucker’s standing. Tucker even entered the season annoyed with the organization for not coming to terms on a new deal, and he was later offered a contract but never accepted it.”

Adding to that, the Bucks are currently on a five-game winning streak following a 109-105 overtime win over the Joel Embiid-less Sixers. They’re 1.5 games behind the Sixers and Brooklyn Nets, both of whom are tied for first in the Eastern Conference, but the Bucks are also 4.5 games ahead of the fourth-place Heat. Perhaps Tucker’s signature addition is two-fold: He allows the Bucks to play Giannis at center and gives the team a true closing lineup presence. In the playoffs, the Bucks may finish games by running Tucker alongside the Holiday-Middleton-Giannis trio and perhaps second guard, likely Donte DiVincenzo, barring another move.

Maybe the Bucks want to go big and instead run Tucker at the three, once his natural position, alongside Giannis and Brook Lopez or Bobby Portis if he has it going off the bench. The flexibility is necessary for Milwaukee, who is trying to prove they’re not postseason frauds, so if Tucker’s up to it, and if he hits open threes when the Bucks big three inevitably finds him in the corner, the fit could be seamless.

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Trevor Ariza

Trevor Ariza

Illustration for article titled How Trevor Ariza & P.J. Tucker could shape the Eastern Conference Championship race
Image: Getty Images

For Ariza, it’s a reasonably simple exercise. Heat Culture is built around playoff relevance and success, both of which Ariza has established throughout his career and is at least partly why so many teams have wanted him throughout his 17 NBA seasons. Ariza has a championship from his 2008-09 sizable contribution as a Lakers starter and has made 10 or more playoff starts in five seasons since then. Of his 102 career playoff outings, where he averages 10.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and shoots about 37-percent from three, 90 were starts.

And when assessing teams, we look into what actually shifts the goalposts for them. With that said, how many of you expected Jae Crowder to decide an Eastern Conference Championship? Because his contribution was a top three or five reason why the Heat saw the Lakers in the NBA Finals last season. But before arriving in the deal that centered around moving Justise Winslow for Crowder and Andre Iguodala, Crowder wasn’t in Memphis what he became in Miami.

With the Grizzlies, through just under 30 minutes per game, Crowder averaged 10 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game while starting, but he only shot 36.8-percent from the field and 29.3-percent from three. In Miami, playing about 28 minutes per night, he elevated to 11.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game while also recording 1.3 steals. The kicker was his proficiency shooting, and his splits were 48 / 44.5 / 73 in 20 regular-season games (eight starts). In the playoffs, Crowder’s efficiency dropped to splits of 40 / 34 / 76, but he did average 12 points and 5.6 rebounds, and he did provide key makes in critical moments throughout the Bucks, Boston Celtics, and Lakers series, in particular.

Ariza now might be better than Crowder was. He might even be better currently. Even prior to the deal, Ariza had been working out in Miami, keeping himself in shape while anticipating his season debut for whomever. Last we saw Ariza was in the 2019-20 season, which has a similar Crowder before-and-after effect. The Grizzlies were competitive last season, so they weren’t quite the Sacramento Kings, but that’s where Ariza spent his first 32 games before being moved to the playoff-bound Portland Trail Blazers. With the Kings, Ariza came off the bench, averaged 6.0 points and 4.6 rebounds in 24.7 minutes per contest, and had shooting splits of 39 / 35 / 78. With the Blazers, a better team, Ariza started all 21 games he appeared in, averaging 11 points and 4.8 rebounds on 49 / 40 / 87 splits through 33.4 minutes per contest. Ariza opted out of the bubble, so he didn’t play in the playoffs.

Good veteran players aren’t ideal on bad teams, and their skills would better translate when surrounded by quality players actually competing for something. Tucker on the Rockets encapsulates this, given that he’s seen both sides, which evidently led to his departure.

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In Closing

In Closing

Illustration for article titled How Trevor Ariza & P.J. Tucker could shape the Eastern Conference Championship race
Image: Getty Images

For now, teams are still shuffling the deck, specifically in the Eastern Conference. SNY’s Ian Begley reported today that the Heat have inquired about Spencer Dinwiddie, who is sidelined with a torn ACL but has a player option next year worth over $12 million. The 5 Reasons Sports crew in Miami, and Ethan Skolnick in particular, have linked the Heat to several names, more recently, a few in San Antonio, including Rudy Gay and LaMarcus Aldridge. We’re still collectively waiting to see the Nets or Celtics add Andre Drummond and whether or not the Sixers will strike.

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