P.J. Tucker's withdrawal is underrated blow to Team USA's chances at FIBA World Cup

Yahoo Sports Contributor
Yahoo Sports

NBA stars are dropping out left and right from Team USA ahead of the FIBA World Cup, and while P.J. Tucker’s name won’t turn many heads, his departure represents a sizeable blow to the team.

The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported on Friday that Tucker will withdraw because of an ankle injury, making him the 17th player since July to pull his name out, including Houston Rockets teammates James Harden and Eric Gordon.

Tucker, 33, played a career-high 34.2 minute per game last season but only averaged 7.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. On its face, that doesn't sound impressive, but most of his contributions come away from the ball.

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The Rockets were heavily dependent on Harden, Chris Paul and Eric Gordon last season; the trio had usage rates of 40.5, 22.5 and 22.0 percent. With so many possessions used by the guards, someone on the team had to sacrifice possessions. That someone was Tucker, whose 9.5 percent usage rate is a complete outlier.

Tucker would have filled that same role with Team USA. Although plenty of stars have left the team, it’s still full of players who are not used to being fifth and sixth options. Like the Rockets, Team USA’s top remaining players are all guards — Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell and De'Aaron Fox — who could eat up possessions from other players.

Rockets forward PJ Tucker withdrew from Team USA's FIBA World Championship squad due to an ankle injury. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Rockets forward PJ Tucker withdrew from Team USA's FIBA World Championship squad due to an ankle injury. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Team USA was already lacking big men before Tucker’s departure, and now they’ll have to work with a rotation of Myles Turner, Brook Lopez and, gulp, Mason Plumlee. They will still be favored to qualify for the Olympics and likely win the World Cup, but one shudders to think what Marc Gasol could do down low to that trio.

Tucker’s defense, toughness and playoff experience will be missed. He was often assigned the Rockets’ toughest opponent, a role that may be passed to a wing like Marcus Smart, Khris Middleton or Jaylen Brown.

There’s more to basketball than scoring, just ask the Rockets. There’s a reason they’ve reportedly tried to trade nearly everyone on their team but Harden and Tucker.

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