NBA fans remember when PJ Tucker was the starting center for the Houston Rockets at 6’5: “I still can’t believe the Rockets did that to PJ Tucker.”
When the Golden State Warriors revolutionized the NBA with their “death row” that had Draymond Green in center position, some teams followed the small ball trend, trying to catch up with the Warriors. Small ball lineups are much more common these days than when the Golden State Warriors won their first title.
One of those teams that tried to make the little ball work full time was the Houston Rockets during the 2019-20 season. They acquired Russell Westbrook in the offseason to team up with James Harden, and eventually traded starting cross Clint Capela, deciding to move all-in on coach Mike D’Antoni’s version of the small ball. That meant 6’5 “PJ Tucker became the starting center. While this put the Rockets at a disadvantage on the rebound, it definitely gave them an advantage in terms of speed and shooting.
There was once a chart going around with the heights of all the starting centers of Western Conference teams at the time. Twitter user @currypistonn recently brought it to the fore. It is clear from the picture that PJ Tucker was at a great disadvantage in terms of height. These Rockets were definitely a fun team, and many fans remembered seeing PJ Tucker playing center.
The little ball experience was not a success for the Rockets, and they ended up losing to eventual playoff champions, the Los Angeles Lakers. However, the Rockets were partially hampered due to a quad injury from Russell Westbrook. Daryl Morey believed these Rockets had a higher championship cap without a cross, and who knows what would have happened if the team were healthy. What is certain, however, is that PJ Tucker’s defensive skills as an undersized center have done everything for the team.
There is no doubt that these Rockets were a good team, and it sure would have been interesting to see another year of full-time smallball with Russell Westbrook and James Harden in the lead. Alas, things didn’t turn out that way, but we can certainly remember the joy and fun this team brought to their fans via their unorthodox style.