If you want to know how the Lakers season has started, consider this: they’re relying on a 20 year old 6’4″ guard to save them from themselves.
Yeah it’s been that bad, but Talen Horton Tucker excels in the areas which the Lakers struggle, so maybe this isn’t some pipe dream of the Lakers faithful.
Despite Horton-Tucker playing in parts of 3 NBA seasons, he has yet reached a full season in NBA service.
“I still don’t think I’ve played 82 games in the NBA,” Horton-Tucker said.
Counting his playoff appearances, Wednesday marked his 80th career game. But you wouldn’t know it by watching his game.
The growth has been rapid for a player who got his first legitimate NBA action in the second-round playoff series against Houston in the bubble in 2020. That is also a wild way to start you’re career.
Through 3 games this season, 20 year old Talen Horton-Tucker has averaged 23.3 ppg on 49.0% FG’s and 40.0% 3’s and 4.0 FTA’s (12 of 12, 100%) – 7.3 rebounds – 2.0 assists/2.0 turnovers – 1.3 steals.
All of those numbers point in the upward direction when compared to his previous season. But can he sustain this play once the Lakers return to full strength?
When penciling out potential lineups for the Lakers coming into the season, it was difficult to envision Talen Horton-Tucker starting if the Lakers were at full strength. His early-career success has come with the ball in his hands, attacking off the dribble. How many opportunities would there be for that in lineups with LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis?
Maybe starting isn’t in the cards this season but these three games have made it obvious, THT’s playing time is here to stay. The veterans on minimum contracts will be the ones fighting and clawing for minutes going forward, not the 20 year old.
“Sometimes scoring off the bench is what you need,” Vogel said, “but he’s playing as good as anybody from a standpoint of both sides of the ball. What he’s given to us on defense and what he’s given to us on offense. He’s been terrific in his first few games back, and he’ll have a big role. He’s definitely made a case.”
The Lakers expected big things from Horton-Tucker when they signed him to a three-year contract worth $31 million, effectively choosing to keep him over the more established — but more limited — Alex Caruso. He may have been the only player the fan base would be okay with taking Caruso’s money. (Not really because the Lakers could have afforded both but I digress.)
Against the Bucks, he led the Lakers with a team-high 25 points and 12 rebounds. He was also 3-of-5 from 3. Playing a career-high 39 minutes, he committed only three turnovers, an encouraging sign for a player who is constantly attacking off the dribble and needing to make runs at the basket.
Horton-Tucker’s growth has been a meaningful development amid a stretch of games that has otherwise felt like a placeholder while James works his way back from injury. His success has coincided with Vogel’s decision to go small with Davis at center.
Schematically, it may ultimately make the most sense for the Lakers to run Horton-Tucker off the bench alongside Carmelo Anthony and avoid clogging things up with James and Westbrook, but regardless of what his role actually looks like, the important thing is that Horton-Tucker is living up to the contract the Lakers gave him.
He is the fourth highest-paid Laker, and they could certainly use him to be their best two-way guard. He is the 5th best player on the team, but on some nights has the chance to be the third best. His versatility and youth will allow the ceiling of the Lakers to rise while also raising the floor. That is special when you can do both.
“No matter his role, whether he starts or comes off the bench, we need his energy,” Davis said. “The way he’s been playing, he has to keep that. Keep his same mindset. He comes in, shooting the ball well, making the right reads, doing great things for us defensively. But we don’t want that to kind of slow down or fade away when guys get back.”
“I feel like it’s only the start,” Horton Tucker said. “You’ve got to grow from here.”