No one is happy with the Los Angeles Lakers losing their last two contests, but there has been one major bright spot and his name is Talen Horton-Tucker. The third-year guard has been outstanding in his three games since returning from a thumb injury and looks much improved even from his more-than-solid second season.
After scoring a career-high 28 points against the Bulls, Horton-Tucker followed it by again leading the Lakers with 25 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and two steals in the loss to the Bucks.
In his three games back, Horton-Tucker is now averaging 23.3 points and 7.3 rebounds on 49% shooting from the field and 40% from 3-point range.
The 20-year-old was pushed right into the starting lineup upon his return and with the Lakers employing a small lineup, has basically slotted in as the small forward. And with LeBron James potentially returning to the lineup soon, head coach Frank Vogel admits Horton-Tucker has earned strong consideration to remain a starter once that happens when asked if he’s made a case.
“Yes. That’s not to say that when Bron comes back or we’re whole, I haven’t made any decisions about what that’s ultimately going to look like. Sometimes scoring off the bench is what you need, but he’s been playing 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, but definitely has made a case.”
Anthony Davis also had high praise for what Horton-Tucker has done in the three games he’s been back.
“He’s just growing in confidence. The game slows down in their second or third year and obviously, he’s done a lot early in his career, but he just looks really more comfortable right now continuing to attack the basket and what we keep an eye on with him is just the shot selection on the perimeter. Makes sure he’s still playing within and making great decisions when he gets to the paint. He’s got a unique ability to finish, but when he draws a crowd, the extra pass is something that we’re preaching with him. But I just love the way he’s playing. He’s playing with a lot of confidence and giving us a huge lift.”
Vogel also went on to praise Horton-Tucker for how well he has played so far this season.
“But he’s looked great for us and he’s been helping us big time at the point guard position, attacking the gaps, getting downhill, finishing, making the reads and kicking it out to our shooters. Defensively, poking at the ball. So he’s been big, he’s been big for us and I think this is only his second game back or third game. So he’s doing all this and he’s still getting in game shape and getting in rhythm. So he’s going to be good for us.”
There are certainly arguments to be made for Horton-Tucker both as a starter and a reserve for the Lakers. His scoring and playmaking will be absolutely crucial to help boost the second unit, but he has also shown much-improved defense and deep shooting to help fit in with the starters.
When James does return, however, it will severely decrease Horton-Tucker’s time playing on the ball, which he has done a lot of in the current lineup. Russell Westbrook is the only other creator with the starters and it allows Horton-Tucker a lot of freedom, which would obviously be cut down with LeBron in the lineup.
Even if he remains a starter, Vogel could still stagger his minutes to help with the bench and at this rate, he seems to be almost a lock to close out games as well. One thing that seems to be for sure is that Horton-Tucker will be a big part of this Lakers team regardless of whether he starts or not.
James eyeing Celtics game for Lakers return?
When James returns to the Lakers is still unclear, but it is looking increasingly likely it could come against the purple and gold’s greatest rival. Recent reports have suggested that there is growing optimism that LeBron could be back when the Lakers face the Boston Celtics on Friday night.
Should that return happen then, along with the improved play of Horton-Tucker, the Lakers could finally begin to look more like the team many had envisioned when the season started.
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