The Los Angeles Lakers bounced back to defeat the San Antonio Spurs, but the story of the day was the 2021-22 debut of Talen Horton-Tucker.
Horton-Tucker had been sidelined with a thumb injury, but did well rehabbing and was immediately thrust into the starting lineup. Horton-Tucker seemed to be the boost the Lakers needed as he came in and looked like the player the front office hoped he would be, scoring in the painted area and showing off his improved defensive ability.
Head coach Frank Vogel’s decision to start the young guard was a surprise, but he explained that Horton-Tucker was working hard behind the scenes to make sure he was ready to play as soon as possible.
“He was great. Felt confident in starting him because I know he’s been doing a lot of work on his hand injury,” Vogel said after the game. “He’s stayed really active with his running and staying in game shape. You never know what to expect, but he looked really good, puts a lot of pressure on the rim. It just helps everything with us offensively.
“Obviously, we’ve been using Baze and Avery, to carry a big share of the load, defending on the perimeter, taking the other team’s best player. Talen is able to play both sides of the ball and that’s our vision for him this year. To take that matchup on a lot of nights, it’s great to have him back on both sides.”
With Los Angeles’ roster on the smaller side compared to previous iterations, Horton-Tucker will be called upon to step up as a defender and Vogel acknowledged that it was good to have another player he can rely on regardless of if he’s starting or coming off the bench.
“He’s going to be a big part of what we do though, we know that. We invested in him this summer for a reason. We got a strong belief in that young man, like I said, in what he can do on both sides of the ball. Obviously when we get whole, we have a lot of good choices, but he’s going to be a big part of it.”
In his season debut, Horton-Tucker scored 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting in 27 minutes of action but more impressively looked like he had not missed much game time. The 20-year-old was relentless trying to get into the restricted area and finished several tough layups, something the Lakers and their fans have become accustomed to seeing.
Defensively, Horton-Tucker looked much improved on the ball and showed better instincts when he was not directly involved in the action, a welcome development given the lack of playmakers on that side of the court. Horton-Tucker was a team-high +14 and it was clear the Lakers were much better when he was on the floor for them.
LeBron James looking good in workouts
With Horton-Tucker back in the mix, Los Angeles looks to finally be getting healthy though they are missing their leader in LeBron James still. However, James could make his return in the coming week as he has reportedly been looking good in individual workouts.
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