Talen Horton-Tucker entered the 2021-22 season facing different expectations than in his first two years in the NBA, as he had signed a three-year $30.8 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers earlier that summer.
Horton-Tucker’s worth quickly skyrocketed following the Lakers’ selection of the Iowa State alum with their 46th overall pick in 2019. His athleticism, defense, and playmaking made an impression on several front offices around the league during his breakthrough year in 2020-21.
The Toronto Raptors memorably insisted on including the shooting guard in a deal to bring Kyle Lowry to L.A. during that season, which ultimately fell through because of the Lakers’ unwillingness to part ways with their prospect.
However, Horton-Tucker said he didn’t feel the pressure to show he’s worthy of his new salary ahead of the 2021-22 campaign.
“No, that don’t put no pressure on me,” he said. “I feel like I put more pressure on myself for another reason. Not because of that, though. I felt like coming into the year I just had to prepare myself to be in a role that I wasn’t going to be used to, so just being able to lock into that was the most important thing. It was probably would’ve been pressure with that, but not really.”
Horton-Tucker’s contract made him the fourth-highest paid player on the roster, behind Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. But the young guard reiterated his salary was something he was grateful for rather than a source of extra stress.
“I feel like it was everything that I wanted,” Horton-Tucker said.
“I feel like this year was pretty much everything that I wanted except that we didn’t win the championship or even go to the playoffs. Just being able to be in that position that I am now, I’m thankful for, but I really didn’t put pressure on myself. Everything asking about pressure, it was like everything that I wanted. I live with the results.”
After an up-and-down season, Horton-Tucker finished 2021-22 averaging a career-high 10.0 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. However, he recorded the lowest shooting percentages of his three-year spell with the Lakers, making 41.6% of his attempts from the field and 26.9% of his threes.
Horton-Tucker viewed changing roles in 2021-22 as learning experience
Due to Westbrook’s arrival and the many injuries that plagued the Lakers’ season, Horton-Tucker’s role kept changing during 2021-22, ranging from a slasher to the primary ball-handler.
Despite the challenges that came with the volatility of his role, the guard viewed it as a valuable lesson.
“I feel like every situation that I’ve been in is almost like a learning experience,” Horton-Tucker said. “Being on the ball, off the ball, it’s experience that you need. Obviously I felt better with the ball in my hands and I felt I had success with that, but just learning to play with stars was the most important thing they wanted me to do.
“During those stretches I got to play a lot more. Bron was out to start, and then to finish the season we had some other guys out. Just the opportunity to have the ball in my hands and play and be at my best… It felt good to actually do that.”
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