The story of the preseason — besides the Los Angeles Lakers going a perfect 4-0 — was the emergence of Talen Horton-Tucker as a legitimate rotation player.
With a majority of the Lakers solidified role players and stars sitting out the first two games, Horton-Tucker took over and showed the type of player he can be in the NBA. The 20-year-old averaged 20.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.3 steals. All the while shooting 55% from the field, 54% from three and 90% from the free throw line.
Numbers like that are presumably aren’t sustainable for a second-year player, but there’s no doubt that he has earned legitimate minutes during the regular season.
One anonymous NBA scout was willing to go a step further, saying that Horton-Tucker could take home the Most Improved Player Award, according to Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports:
I just had an NBA scout text me "I don't know if you are allowed, but put some money on Talen Horton-Tucker for Most Improved. He's going to play a lot and he added a lot to his game since the start of his rookie year."
— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) December 19, 2020
While it’s still uncertain if Horton-Tucker will get consistent minutes, it’s clear people around the league believe he’s earned it. Not only that, they believe that he’ll continue to play at this high of a level if he’s given the chance.
This puts head coach Frank Vogel in a difficult situation, as the Lakers have one of the deepest rosters in the NBA. On any given night, they have 11 players who can easily make a huge difference on the court.
If Horton-Tucker plays 15-20 minutes a night, this could significantly disrupt the minutes of players like Kyle Kuzma, Markieff Morris, and Alex Caruso.
As we saw last season, Vogel has no issues experimenting with lineups regardless of the situation, meaning each night may come with a completely different look. Of course, there is the unpredictability factor with the COVID-19 pandemic and NBA’s protocols.
Vogel welcomes Horton-Tucker making his life ‘difficult’
Immediately following the first two remarkable Horton-Tucker performances, questions began over what Vogel’s plan was with the young player.
“It’s going to make my job difficult, for sure,” Vogel said. “We have a very deep team and no minutes are guaranteed. If he’s going to keep playing at a high level, that should push everybody to play at a high level.
“But it does give us that luxury having him carry the load for some of our guys who played deep in a championship run and had a short offseason. He should be able to carry some of that load.”
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