The Los Angeles Lakers have seen their roster face several setbacks with injuries and health and safety protocols, but through it all, it has provided an opportunity for others to make their mark. That’s what second-year player Talen Horton-Tucker has done, and his teammates, like LeBron James, have taken notice.
Horton-Tucker only played in six games during his rookie campaign, primarily transpiring in the Orlando bubble. He’s already featured in 36 games this season, but it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.
The Iowa State product has suffered from inconsistent stretches during the first half of the season, as opponents often caught Horton-Tucker ball watching; offensively, Horton-Tucker’s inability to consistently hit threes has also minimized his impact.
However, Horton-Tucker has emerged a fresh player after the All-Star break, bestowing a much-needed ball-handling presence for the Lakers squad while improving defensively — he’s third on the team in defensive rating since the second half began (99.4). Fellow teammates like James have expressed gratitude for Horton-Tucker falling to Los Angeles in the draft in 2019.
“Let’s be honest, if you go back in the draft and re-do the draft from last year, Talen Horton-Tucker would not go in the second round,” James said. “We were super-duper lucky and blessed to be able to grab him where we were able to grab him out of Iowa State.”
James also lauded Horton-Tucker’s ability to read defenses and know how to attack, expressing confidence in the youngster’s aptness.
“So his ability to get downhill, to read either his ability to get to the lane and finish or his ability to make the extra passes, he’s a big guard but with great handle, great poise and great balance and you just mentioned those other guys, this is Talen’s rookie year too pretty much,” James said. “So he’s learning, he wants to continue to get better but he’s a damn good player right now and he’s just gonna continue to get better and better.”
The last two games for the Lakers — the Golden State Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves — have pitted Horton-Tucker in contests between the No. 1 and 2 picks in the 2020 NBA Draft, Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman. Horton-Tucker said he’s always aware of where he went in the draft and it fuels him against other young members of the league.
“It’s something that I kind of carry with me every day,” Horton-Tucker said. “Just having that on my shoulders is something that I think about stepping on the court no matter who is out there.
“The one and two picks that came into this year are great guys. You see they get the praise because they’re good. Just being able to come out and compete against them is always something that I want. I feel confident when I’m out there with them two.”
Vogel, James have faith in Horton-Tucker as part of Lakers’ playoff rotation
Horton-Tucker’s recent performances have only elevated him in the eyes of prominent members of the Lakers. Horton-Tucker appeared in some playoff games during the bubble, but head coach Frank Vogel and James both have faith in him as a vital part of the playoff rotation this season.
“Oh for sure, just the amount of minutes and opportunity that he’s gotten this year, he didn’t have that under his belt last year,” Vogel recently said. “He joined us in the bubble basically having played most of the season in the G League and basically had no experience.
“So to throw him in there in a playoff series just shows the type of confidence I had in him. But it’s a whole nother level now, of course, just him being a rotation player all throughout this season.”
On top of James’ praise of Horton-Tucker, he also believes Horton-Tucker will be prepared to defend the franchise’s 17th championship.
“Yeah, Talen. He’s new, he got a little bit of minutes last year but he’s new,” James said. “We’ve got our veterans, Trezz will be ready, I know Dennis will be ready, I know Marc will be ready for the postseason run. But Talen is new pretty much to our extended season. But I know he’ll be ready for it as well.”
Have you subscribed to our YouTube channel? It’s the best way to watch player interviews, exclusive coverage from events, participate in live shows, and more!