For Los Angeles Lakers rookie Talen Horton-Tucker, the NBA bubble has been a one-of-a-kind opportunity to kickstart his young career. Before the four-month hiatus, the Iowa State product had essentially only played for the South Bay Lakers in the G League.
Horton-Tucker appeared in two games with the Lakers last December, though only logged a combined five minutes.
But with the disturbance the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused to sports, Horton-Tucker suddenly found himself training alongside the league’s best players in LeBron James and Anthony Davis along with other veterans who have enormous amounts of knowledge to share.
And thanks to Lakers head coach Frank Vogel’s rotation evaluations, Horton-Tucker has received extended opportunities and was even part of the starting lineup in the 136-122 loss to the Sacramento Kings.
The guard is averaging 8.5 points in four games, emerging as a solid shooter and capable defender. His performances prompted Vogel to admit Horton-Tucker could be part of his playoff rotation.
But while the rookie says he will be ready whenever the coach needs him, he remains grounded and says he is just cherishing the opportunity to be with the Lakers in Orlando. “Being able to learn from some of the best basketball IQs in the game, just being able to take that in as a 19-year-old has been great for me,” Horton-Tucker said. “I’ve been appreciative of the moment and just trying to stay ready.”
Horton-Tucker has been an eager learner, receiving praise from Kyle Kuzma for soaking in basketball knowledge like a “sponge.” The rookie named Jared Dudley and JR Smith as his primary mentors, but says he is trying to observe every one of his Laker teammates and ask them questions.
Horton-Tucker also highlighted the privilege of witnessing All-Stars James and Davis preparing themselves for a tough championship pursuit. “Just being around and seeing their mindset shift to what it takes to go in and win a championship, being able to see that in my first year has been great for me,” he explained.
“I feel like other rookies don’t really have the opportunity to be around guys like A.D. and LeBron. So I just try to make the most of it, just being around them and trying to take in as much as I can, be a sponge and just listen to everybody around.”
Vogel: Diversity strengthens you
The Lakers have been through a lot this season: starting with preseason issues in China due to the nation’s conflict with the NBA, to Kobe Bryant’s death, to eventually a four-month hiatus caused by a global pandemic.
But Vogel hopes the unprecedented nature of this season will only galvanize the team to achieve great things in Orlando. “It was full of challenges, but adversity strengthens you,” he said.
“It gives you an opportunity for your group to come together, and I feel like our group is very tied together and confident in what we can accomplish.”
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