Why Talen Horton-Tucker Should Be the Backup Point Guard for the Lakers
Lost in the discussions of how to find minutes on a championship Lakers team ten deep with proven talented players has been the more important question of what is the position Talen Horton-Tucker is best suited to play?
I think we saw the answer to that question in the last three preseason games where Horton-Tucker averaged 23.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 2.7 steals in 34.4 minutes at point guard while shooting an elite 53.3/45.5/89.5%. While it’s foolish to overreact to a few preseason games, what we saw in those three games was exactly what the Lakers coaches and players have seen from this kid in the bubble, during the playoffs, and in practice every day.
The first time I heard the Lakers were considering Talen Horton-Tucker as the backup point guard was back in November on a YouTube stream Making Sense of the Los Angeles Lakers’ Hard Cap Moves by trusted reporter Eric Pincus. While discussing the Lakers depth chart for the season, Pincus said the coaches were high on THT, believed he would become part of the rotation, and could even challenge Alex Caruso for the backup point guard role
The reason Talen is even on the Lakers roster is LeBron James. “I saw him about three and half, four years ago,” James said of Horton-Tucker. “I was watching a high school basketball game and I happened to catch Simeon playing. And I told our agent at the time — it’s now Talen’s agent, Rich Paul — that he needs to take a look at this kid Talen Horton-Tucker that’s at Simeon. I think the kid is super talented. This was like four years ago.
What transpired after that may be a key moment in Lakers history as on June 20, 2019, the Lakers traded their 2020 second round pick and $2.2 million in cash to the Orlando Magic to take Talen with the 46th pick in the draft. After spending most of his rookie year in the G-League and only playing in 2 regular season games with the Lakers, Talen got a chance to play in two second round playoff games in the bubble against the Rockets and excelled.
Thrown into the pressure cooker of the bubble playoffs, Horton-Tucker averaged 7.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 1.0 steals in 8.5 minutes per game, giving the Lakers a glimpse of what he was capable of doing at 19-years old. The most telling comment about what the Lakers think about Talen Horton-Tucker’s potential was what one of their coaches said to LA Times writer Dan Woike while watching him practice during the playoffs in the bubble.
Here’s the quote from Woike: Inside a convention center ballroom during the playoffs, a Lakers coach milled around the edge of a makeshift practice court. Nineteen-year-old Talen Horton-Tucker made a play, another flash of the potential that had been popping in limited minutes earlier in the bubble. And a smile crept across the staffer’s face. “That [dude] might start for us next year,” that coach, who happened to be Frank Vogel, said.
I was even more impressed watching Talen dominate the second half and lead the Lakers to a 3rd straight preseason win last night rebounding from a shaky first half off the bench instead of starting like he did the first two games. After missing his only two 3-point attempts in the first half, Talen did what great players do. He put his head down and used his size and length to attack the paint, making several highlight reel layups and dishes in traffic.
While it may be awhile before he forces himself into the starting lineup, there’s no question Talen Horton-Tucker has earned a role in the Lakers’ rotation as the team’s backup point guard when LeBron’s not on the floor. While he’s capable of contributing off the ball, Talen’s handle and ability to get into the paint and make plays for himself and teammates and his upside as an elite wing defender are exactly what the Lakers need to repeat.
It almost unfair that a championship team as deep and talented as the Lakers should find a transcendent young star like Talen Horton-Tucker but like LeBron James said, “This kid is flat out SPECIAL! Mark my words.”
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