Lakers: Talen Horton-Tucker shows raw potential against Rockets

Talen Horton-Tucker #5 of the Los Angeles Lakers (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)
Talen Horton-Tucker #5 of the Los Angeles Lakers (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images) /

Talen Horton-Tucker showed his raw potential on the Los Angeles Lakers against Houston.

Suffice to say, the Los Angeles Lakers did not look like themselves on Thursday night against the Houston Rockets. Certainly, it did not help matters given that superstar LeBron James, Alex Caruso, and JaVale McGee did not participate, but fans still would have liked to see a more competitive game.

As a result, the Lakers suffered their third defeat in the five games the team has played in the NBA restart thus far. The offense struggled again and it seemed like they would not have been able to shoot the ball into the Pacific Ocean. Things were that atrocious, ladies and gentlemen.

One can assume the Lakers’ offense will not remain this silent as time progresses. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the Rockets made more 3-pointers last night (21) than the Lakers attempted (19). Los Angeles only converted two of those attempts, which equates to a percentage that is barely over the ten percent mark.

In a nutshell, the Lakers were ice cold in Thursday’s matchup. Cold games can happen to anyone, but what is concerning is that the offense continues to just be spinning their wheels. It has been this way the whole time they have been in Florida.

The lousy execution is an issue without a doubt, but areas like shot selection and shot creation need to improve drastically moving forward.

Sure, the Lakers may have notched the Western Conference’s top seed the other day, yet time is not on the Lakers’ side right now. There are only three regular-season games left before the real season commences, and L.A. is not playing championship-level basketball.

While the Lakers are not playing great basketball currently, there is one important positive worth mentioning from Thursday’s matchup. Rookie Talen Horton-Tucker received some playing time and he did not disappoint.

The teenager briefly played in two other games for the Lakers this year, averaging a paltry 2.5 minutes in those contests. As one might expect, his statistics are rather modest, as he recorded two dimes and one steal in those pair of opportunities.

Talen Horton-Tucker showed up against the Houston Rockets.

However, last night was the first time fans got a real taste of what the young man can do. Horton-Tucker demonstrated glimpses of his true potential and proved to be impactful in the 19 minutes he was given.

Horton-Tucker proved to be a bit of an anomaly in comparison to the majority of the team provided that he had an efficient night offensively. He netted 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the field whilst grabbing two rebounds and four steals.

Following his solid performance, head coach Frank Vogel was not shy when it came to complimenting Horton-Tucker. According to Lakers Nation writer Matt Peralta, Vogel stated that the youngster is “making a case for being in the rotation.”

"“He continues to surprise and impress me. He’s making a case for being in the rotation with the way he’s performed in this whole restart,” Vogel said. “Obviously he had great growth in our G League program this year and has really come along. He played really strong, looked really comfortable against a very good team.”"

Indeed, last night is ultimately representative of a small sample size. Said fact aside, it is encouraging that the Lakers’ rookie not only performed well but did so against a quality team like Vogel said. Houston could very well be a playoff opponent moving forward, so it is refreshing that Horton-Tucker did not look like a deer caught in the headlights.

It is one thing to perform well in the G League, which proved to be the case for the young man this year. Horton-Tucker averaged 18.1 points, 6.2 boards, 4.0 dimes, and 1.7 steals per game for the South Bay Lakers (courtesy of Ryan Ward of ClutchPoints).

It is an entirely ‘nother ballgame once a player reaches the big leagues, and a player in Horton-Tucker’s shoes never knows when his name is going to be called upon. Therefore, it is imperative for a player to be ready if the coach gives the thumbs-up signal.

Horton-Tucker was more than ready against the hot-shooting Rockets, and his style of play was intriguing. The 19-year-old was not afraid to drive to the basket and absorb contact. He had a couple nice finishes in the paint last night, showing what he can do when the rock is in his hands.

His ability to get to the rim with relative ease is just one part of his game that stood out, though. The young Laker also showed what he is capable of on the defensive end of the floor. As was abovementioned, Horton-Tucker was a pest in this area and collected four steals when all was said and done.

Additionally, it is worth noting another component about Horton-Tucker that has caught the Lakers’ attention. It was tough to not notice last night that the rookie is in pretty good shape.

Per Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen & Roll, Vogel recognized it as well before the season even resumed. The following is what Vogel had to say about the work Horton-Tucker has put in behind the scenes.

"“His body changed,” Vogel said. “(He) dropped a lot of weight, got himself in great shape… He also did a lot of work on his shot. His perimeter shot really has improved throughout the course of this year and because of those two things, he’s had some success.“It’s really brought a lot of confidence to him as a young player, and that’s what’s showing up right now, is how confident he’s playing. He’s playing beyond his years in these practices and scrimmages.”"

In the grand scheme of things, the Iowa State product may not necessarily get the chance to play much when the real season is underway. He is still a very young player and has plenty of room for improvement.

Nonetheless, the fact he made the most of his opportunity versus Houston should definitely not be swept under the rug. It was an impressive outing for the youngster, and Kyle Kuzma also praised the rookie following their recent game (via Peralta).

"“He has a bright future. He’s super young, talented, great person off the floor. His best quality is he’s very humble, thankful to be here learning from everyone, is a sponge and takes it all in,” Kuzma said.“I think as a young player on a team like this, with his physique and can get downhill and make special plays, it’s only going to serve him well just being around us every single day and learning. That’s important for a young player, especially for him. He’s super raw and has a lot of talent.”"

Hearing those aspects about the rookie’s demeanor is every bit as reassuring to hear. Some rookies can be quite impatient or cocky when they first enter the NBA, but Horton-Tucker appears to be the antithesis of that.

One thing that is extremely hard to disagree with Kuzma about, though, is that his teammate is a “super raw” player. On the one hand, the rookie’s age speaks for itself and it lends credibility to the idea that he can get better.

Conversely, the teenager showed the Lakers on Thursday that he is no slouch when it comes to basketball. He is the furthest thing from a household name, but Talen Horton-Tucker is a player that is worth paying attention to in the time to come.

Next. Lakers are officially in offensive peril. dark

Certainly, as Kuzma commented, the young Laker carries a great deal of potential and it will be interesting to see what he will look like a year or two down the road. For the time being, however, one can only hope that Horton-Tucker will continue to maximize his minutes if Vogel calls his name.