Key #1: Can Talen Horton-Tucker guard Chris Paul or Devin Booker?
Chris Paul and Devin Booker are now quaking in their Air Jordans at the thought of going up against Talen Horton-Tucker. THT just Kawhi’d Kawhi Leonard himself, ripping the ball out of the New Balance spokesman’s hands to start the game.
Is this the moment when THT officially ascended to stardom?
Let’s take it easy: it’s the preseason. THT is 20 years old. He is still a second-year player, even though he got some playing time in the bubble. Lakers coach Frank Vogel said THT is not guaranteed any playing time, but I say he has all but forced his way into Coach Vogel’s rotation.
Here’s why: defense matters most to Coach Vogel. THT has the potential to be one of the best on-ball defenders in the NBA. Although he is only 6’4” THT plays several inches taller than his height due to his 7’1” wingspan and his sturdy frame.
A new challenge awaits him on Wednesday: guarding one of the members of the newly-minted Phoenix Suns’ backcourt, Devin Booker or Chris Paul. Guarding Booker or Paul is different from guarding Kawhi or Paul George (AKA Podcast P).
Kawhi and Podcast P are traditional wings, whereas Booker and Paul are ball-dominant lead guards. A different skill set is required. THT just needed to be physical and hold his ground against Kawhi or Podcast P. To guard Booker or Paul, THT must have lightning-quick footwork and stay low to the ground in order to stay chest-to-chest.
The Paul/Booker duo likes to slither in and out of pick-and-rolls and isolations. Look at how CP3 expertly navigates Utah’s defense on this possession.
If THT was guarding Paul on that possession, he would have been able to take away that open pass due to his length. Coach Vogel will closely watch THT’s on-ball defense against either Paul or Booker. Vogel will see if he can stay attached to either of them.
Because if the Lakers have one weakness, it is their ability to guard opposing point guards. Their best defenders are amazing help defenders, but they lack an elite on-ball defensive stopper. Vogel is looking to start the best on-ball defender for opposing point guards. If THT is successful in containing Paul or Booker, he will prove to be the team’s best on-ball defender.
And he will start opening night.