Lakers: Talen Horton-Tucker making legitimate case for greater role

Dec 18, 2020; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Talen Horton-Tucker (5) against the Phoenix Suns during a preseason game at Phoenix Suns Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 18, 2020; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Talen Horton-Tucker (5) against the Phoenix Suns during a preseason game at Phoenix Suns Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

The excellent play of Los Angeles Lakers sophomore Talen Horton-Tucker suggests he is worthy of a bigger role with the team.

One of the primary strengths the Los Angeles Lakers are fortunate to possess is an insane amount of depth. Their depth was on full display against the Rockets on Sunday night, resulting in a 120-102 victory.

While the Lakers’ bench exploded for 54 points in the win, one particular player stood out from the crowd. The player in question just happens to be the youngest lad on the roster: Talen Horton-Tucker.

Granted Horton-Tucker is not even old enough to purchase an alcoholic beverage, his basketball talents are beyond his years. He is so good for his age and it has been such a pleasure to witness.

His recent performance against Houston was easily the best overall performance of his young career (not including the preseason) and he simply continues to make the most of every opportunity he is given. It is worth noting that the Lakers were without shooting guard Wesley Matthews on account of a sore right Achilles.

As a result, head coach Frank Vogel opted to bestow the Iowa State product with additional minutes and the latter did not disappoint. Instead, THT’s strong performance just made Vogel’s job that much harder, which is a good problem to have.

In 21 minutes of action, Horton-Tucker dazzled with a career-high 17 points and scored in a variety of ways. The 20-year-old was extremely efficient in doing so, missing only one of his eight attempts from the field. Additionally, he managed to knock down the one free throw he attempted.

Speaking of dazzling, there was one specific sequence on the offensive end that was demonstrative of his sky-high potential. As Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times noted, THT had a finish near the rim that had the Lakers’ bench going nuts.

As the first quarter was winding down, the youngster was backing down Jae’Sean Tate on the left block. However, instead of merely using his strength to overpower his opponent, Horton-Tucker used his brains on this one. He embarrassed Tate with a gorgeous up-and-under move and finish that impressed the Lakers’ broadcasters every bit as much as the rest of the team.

Although the sophomore outsmarted the defender in this scenario, the aforementioned strength is another key trait THT possesses. At 234 pounds, Horton-Tucker is more than capable of getting physical in the paint and using his size to his advantage.

While Horton-Tucker is better known for his ability to finish near the rim, he also had a solid night from the perimeter. The young guard converted two of his three attempts from said distance, which accounted for his lone misfire on the evening.

However, Horton-Tucker contributed to the game in more areas than just the scoring department. Houston should have called an exterminator because Talen was an absolute pest on defense in gathering four steals.

For example, there came a point late in the game when he was presented with the duty of guarding superstar James Harden. As Harden dribbled to his strong side, Horton-Tucker just slapped the ball away from him and he ran the length of the floor for an eventual layup.

Certainly, let alone his defensive instincts, THT’s wingspan is impossible to not notice when he is swiping the ball away from his peers. Albeit he is just 6-foot-4, his wingspan is nine inches longer than that. This physical attribute automatically grants him with a distinct advantage, thus making him a colossal threat on defense.

Notwithstanding THT’s skillset and physical gifts, he remains a raw talent. At the same time, the shooting guard has already shown throughout the course of the year that he is willing to listen to what others have to offer.

According to Christian Rivas of Silver Screen & Roll, teammate LeBron James loves having Horton-Tucker on the Lakers because “he’s a sponge.”

"“He just listens,” LeBron James said on Sunday. “He’s a sponge. Whatever you say to him, he’s going to apply it. He’s going to accept it first, then he’s going to apply it right away. There’s not that many young guys that can take something on the fly and then make it happen the very next play.”"

Considering these comments are coming from LeBron, it is hard to not give them a little extra weight. James knows talent when he sees it and clearly appreciates that the young man is open to constructive criticism.

Accepting said criticism from folks like LeBron is only going to cause the second-year player to become that much better. It is even more encouraging to know that THT not only accepts it, though, but puts the newfound knowledge into action. That is the sign of a fine young player.

Rivas also noted in his piece that Horton-Tucker is more than amenable to learning from his superiors. The Lakers have plenty of veterans at their disposal, so it is like a glistening gold mine for THT to choose from.

"“I always say I just want to learn, so I feel like being a sponge is the most important thing you have to do when you’re learning, especially with the caliber of guys that we have,” Horton-Tucker said. “Just being a sponge has probably been the key to me doing good things this year.”"

Indeed, accumulating morsels of wisdom from those who have been around the block is a fantastic way to expedite the learning curve. The results speak for themselves, as Horton-Tucker just posted the best game of his young professional career.

For what it is worth, the Lakers’ rising talent also dished out three dimes on the night to go along with five boards. In the truest sense of the word, it really was an all-around effort from the young fella.

As Turner also mentioned, another highlight play for the sophomore came in the second quarter. After gobbling up a rebound on a miss from Harden, THT threw the rock about three-quarters of the court to Anthony Davis, who then converted an easy deuce.

Plays of this nature are promising and reveal just how far the youngster has come since his rookie campaign. Moreover, they demonstrate that he is by no means a one-trick pony. He has an astronomical arsenal for someone who is barely 20 years of age, and a ceiling that is difficult to define.

While the numbers are nice, there a reason why Horton-Tucker is performing so well. It is by virtue of what has gone on behind the scenes. As our very own Ronald Agers expressed, THT has worked hard to get to this point, leading to validation from the Lakers’ postgame crew.

Despite the foregoing, the second-year Laker is still rather young and is accordingly going to mess up from time to time. Nonetheless, he has proven himself as a two-way player and assuming he continues to play at a high level, he is going to continue to earn minutes.

Frankly, if he has more games akin to Sunday night’s, though, Vogel’s job will become that much trickier. Horton-Tucker has more than earned his spot in the Lakers’ rotation, but games like the one he had most recently suggest he may be ready for an even bigger role.

Next. Is John Collins a viable trade target?. dark

Time will tell how Vogel decides to allocate minutes, but one thing is undeniable. Talen Horton-Tucker is for real and is going to be a problem for the other 29 teams in the NBA. He is going to be a problem.