LOS ANGELES — Second-year guard Talen Horton-Tucker’s outstanding second game of the preseason already has Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel scratching his head about his rotation.
“It’s going to make my job difficult for sure,” Vogel said when asked how he’ll find a role for Horton-Tucker after he dominated the LA Clippers with 33 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals in a 131-106 win Sunday.
Horton-Tucker, selected by the Lakers with the No. 46 pick in the 2019 draft, was able to show out in large part because of whom L.A. was missing. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Wesley Matthews and Dennis Schroder were given the night off to rest, and Kostas Antetokounmpo and Devontae Cacok were late scratches because of the “health and safety protocols of the league,” according to Vogel.
That left 41 minutes available for Horton-Tucker to play — more than half the 81 minutes he logged his entire rookie season — in which he racked up a plus-minus of plus-36.
“We have a very deep team. No minutes are guaranteed,” Vogel said. “He’s going to keep playing at a high level, and that should push everybody else to stay playing at a high level. It does give us that luxury of having him carry the load some for some of our guys who played deep in the championship run last year and had a short offseason.”
In an unprecedented season the Lakers and the NBA are embarking on in 2020-21, having someone such as Horton-Tucker on the roster is a boon. He can fill in when the stars rest, as Vogel alluded. He is another able body should COVID-19 affect the locker room. And, particularly in the case of a veteran team like the Lakers, the energy generated from witnessing a 20-year old finding his way in the league seems to have already rubbed off on the group.
James was demonstrative on the sidelines all night long, getting out of his seat to mimic how Horton-Tucker flicked his wrist to finish a shot in traffic, shaking his head in amazement after a steal and finish on the other end and even taking off his mask to spike it on the bench like he scored a touchdown when the Iowa State product scored another bucket.
“I look at it as a blessing,” Horton-Tucker, who is commonly referred to as “THT,” said. “It’s actually crazy because I feel like what other 19-, 20-year-old gets this experience in the world? Not too many. So just being able to take everything in and learn from it every day, seeing other superstars kind of notice it is actually pretty good.”
Standing 6-foot-4, but with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Horton-Tucker has shown a knack for using that reach to make plays on the defensive end.
“Obviously he’s still young and he’s going to make some mistakes from time to time, but he has as much defensive talent as he does offensive talent,” Vogel said. “So I feel like he’s going to fit in well for us.”
His potential is already starting to mirror another young, defensive-minded guard for the Lakers who went from the G League two years ago to starting Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat: Alex Caruso.
“Everybody’s journey is different, but I just feel like AC is a pretty good one,” Horton-Tucker said. “Just being able to see him next to me everyday, it gives you a good measuring stick to see where you are individually. So just being able to have a guy like that and see the success that he’s had, it gives me confidence in myself that I can do the same thing.”