Editor’s Note: For the second year in a row, the Silver Screen and Roll staff is counting down the most interesting Lakers heading into next season. We will be going through all 20 training camp spots before the season begins, and today we continue with the second player in our three-way tie for No. 11, Talen Horton-Tucker.
There is a rare, almost visceral sense of joy that one experiences when watching Talen Horton-Tucker play basketball that is damn near impossible to shake.
It’s not entirely, or even mostly, due to the manner in which he performs, but rather how he aesthetically executes his actions on the hardwood that creates the occasional feeling of awe. And the source of that captivation begins with the way he’s built.
Physically, Horton-Tucker is the outlier of all outliers. During last May’s annual draft combine, NBA team executives and scouts were abuzz with the still only 18-year-old. But the unmistakable intrigue scattered among the draft masses with the Chicago native was not based on any box score tally or advanced metrics, but instead by his body composition.
Horton-Tucker officially measured in at 6’2” (without shoes), 235 pounds (8.4 percent body fat; tied for highest among all guards), a wingspan that surpassed 7’1” (the longest among all guards) and monster hand dimensions of 9.5 inches long (third-most among all players measured; just a whisker below Kawhi Leonard’s “Klaw”) and 9.75 inches wide.
A smorgasbord of anthropometrics so unique, they border on supernatural.
According to ESPN’s draft guru Jonathan Givony, Horton Tucker’s height-to-wingspan differential in particular, “ranks among the top marks in basketball history” and is a “huge outlier” in a Draft-Express database filled with thousands of entries.
The physical dimensions — as obtuse as they may seem — cause even further head scratching in instances when Horton-Tucker does things like this on the floor:
With an offensive repertoire consisting of a patented step-back, a deceptively quick first step and an impressive amount of flair in his finishes around the rim, Horton-Tucker actively defies what many assume someone of his proportions is capable of.
Already lovingly nicknamed “Talen Horton-Thiccer” by the Lakers’ fanbase, the teenager has begun garnering a somewhat cult following from portions of the team’s faithful who long for another young player to watch develop before their eyes.
The Lakers forcefully cancelled what was a multi-year rebuilding process in June with one swift swoop when they completed the Anthony Davis trade. Although Kyle Kuzma still remains, there is a noticeable lack of home-grown talent on the team that many have begun to feel nostalgic for despite the club being much closer to contending with the current roster as is.
While not a lottery pick or even a first-rounder, Horton-Tucker is undoubtedly the closest option to fill the suddenly vacant mantle. He is both still years away from being able to purchase alcohol, and one of the most moldable prospects the team has gotten their hands on in recent memory.
One does not have to look far to see why there was enough intrigue on the Lakers’ side to part with a 2020 second-round pick and cash considerations for the former Cyclone last June.
Though still extremely raw, the combination of his aforementioned physical tools and potential diverse skillset presents an opportunity for the team to construct one of the most desirable player archetypes possible in-house.
Playing primarily shooting guard for Iowa State as a freshman, Horton-Tucker’s greatest strength in what currently is a shaky offensive game is his versatility. In an interview with Lakers.com, he claimed he is able to play “1, 2 or 3 on offense, and even the 4 if need be.”
In a league where teams and players have both transformed and heavily invested in being positionless, Horton-Tucker presents a chance for the Lakers to develop their very own Swiss-army knife at an affordable cost.
Still, if Horton-Tucker is going to reach the level many hope he will, it will ride on the progression of his jump-shot.
In his sole collegiate season, Horton-Tucker converted his 159 attempts from behind the arc at only a 30.8 percent clip. And on his wide-open catch-and-shoot chances, he was in the mere 26th percentile of the NCAA, according to Synergy data.
Beside looking at the most correlative shooting data, Horton-Tucker also struggled within other indicators of shooting upside, as he shot only 65 percent from the charity stripe and was in just the 28th percentile on his runner attempts.
However, improving his consistency from the perimeter seems to already be an area of big emphasis and something that is currently not a major concern in his eyes.
“Teams were saying they know I’m a better shooter (than that),” he said. “Just staying consistent in the gym and getting better…that’s been the key focus for me in the pre-draft process. I feel like I did that.”
The ability to both possess a respectable 3-point shot and actively accept a role more conducive to on-court success (he took a ton of long contested twos) will go long way in keeping him on the floor, as his defense can be downright suffocating at times.
While still falling victim to the technique issues that ail most young players early in their careers, coupled with the limitations that naturally come with his current conditioning, Horton-Tucker has still flashed enough exciting upside on the defensive-end to appear worth investing in.
Often doing a solid job in using his girth and agile feet, he has shown the ability to a be a potentially effective switch-defender as he uses his physical leverage to hold his own in the post, and is nimble enough to block off drive attempts.
And in the instances in which Horton-Tucker gets blown by, he has the necessary wingspan to get back into plays to alter shots — especially against smaller guards.
Instinctively, he also has a sound nose for the ball. Similarly to how a bear snags fleeing fish from a downward stream, Horton-Tucker swiftly throws his mitts into passing and driving lanes to rip the ball free or fly in for the recovery block.
And visually striking as Horton-Tucker can be on that end, the data also suggests that he’s making a credible impact.
According to Synergy, Horton-Tucker was in the 100th percentile (small sample; 13 field goal attempts) defending hand-offs, 90th percentile in defending the pick and roll ball-handler, and 81st percentile in defending all jump-shots in the half court. Or more simply put, the guy can be an absolute nightmare for the opposition when he puts his mind to it.
While he occasionally conjures up visions of the usefulness and defensive versatility of the likes of PJ Tucker and Draymond Green, Horton-Tucker ultimately is still a long way from reaching that type of success.
However, the Lakers have instituted a developmental system more conductive to his growth than the team’s prospects that came before him had at their disposal.
With the likes of new shooting coach Mike Penberthy, new assistant coach/player development guru Phil Handy and the always beneficial resource of the team’s G League affiliate, the South Bay Lakers, Horton-Tucker will have every chance to reach the exciting potential that lies at his massive fingertips.
Although the organization has made it clear they are past the business of rebuilding and being patient with young players, there may be an exception to be had with this mystifying teenager. He may not play much this season, but Horton-Tucker has exploded onto the scene to represent both an exciting new chapter of Lakers’ basketball, and the last remaining vestiges of its predecessor. Whether he can contribute more than excitement over his potential is what will make him fascinating to watch both this season, and in the years to come.
The countdown so far...
11. (tie) Talen Horton-Tucker
All stats and video per NBA.com and the NCAA unless otherwise noted. You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts.