The Lakers are going to spend the next few weeks finalizing what they’ll do with the 28th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, but whether they ultimately choose to select a player or trade the pick for more immediate help, they may have a pseudo first-rounder on their roster either way in sophomore guard Talen Horton-Tucker.
The Lakers nabbed Horton-Tucker in a trade on the night of the 2019 draft, acquiring the 46th pick for their 2020 second-round pick and $2.2 million in cash. The then-18-year-old rookie was considered a somewhat surprising draft entrant and possible steal, with several experts saying they thought he could have been a first-rounder in 2020 if he had went back to school.
Horton-Tucker opted not to do that, and while the developmental year he had with the Lakers may not retroactively raise his draft status, it might have been more beneficial than spending another year at Iowa State. The youngest player in the NBA spent most of the regular season in the G League with the South Bay Lakers, developing against grown men instead of other college players. Then, during the pandemic hiatus, Horton-Tucker got into better NBA shape than he was able to during his first offseason, and impressed the coaching staff enough to earn more minutes in his playoff debut (7) than he did in the entire regular season prior to the NBA restart (5).
Horton-Tucker only ended up playing 10 more minutes during the Lakers’ entire run to the championship, but the experience he gained from being around this team will still be valuable. And according to Lakers shooting coach Mike Penberthy, the team saw enough from Horton-Tucker to want to play him more than they did. He told Ryan Ward of Lakers Daily that he’s planning to work with Horton-Tucker ahead of his second season:
Talen is my favorite player coming up. He’s my favorite guy. He’s a guy I’m going to spend a lot of time with this offseason.
If it wasn’t for the players that we had that were veterans, Talen would’ve played a lot more. We had discussions every day about getting Talen in the game more, but we just didn’t have time. We just couldn’t find time for him, but we were trying to.
He’s a fantastic player. He’s going to have a great career.
Penberthy getting set to work with Horton-Tucker is great news, because developing as a shooter would allow the soon-to-be sophomore to be a better candidate for minutes next season, and let him make more of an impact when he did get on the floor.
Horton-Tucker averaged 18.1 points per game during his first G League season, but only shot 30.8% from behind the arc and turned the ball over 3.2 times per game against just 3.9 assists. He showed flashes of promise, but still very much looked the part of the youngest player in the league:
Him morphing into even a league average shooter would make Horton-Tucker far more playable, because as much as he projects as a playmaker moving forward, he’s not going to be able to have the ball in his hands a ton with LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the floor. If he could space the court for them, though, all of a sudden it gets easier to play him — as seen during his two playoff games, where he shot a combined 2-5 (40%) from three.
Horton-Tucker developing as a shooter would also force defenses to play him more closely, which would set up his ability to take players off the dribble and finish over them with his ridiculous wingspan at the rim, as well us un-gum the passing lanes that led to him coughing up the ball so much. He doesn’t have to shoot 40%, but Penberthy even helping him become a respectable shooter would be a huge development.
We’ll see if any of that is possible, but given how seldomly Horton-Tucker could get on the court for the Lakers pre-bubble, him even developing into an occasional rotation player on a contender at just 19 years old would feel like the team added a late first rounder, whether they keep their pick in the 2020 or not.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts, and check out our episode reviewing Horton-Tucker’s rookie season. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.