On Wednesday, Nov. 18, the 2020 NBA Draft will take place and, as things stand, the Los Angeles Lakers will have one selection: the 28th pick. However, it’s possible that they’ll buy into the second-round like they did last year, when they drafted Talen Horton-Tucker with the 46th pick.
If the Lakers decide to go that route, the player that they draft shouldn’t be expected to contribute right away. After all, the players that are available that late into the second round are there for a reason: They’re usually projects.
There are special cases where second-round picks impress in their first year, though. Horton-Tucker isn’t the quintessential example of that, but apparently he made a lasting impression on the Lakers’ coaching staff and his teammates in the Orlando bubble — so much so that Jared Dudley is convinced that THT is going to be in the rotation next season (via Lakers Nation):
“Talen will be huge. The rookie Talen will be huge. He’ll play next year. He was destroying in the bubble in practices, he has the energy, he provides something we don’t have. Look for Talen to play 15-20 minutes per game at spots. He might even get a couple of starts when Bron misses games. The coaching staff loves him, the players believe in him and he really has that ‘it’ factor you’re looking for.”
Now, I’m not here to argue against giving THT playing time; I think he’s a really exciting prospect. However, there are a few factors that will decide whether or not Horton-Tucker sees the court on a regular basis next season. The first, of course, is his development.
Horton-Tucker didn’t look like a fish out of water when Lakers head coach Frank Vogel gave him some run in the Western Conference semifinals — the Lakers actually increased their lead with Horton-Tucker on the floor! But he still looked incredibly raw, which is normal for a player his age (19).
Under normal circumstances, Horton-Tucker would have almost four months to build on what he learned in his rookie season, but because of how much the league calendar changed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, he’ll only have 72 days. Is that enough time for him to add anything of note to his game? I guess we’ll see.
The other big factor will be the Lakers’ guard rotation. Right now, the Lakers only have four guards under contract for next season: Alex Caruso, Quinn Cook, Danny Green and Horton-Tucker. If things stayed that way, THT would have a good shot of cracking the rotation, but they won’t stay that way.
In all likelihood, the Lakers will attempt to bolster their guard depth by retaining a few of their internal free agents like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Rajon Rondo, and/or by acquiring a replacement for them in the offseason. In other words, nothing’s going to come easy for Horton-Tucker in his sophomore season.
All that being said, we should at least expect THT to get more playing time with the Lakers than he did in the regular season. Whatever he does with those opportunities will determine how big his role is next season. I know that probably reads like a Magic Johnson tweet, but it’s true.