The Lakers have a “good problem” on their hands. Even after letting Avery Bradley, Rajon Rondo, J.R. Smith and Dion Waiters walk in free agency, they’re still deep at both guard positions, and the argument can be made that they have more talent than they had last season. Case in point: Talen Horton-Tucker.
Last season, Horton-Tucker, the No. 46 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, got the majority of his reps in the G League with the South Bay Lakers. This season, he’s hoping to solidify a spot in Lakers head coach Frank Vogel’s rotation, and through the first two games of the preseason, he’s made a strong case.
In the Lakers’ preseason opener against the Clippers on Friday, Horton-Tucker scored a team-high 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, one rebound shy of a double-double. When the Lakers faced the Clippers again on Sunday, he made sure to get that double-double and grabbed 10 rebounds, in addition to the 33 points he scored. He finished the night with a box plus-minus of +36.
Horton-Tucker’s clearly ready for a bigger role, and Vogel’s ready to give him one, even if it involves him doing more work with his rotation.
“It’s going to make my job difficult, for sure,” Vogel said. “Because we have a very deep team and no minutes are guaranteed, so if he’s going to keep playing at a high level, that should push everyone else to stay playing at a high level. But it does give us that luxury of having him carry the load some for some of our guys that played deep into the championship run last season and had a short offseason.”
As Vogel alluded to, the size of Horton-Tucker’s role will largely depend on who’s available on a given night, which is obviously out of Horton-Tucker’s control. For that reason, Horton-Tucker’s hoping he can carve out a more consistent role by doing the things he can control, like playing hard on the defensive end.
“I feel like just coming in and using my defensive instincts and being able to compete on the defensive end is going to be something that helps me get on the court,” Horton-Tucker. “I feel like being in that role will prepare to carry on a heavier offensive role in the near future. So it’s just about being able to get into a rhythm on the defensive end is going to be able to get me going and probably help my role on this team.”
It’s early on in the preseason, but Horton-Tucker is doing and saying all of the right things. More often than not, those things lead to success for a young player.