Lakers head coach Frank Vogel says that sophomore guard Talen Horton-Tucker has earned a role in the rotation for the defending champs this season with his standout play during the preseason, which would be great news if it wasn’t so hard to find him minutes on this absolutely stacked team.
Yes, Horton-Tucker will surely be the beneficiary of minutes when his more proven teammates sit out for rest, injuries or health protocol reasons, but if he wants to get playing time on a night-to-night basis, he knows what he has to do.
“I feel like with me just using my defensive instincts and being able to compete on the defensive end, that’s going to be something that helps me get on the court,” Horton-Tucker told reporters after dropping a (preseason) career high of 33 points on the Clippers on Sunday night.
At practice on Saturday, Vogel was asked a similar question about what a young player has to do to get on the floor regularly for a team like the Lakers, and he gave a similar answer.
“With any young player, you have to hold your own on the defensive end, and you have to play offensively fairly mistake-free. You can’t be out there with turnovers and bad shots,” Vogel said.
The good news? Horton-Tucker mostly followed those instructions. After turning the ball over three times against the Clippers in their first preseason game, he dropped that down to two in their second matchup, while keeping the same amount of assists (4). And in the second game, he also took better shots, ending the night 11-17 from the field, an improvement on the 6-17 he shot in the first game.
Now, Horton-Tucker is obviously not going to get so many shots if he’s playing in a game where the Lakers have their full complement of players, but progress is still progress. He’s also still going to make mistakes defensively. All young players do. But some of those errors can at least be papered over with extra effort, which is probably part of why Vogel has admitted he’s harder on Horton-Tucker than he is on the rest of the Lakers. The 20-year-old clearly doesn’t always know what he’s doing on defense, but he made progress from Game 1 to Game 2, and he at least appears to be trying, which is at least a start that — combined with his insane, 7’1 wingspan — can help make up for a lot of mistakes.
And even better news for those rooting for his growth and success? Horton-Tucker says that doing the things Vogel is asking for can help his offensive game, not hinder it.
“I feel like being in that role (on defense) prepared me to carry on a heavier offensive load for the near future,” Horton-Tucker said. “Being able to get into a rhythm on the defensive end is going to get me going and probably help my role on this team.”
It remains to be seen how big that role will be, but unlike a lot of young players to come through the NBA, Horton-Tucker at least understands how he’s going to get there. That’s almost as good of a figurative first step as the literal one he uses to blow by defenders.