There wasn’t much hype around Lakers guard Talen Horton-Tucker coming out of high school. He was the 66th-ranked prospect in his class, according to ESPN, and he didn’t start to get attention from major schools until after his sophomore year.
There also wasn’t much buzz around Horton-Tucker after his freshman season at Iowa State University. Despite making the 2018-19 Big 12 All-Freshman team, Horton-Tucker was projected to be drafted in the mid-second round in 2019. Some mock drafts even had him going undrafted.
But Horton-Tucker did manage to catch the attention of one of the most prominent figures in basketball when he was in high school: LeBron James.
“I saw him about three and half, four years ago,” James said of Horton-Tucker. “I was watching a high school basketball game and I happened to catch Simeon playing. And I told our agent at the time — it’s now Talen’s agent, Rich Paul — that he needs to take a look at this kid Talen Horton-Tucker that’s at Simeon. I think the kid is super talented. This was like four years ago.
“Long story short, obviously you see what he’s doing now, and he’s going to continue to get better and better and better as the days go on. He’ll have an opportunity to practice against us — the guys, the veterans, and things of that nature — so he’s just going to continue to improve, and he’s going to do some really good things in this league for a long time.”
Maybe not-so coincidentally, the Lakers shared James’ infatuation with Horton-Tucker — so much so that they traded a future second-round pick and then-record amount of cash for the second-round pick they used to draft him. Now, just two games into his sophomore season, Horton-Tucker’s looking like the Lakers’ draft day steal.
In the preseason, Horton-Tucker has averaged 26 points per game (tied for the most in the NBA with Nikola Jokic) on 50% shooting from the field and 55.6% shooting from behind the arc, in addition to 9.5 rebounds, 4 assists and 3.5 steals per game. He’s also posted a box plus-minus of +21 in that time.
Whether or not Horton-Tucker can continue to play at the level he’s been playing at remains to be seen, but James is excited about his future regardless.
“For him to be 20 years old, he hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he’s going to be, but the kid can flat-out play,” James said.
If Horton-Tucker blossoms into the “special” talent James and his Lakers teammates think he can be, James may finally be able to shake the “LeGM” label that has followed him throughout his career. However, he might have a new nickname: “LeScout.”