For a player with the wingspan and appendage measurements of Bigfoot, and who regular season film of is almost as rare as Loch Ness Monster sightings, it’s fitting that stories about the Herculean feats of second-year Lakers guard Talen Horton-Tucker have almost become myths unto themselves.
“I saw him go shot for shot with James Harden in his first playoff game at 19,” some exclaim, while others tell tale of the time he outscored Giannis Antetokounmpo through two preseason games. Any way you slice it, the 20-year-old guard has certainly made an impression throughout the preseason and in his limited playoff stints for the Lakers, but it might not compare to the myth he’s begun to build in the collective consciousness of the basketball world, where he’s towing the line of becoming more myth than man.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope says he’s seen “nothing but greatness” from his young teammate in training camp. LeBron James said he was so impressed after seeing one high school game from Horton-Tucker that he told his agent, Rich Paul, to start recruiting him. Now that Horton-Tucker is showing he might be for real, everyone has a story, adding a Paul Bunyan-esque flair to his growing legend.
For example, it’s not just Horton-Tucker’s teammates that have been raving about him. Mike Trudell reported on a recent episode of the Laker Film Room podcast that people inside the facility have been insisting that Horton-Tucker is for real throughout training camp, and Marc Stein of the New York Times wrote in his latest newsletter that the whispers have been going for longer than that.
Talen Horton-Tucker, who turned 20 on Nov. 25, looked as dangerous as Los Angeles Lakers insiders have whispered for months he would be when he got a chance to play real minutes.
And it’s not just anonymous Lakers insiders saying as much, either. Two separate reporters who were in attendance for a post-practice scrimmage in the NBA bubble have brought up in the last week how Frank Vogel was insisting that Horton-Tucker could start for the Lakers this year as far back as the playoffs.
First, via Dan Woike of the L.A. Times:
Inside a convention center ballroom during the playoffs, a Lakers coach milled around the edge of a makeshift practice court. The team’s regulars and stars were either getting treatment or on their way back to their hotel rooms while the Lakers on the outside of the rotation scrimmaged.
Nineteen-year-old Talen Horton-Tucker made a play, another flash of the potential that had been popping in limited minutes earlier in the bubble. And a smile crept across the staffer’s face.
“That [dude] might start for us next year,” that coach, who happened to be Frank Vogel, said.
Sam Amick of The Athletic also told the same story, almost verbatim, on his own podcast:
Former NBA players are just as taken with what they’ve seen from Horton-Tucker. ESPN analyst Jay Williams likes what he’s seen so much that he cited Horton-Tucker as a reason Giannis Antetokounmpo may not win a title in Milwaukee.
No, seriously, that actually happened, live on SportsCenter:
THT being brought up during Giannis' extension news lol pic.twitter.com/02JDVrWghi— pickuphoop (@pickuphoop) December 15, 2020
Former Grizzlies and Celtics guard (and player Kobe Bryant said gave him the most problems) Tony Allen may not be quite as high on Horton-Tucker as Williams, but he still thinks his fellow Chicago product is for real, and it all goes back to a game against the Memphis Hustle in the G League last season, when Horton-Tucker was going off, and took a second to look over at Allen and say “I don’t belong in no G League. I don’t belong out here.”
Here, I’ll let The Grindfather tell it.
For the record, Horton-Tucker had 37 points (and 23 at halftime) in that 16-point loss, but some haziness on the specifics can be forgiven when his highlights from that game are pretty much as mind-blowing as Allen describes. South Bay may have lost, but it was clear Horton-Tucker had promise:
The latest entry in Horton-Tucker’s growing legend came as he took tutelage from Anthony Davis while scoring 13 second-half points to help lead the Lakers to a comeback win over the Suns on Wednesday, just another example of how he’s mostly lived up to the hype so far, albeit in exhibition games.
Maybe the most impressive aspect of THT's game thus far is how he leverages his physical attributes to 1) absorb/create contact and then finish (61.9% shooting on attempts less than 5 feet).— Alex Regla (@AlexmRegla) December 17, 2020
And 2) get to the free-throw line at healthy rate (6.3 attempts per) A ton of and-1's. pic.twitter.com/jl2L11ovGg
With South Bay, THT posted 42.5/30.9/74.3 shooting splits (53% true shooting) in 38 games.— Alex Regla (@AlexmRegla) December 17, 2020
With the Lakers this preseason: 53.3/45.5/89.5 (65.6% true shooting). There will very likely be a regression of sorts against actual NBA competition this year.
But the skills are there.
Will Horton-Tucker’s legend go the way of La Llorona or the Slender Man, and disappear from sight once expose to the bright lights of a regular season with the defending champs? Or is he every bit as real and impressive as all the whispers say? We’ll find out soon, but all I know is that after watching the last three games and taking in all of it, I want to believe.