For anyone who attended Lakers games last year, before our world was in the throes of a pandemic, a familiar sight during warmups was then-rookie Talen Horton-Tucker, sitting on the team’s bench with an assistant coach and looking over film on a laptop or tablet. Before he was playing real minutes for the team that would go on to win the title, before he had much NBA tape of his own to look at, he was still trying to soak in as much information as possible, to take in every possible tip for how he could improve.
We got our first glimpse at the results of that effort during the second round of the playoffs, and now Horton-Tucker has come into the preseason playing with such impressive force and skill that his game is essentially demanding minutes on the defending champs. He’s earned praise from his teammates and outsiders alike for his efforts, but it hasn’t changed his focus. He’s still doing what got him to this point.
Always making time to study up pic.twitter.com/9w9tmWQP6A— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) December 19, 2020
The latest teammate to take notice was Anthony Davis, who joins the long line of people blown away by the sophomore’s progress (via Spectrum SporstNet):
“He played his ass off. He’s been great from day one, even in the bubble last year. He’s been great for us. And he’s a kid who wants to learn, a kid who wants to go out there and compete and get thrown into the fire. He doesn’t shy away from matchups, he doesn’t shy away from big moments, he listens and that’s all you can ask for from a guy who is a young player.
“For him to come in and play with so much confidence and do big things for us on defense and on the offensive end, it’s huge for us. He’s going to play a big role for us this year, and he’s continuing to learn. This is his second year and he’s still learning the game, so the future is bright for him for sure.”
Davis is a future Hall of Famer and burgeoning Lakers legend, but look: It’s fair to be skeptical. Of course he has love for a fellow Chicago kid and Klutch client who he took under his wing, right?
Well, if his analysis isn’t good enough for you, and none of the other glowing evaluations of Horton-Tucker’s play documented on this site and elsewhere over the last week or so are, then how about a current Hall-of-Famer, member of the Showtime Lakers, and guy who played with Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during his career? Because even James Worthy is raving about Horton-Tucker, and saying he needs to be on the floor, even when the games count.
Normally we’d take all this with a grain of salt. NBA players, both current and former, praise young guys all the time because it’s the right thing to do, and to give them confidence. What they don’t normally do, though — and what makes this different — is go as far as these various figures are when talking about Horton-Tucker. These are a lot of smart, longtime basketball observers who are blown away by this kid, and it’s hard to blame them if you’ve watched him play so far this month. His footwork and skills are exemplary for a 20-year-old, and his stats during the preseason are eye-popping. He has clearly put the work in.
Talen Horton-Tucker making the most of every minute. pic.twitter.com/A6f4aaZO0o— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) December 19, 2020
THT in the preseason: 20.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 3 APG, 2.3 SPG, 55% FG, 54% 3pt FG, 90% FT, 66.8% TS.— pickuphoop (@pickuphoop) December 19, 2020
How for real is all of this? We don’t know. But at this point, the Lakers owe it to Horton-Tucker and themselves to find out. It won’t be easy, but they have to find him some regular rotation minutes this season. Thankfully, if Davis is to be believed, it sounds like that’s pretty much already locked in. All that’s left is to be patient and watch the results.