Last season was the first year in a long time that Lakers fans haven’t had a first-round pick to root for. The Lakers technically had a first-round pick in 2019 NBA Draft, but they sent it to the New Orleans Pelicans as part of the trade package that brought Anthony Davis to Los Angeles.
However, despite not having a first-rounder in 2019, it appears the Lakers have once again found a player with first-round talent in the second round with Talen Horton-Tucker. Tucker, the No. 46 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, spent the majority of his rookie season in the G League with the South Bay Lakers, but when the G League season was canceled in June, he joined the Lakers on a full-time basis.
Horton-Tucker wasn’t expected to play much in the Orlando Bubble outside of the handful of seeding games the Lakers had scheduled right before the playoffs, but Vogel saw something in him that made him feel comfortable giving the rookie minutes in the Western Conference semifinals. Horton-Tucker rewarded Vogel’s confidence in him by stringing together a pair of head-turning performances against the Houston Rockets.
Now, Horton-Tucker will go into the season with high expectations, and not just from himself or Lakers fans. After practice on Tuesday, Vogel said that he is excited about Horton-Tucker’s sophomore season, and that it’s already off to a great start.
“He continues to impress,” Vogel said. “The young man has a great attitude and great spirit. He comes to work every day with humility, and he just goes out there and kicks people’s butts, quite frankly. He’s a heck of a talent. He’s had a great two days here.”
Horton-Tucker won’t have an easy path to playing time this season, as he’ll be battling for minutes with Dennis Schröder, Wesley Matthews, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso, but with a vote of confidence from Vogel, it’s safe to assume he’ll have opportunities to crack the rotation throughout the season. That’s especially true because of the looming threat of the coronavirus.
Horton-Tucker might not look good right away, but as we saw in the postseason, the potential is there, and he doesn’t seem like the type of player to get discouraged when things aren’t going right for him. There’s a lot to like about Horton-Tucker, and it’s clear Vogel sees that too.
“I’m coaching him harder than the rest of the players on the team,” Vogel said. “I think he’s got a chance to be really good for us immediately, not down the road. I couldn’t be happier with the start that he’s off to.”