In the absence of LeBron James and Alex Caruso, the Los Angeles Lakers struggled to keep up with the Houston Rockets on Thursday night and dropped their second consecutive seeding game. They also lost the regular season series with the Rockets 2-1. But Thursday night’s game wasn’t a complete wash.
With how quickly the game got out of hand, Frank Vogel was able to give rookie Talen Horton-Tucker his first taste of meaningful minutes in the regular season, and the 19-year-old guard made the most of his time on the floor. In 19:23, Horton-Tucker recorded 10 points on 4-6 shooting from the field, in addition to 2 rebounds and game-high 4 steals.
“It was just a great experience,” Horton-Tucker said after the game. “Just trying to stay ready and be ready for whatever minutes I get. So, I felt like today was alright outside of the outcome. We lost.”
Horton-Tucker wasn’t immune to making rookie mistakes, as evidenced by his three turnovers four personal fouls, but his level of comfortability against a title contender like the Rockets was equal parts encouraging and stunning. If Horton-Tucker continues to look composed in his spot minutes for the Lakers, he could start seeing regular minutes, according to Frank Vogel.
“He continues to surprise and impress me, and he’s making a case for being in the rotation, with just the way he’s performed this whole restart,” Vogel said. “[He] has really come along. He played really strong, looked really comfortable against a very good team tonight, and continues to make a case.”
Kyle Kuzma also praised Horton-Tucker’s performance, and talked about how the rookie’s gone about his business in Orlando.
“He has a bright future,” Kuzma said. “He’s super young, talented person. He’s a great person off the court, and for him, his best quality is that he’s humble. He’s here, thankful to be here, learning from everyone. He’s like a sponge, he takes it all in. I think that as a young player on a team like this with his physique and ability to get downhill and make special plays, it’s only going to serve him well just being around us every day and learning. That’s important for a young player, especially for him. He’s super raw, but he’s got a lot of talent.”
Those words of encouragement should serve as a nice confidence-boost for Horton-Tucker, even if it it’s high unlikely that he’ll see the floor in the postseason with Alex Caruso and Rajon Rondo expected to be available. Because for Horton-Tucker, this season is about learning, and while playing is part of that process, he’s taking whatever he can find, wherever he can find it.
“I’m just trying to be the best teammate and best player I can be right now,” Horton-Tucker said. “I’m young. I’m just trying to absorb everything, just soak everything in.”
Horton-Tucker’s next chance might not come next game — it might not even come this season. But with how talented he clearly is, it will come eventually, and when it does, he’ll be as read as he possibly can be.