Talen Horton-Tucker is good — not good for a 20-year-old; not good for a second-year player; not good for a second-round pick; just good, and the Los Angeles Lakers got a taste of just how good he is in their win over the Houston Rockets on Sunday night.
In 20:32 off of the bench, Horton-Tucker scored 17 points — a new career-high for him — on 7-of-8 shooting from the field and 2-of-3 shooting from behind the arc. He also contributed 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 steals, the third of which is also a career-high. For the season, he’s averaging 8.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists and a steal per game while posting a net rating of +4.2. Again, he’s good.
However, as good as he is, he has the potential to be an even better, more dynamic two-way guard for the Lakers, and his superstar teammate LeBron James is confident that he’ll live up to that potential because of how receptive he’s been to criticism.
“He just listens,” LeBron James said on Sunday. “He’s a sponge. Whatever you say to him, he’s going to apply it. He’s going to accept it first, then he’s going to apply it right away. There’s not that many young guys that can take something on the fly and then make it happen the very next play.
“You saw it tonight with his ability, obviously, to go 7-of-8 from the field, but it’s also his rebounding, his assists, his playmaking, and then having four assists to add on top of that. It was a big time game for him; for a kid that’s still growing into his own, but he’s beyond his years.”
Horton-Tucker has done a lot of listening and learning since he was drafted with the No. 46 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, but this season has been a lot different for him than last season.
Not only is he getting the opportunity to apply the things he’s learned with consistent reps at the NBA level, but the advice he’s getting is coming from elite NBA talent with years of invaluable experience as opposed to his peers in the G League. If his teammates have knowledge they want to share, he believes it’s his job to listen.
“I always say I just want to learn, so I feel like being a sponge is the most important thing you have to do when you’re learning, especially with the caliber of guys that we have,” Horton-Tucker said. “Just being a sponge has probably been the key to me doing good things this year.”
But Horton-Tucker also feels like he knows what to do when he’s on the floor. Even on nights where he looks like a second-year player with less than 300 minutes of NBA experience, he’s confident in his abilities. For him, it’s just about staying ready and making the most of his time on the floor.
“I’m really just doing what I love to do,” Horton-Tucker said. “I don’t really look at it like that. I’m just playing basketball. I just feel like I’m blessed to do what I want and what I love to do, so I just go out there and try and compete to the fullest and do what I know how to do.”