The Lakers welcomed back Talen Horton-Tucker on Sunday. Not just to the rotation, but to the starting lineup, and the third-year guard delivered in a big way in his regular season debut. In 27 minutes, Horton-Tucker went 7-14 from the field, 1-5 from the 3-point line and tallied 17 points with four rebounds after not playing a game in over a month, helping the Lakers to a 114-106 win over the Spurs.
It was an impressive debut for a number of reasons and Horton-Tucker’s teammates took note after the contest.
“I thought he was great,” Russell Westbrook said. “I thought he was good (at) just being aggressive and finding ways to be able to put his imprint on the game.
“His wind and all that stuff will come back as he progresses... He really helps us out a lot.”
But even as impactful as Horton-Tucker was statistically, his impact is still felt in a lot of other ways as well. For one, he’s an additional ballhandler that the team has been desperately short of at times this season. Against the Heat last week with LeBron James and Rajon Rondo out, Westbrook was left as the Lakers’ only nominal point guard.
Perhaps most important, though, will be his defensive impact. With a 7’1” wingspan, Horton-Tucker is a different type of defender than the Lakers have on the roster. On Sunday, he showcased some of that defensive ability in a number of ways that show up more than just in his one steal and one block in the box score on the night.
Overall, though, it was a remarkable performance from a player who had not featured since the Lakers’ preseason game on Oct. 8 against the Warriors after suffering a thumb injury that required surgery.
“To come out his first game and do what he did, it’s unreal,” Anthony Davis said. “He’s a young guy who loves to learn. He comes in and he scored the ball, was great defensively for us, made big plays and I was impressed. For his first game, to come in and do what he did to help us win is huge, and a testament to his hard work.
“A lot of guys, you come back and you’re kind of rusty. But he came in like he had been playing with us this whole time,” Davis continued. “The work he’s been able to put in, even though he had his injury, to still take his work seriously and his conditioning seriously, and he’s also 20 years old too. To come in and play the way he played definitely helped us get this win.”
For the Lakers, it’s a breath of fresh air at a time when they sorely need a boost. While he may not replicate his performance on Sunday every night this season, he provides the team with another body, another pair of fresh legs, another ballhandler and another defender for a team lacking each of those things.