Talen Horton-Tucker has looked like a $32 million man since making his return from injury on Sunday. In 27:03 against the San Antonio Spurs, Horton-Tucker scored 17 points on an efficient 7-14 from the field while posting a game-high +14 in the box score as a starter.
“He was great,” Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said after Sunday’s contest. “I felt confident in starting him because I know he’s been doing a lot of work. It was a hand injury, so he stayed really active with his running and staying in game shape. You never know what to expect, but he looked really good. He puts a lot of pressure on the rim, which just helps everything for us offensively.”
In the following game against the Chicago Bulls, Horton-Tucker scored a career-high 28 points, though this time his offensive production came in a loss. But as impressive as Horton-Tucker has ben offensively, the defensive end is where he’s helped the most since returning.
Even after the Lakers’ 121-103 loss Bulls on Monday, Horton-Tucker is one of six players with positive point differentials on the defensive end. The others are DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, Austin Reaves and Malik Monk.
Defensive rating is an imperfect stat and Horton-Tucker’s 64-minute sample size is almost not even worth taking into consideration, but he possesses something that not many players on the Lakers carry: length, and Vogel’s hoping he can use that length to shore up their perimeter defense.
“We’ve been using Baze and Avery to carry a big share of the load defending on the perimeter and taking the other team’s best player, and Talen is able to play both sides of the ball,” That’s our vision for him this year is to take that matchup on a lot of nights, and it’s great to have him back on both sides.”
Horton-Tucker has started at small forward in the absence of LeBron James in the Lakers’ two previous games. While that’s unlikely to continue when James comes back, Vogel isn’t concerned about finding playing time for him, whether that’s in the starting lineup or on the bench.
“He’s gonna be a big part of what we do, we know that,” Vogel said. “We invested in him this summer for a reason: We’ve got a strong belief in that young man and what he can do on both sides of the ball. And obviously when we get whole, we’ve got a lot of good choices, but he’s going to be a big part of it.”