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Anthony Davis, Frank Vogel preach patience with Talen Horton-Tucker amid shooting struggles

Talen Horton-Tucker has been hard to watch for the Lakers’ last four games, but Anthony Davis and Frank Vogel are staying in his ear about ways he can get better.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Detroit Pistons Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Talen Horton-Tucker came out of the gates like a man with his hair on fire when he returned to the Lakers a little less than two weeks ago. In his first three games back, he shot 25-51 from the field overall and averaged 23.3 points per game.

But call it a correlation, causation, or a dramatic regression to the mean, but since Horton-Tucker had his surgically repaired thumb hit in a collision with Giannis Antetokounmpo late in his third game back against the Milwaukee Bucks, he’s looked like a totally different player. Over the next three games, he shot 4-27 from the field overall and averaged just 3.3 points per game.

Now, with LeBron James returning to the lineup to take a bigger load in the first two of those games, some level of a step back from Horton-Tucker was to be expected. But even he felt like James’ return wasn’t the only reason for the dramatic collapse of his shooting, as he told Dave McMenamin of ESPN that the brace he was wearing on his thumb was “f---ing with my feel” before taking it off against the Indiana Pacers. The results in that game weren’t much better, as Horton-Tucker shot 3-10 from the field and scored just 8 points.

The Lakers, for their part, have noticed Horton-Tucker is struggling, and are closing ranks to defend him from any criticism. Anthony Davis, when asked about Russell Westbrook’s ongoing adjustment process after the team’s loss to the New York Knicks on Tuesday, went out of his way to say it is Horton-Tucker, not Westbrook, who needs patience most.

“I was just talking to him, (saying) ‘when you got back, Bron wasn’t playing, so you was the second or third option scoring-wise. Now he’s back and you’re in the starting lineup, and you’re third or fourth.’ And he has to figure out ways to score the basketball,” Davis said. “Cutting or setting a pick to get a guy open, to get him open, you know, the little things. That’s what you have to do.”

Horton-Tucker has done those “little things” a bit, but will have to do them more to make his impact felt on this team when they’re whole.

Additionally, Head coach Frank Vogel said that the team was trying to find Horton-Tucker chances to make an impact without the team’s other ballhandling stars on the floor against the Knicks.

“We tried using him as a point guard instead of Rondo tonight in the minutes that Russ was out. I don’t know if that had anything to do with [his shooting]. We’ll have to look at the tape,” Vogel said. “There were two plays where he went to the basket early in the game and got fouled and ended up missing the shot and the whistle didn’t blow, and sometimes that affects your confidence. I’m not sure. I do know that he made some really good paint-to-great passes, found guys for 3-pointers, had four assists, overall played a decent game, just didn’t finish... It was just one of those nights for him. He’s going to be fine, we’ll look at the tape like we always do and learn from it.”

After Vogel had looked at said tape on the team’s flight to Indiana, he said the coaching staff had made a few more suggestions for their third-year guard.

“He’s remaining confident. He had a couple off nights. We show him the film and we talk about ways that a couple of bad decisions or tough shots can lead you into a bad rhythm and carry over throughout the night. I feel like that was definitely the case (against the Knicks),” Vogel said.

“He also needs to understand that he can attack more aggressively in catch-and-shoot situations, but it doesn’t all have to be off-the-bounce into traffic. The defense is loading up on him, and like we’re telling our whole team, we have to really believe and buy into the extra pass mindset. That’s got to be a way of life for us,” Vogel continued. “If he sees a crowd and sees traffic, playing under control and just playing through the next man just makes the game easier for everybody. And that’s something we’re preaching to the whole team.”

Los Angeles Lakers v Sacramento Kings
For his entire three-year career, Talen Horton-Tucker has been able to count on feedback from his teammate and fellow Chicagoan Anthony Davis.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

To Vogel’s points, there are signs Horton-Tucker has been forcing things a bit since James returned. When on the court with James, his true-shooting percentage — which factors in the added value of threes and free-throws — is just 33.8%, compared to 49.2% when James is off the floor, per Those numbers suggest that when used more as a secondary attacker, Horton-Tucker is forcing the issue, trying to prove he can fit.

These are natural growing pains for a player who only just turned 21 years old on Thursday. He will get better, and if Horton-Tucker is indeed uncomfortable while playing with his surgically repaired thumb since getting it hit a few games ago, too, then that is obviously not ideal, although we have to note that the Lakers are not listing him on their injury report.

But health aside, Vogel is right that there are a few adjustments Horton-Tucker can make, and the coach and Davis are right to protect the young guard from outside criticism. Horton-Tucker deserves a bit more patience as he tries to figure out how he fits on this team, because as their fourth-highest-paid player, the Lakers really need him to produce if they’re going to reach their full ceiling.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.

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