This season wasn’t the first time Lakers guard Talen Horton-Tucker broke his thumb and was left in a cast.
In seventh grade, at age 13, Horton-Tucker taught himself how to shoot left-handed after breaking his thumb. Seven years later, after breaking his thumb again, Horton-Tucker found himself in a similar situation, and while he may not have taught himself to shoot left-handed this time around, he did focus on improving his off-hand to make it an additional weapon in his arsenal.
“Yeah, I feel like I did, I feel like that’s going to help me,” Horton-Tucker said of working on his left hand. ”I did my pregame routine that I’ve been doing with my left hand. Pretty much everything, without using my right hand... Just being able to get up and down with our strength coach Ed (Streit) has been great for me too.”
Horton-Tucker laughed away the notion there was much he learned at the age of 13 that helped him get through this injury or that the two were related, but it was his excited demeanor that was most notable during Monday’s shootaround as the third-year guard was cleared for contact beginning on Tuesday, setting the table for a return to the court.
It was a long rehabilitation process, though. Especially when considering the timing of the injury, with Horton-Tucker’s surgery coming six days before the Lakers kicked off the regular season. But patience has been a virtue for Horton-Tucker while sitting on the sidelines and watching the team struggle through their first 10 games.
“Mentally, I’m just trying to stay positive throughout everything,” Horton-Tucker said. “Watching basketball is hard... The competitor in me wants to get out there and play. But I’m just making progress.
“Being able to get out there and move around with my teammates is something that will be very good, so I’m excited for that,” Horton-Tucker continued. “Of course, I want to get out there and use my youth, but I’m listening to the training staff. I trust them, and my (physical) therapist is great, so being able to have people like that to lean on, I’m appreciative of it.”
Horton-Tucker’s patience throughout the process allowed him to focus on his rehab and work, which includes improving a left hand that has been the culprit for many... acrobatic and creative... right-handed finishes around the rim for the young guard. At times, it’s almost felt like Horton-Tucker had made a bet with someone to see how little he could use his left hand around the rim.
But it never took away from his efficiency and impact on the court, leading to his hefty pay raise by the Lakers this offseason. Four weeks won’t be enough time to make his left hand drastically better or perhaps even noticeably improved, but considering how seldom-used it has been, progress is a low bar.
Regardless of his improvements on his left hand, however, the Lakers want and need Horton-Tucker back on the floor. Pinned as both valuable depth on the wing and a potential defensive asset, Horton-Tucker’s contributions are desperately needed for a team stuck in a rut at 5-5 with back-to-back embarrassing losses.
“Everybody is telling me ‘we can’t wait for you to get back,’” Horton-Tucker said. “I’m excited just to be able to get out there and play with them because I haven’t gotten to this season.”
So with a left hand or without it, the Lakers will welcome Horton-Tucker back with open arms, as his return represents a rare bit of good injury news not just through the opening weeks of the season, but over the past two seasons combined.