Talen Horton-Tucker’s ceiling on the defensive end is one the Lakers firmly believe in and have said as much publicly this season. His blend of size, wingspan and hand size give him the perfect archetype of a player that could become a plus defender.
The Lakers have tasked Horton-Tucker with defending the team’s best perimeter player on many nights, including on Friday against the Clippers in Paul George. It’s led to a mixed bag of results, as would be the case with any 20-year old in the league.
Prior to Friday’s game, head coach Frank Vogel spoke about Horton-Tucker’s development on the defensive end.
“Some good, some bad,” Vogel said. ‘You know, he missed the first chunk of the season... I think we’re gonna need the first half of the season to really give (his defense) a proper evaluation. He’s had some really good sequences on ball. He needs to work on not getting screened and obviously the containment issues against some of the elite players. But overall he’s got really good defensive instincts, good toughness, length, the ability to deflect the ball.
“He’s had some really outstanding plays at the basket blocking shots or having verts (vertical collisions). And tonight will be another one of those challenges where he’s got several elite offensive players on the perimeter for the Clippers that he’ll be matched up with.”
Friday was indeed a challenge, though he wasn’t specifically matched up against Paul George, one of the elite wings in the league. Russell Westbrook took the lion’s share of the duties on George, holding him to 1-of-4 shooting, per NBA’s matchup data. In one-third of the possessions, Horton-Tucker allowed George to go 2-of-5 from the field.
It’s a small sample size and not one entirely indicative of Horton-Tucker’s skillset or night. Reggie Jackson, for example, shot 1-of-3 from the field on Horton-Tucker. Down the line, Vogel said that “the hope” is for Horton-Tucker to become someone who can be unleashed defensively on George.
“The hope is that whatever perimeter player we’re playing each night,” Vogel said, “that he can draw that assignment. But he’s still a young player and we still have to put him in those situations before we can make that evaluation.”
While the Lakers always have an inherent level of expectation attached to them that may lead to a lack of patience, Horton-Tucker being a 20-year-old — even if he’s in his third year in the league — requires patience. But surrounded by some of the best talents ever and a coaching staff and organization known for player development, Horton-Tucker is in a prime position to see that potential.
And perhaps it will one day lead to him being that lockdown defender the franchise views him as.