There was a good amount of hype around Talen Horton-Tucker going into the season, in part because of how poised he look in his two-game stint in the Western Conference Semifinals, but mostly because of the outstanding preseason he had. Through four games in the preseason, the second-year guard averaged 20.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2.3 steals per game.
While Lakers fans knew that Horton-Tucker would have to regress eventually — either due to a lack of playing time or opposing teams just getting more film on him — he showed enough flashes to warrant a bigger role on this team. What they might not have known is how soon he’d become a part of the rotation.
After making just six regular season appearances last season, Horton-Tucker has played in 23 games this season and has averaged 16.7 minutes per contest. Each one of those appearances has been a bit of a mixed bag, but his head coach, Frank Vogel, believes he has something special in the Chicago native.
During a recent episode of Spectrum SportsNet’s “Backstage: Lakers,” Vogel proclaimed that, much like Alex Caruso last season, he views Horton-Tucker as his ace in the hole:
"Last year Alex was my secret weapon. This year Talen is my secret weapon." pic.twitter.com/4xHqsgESVY— pickuphoop (@pickuphoop) February 10, 2021
Don’t tell “Backstage” that. That’s a secret. Last year, Alex was my secret weapon; this year, Talen’s my secret weapon.
There are a few key differences between Caruso and Horton-Tucker that should be noted, though. The first is Horton-Tucker’s experience. Horton-Tucker just turned 20 years old in November and has less than 500 minutes of NBA playing time under his belt even with the reps he’s gotten this season. Comparatively, Caruso had over 1,000 minutes in the NBA and even more in the G League before his breakout season at the age of 24.
Horton-Tucker also hasn’t found ways to impact the game beyond scoring yet. He often times is late to switch on defense and can have tunnel vision on his way to the basket. Those characteristics aren’t unusual for a 20-year-old, but they’re there in ways that they weren’t for Caruso last season.
All that being said, Horton-Tucker is advanced in other areas like scoring and playmaking. Plus, the length of his arms helps him be disruptive on the defensive end despite the fact that his fundamentals aren’t quite there yet.
Horton-Tucker might not be Caruso, but he’s still an exciting player, and it sounds like Vogel is going to continue to let Horton-Tucker prove himself at the cost of him giving his secret away.