If trends from their most recent game hold, Talen Horton-Tucker might be getting phased out of the rotation for the Los Angeles Lakers. The sophomore standout played just under six minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves, his lowest total since getting a DNP-CD against the Cleveland Cavaliers 10 games prior.
Why does that feel more notable than a one-game aberration? Because it was the Lakers’ first game since Anthony Davis went down with Achilles and calf injuries that may keep him out until after the All-Star break. With Davis out of the lineup, the Lakers are missing their best rim protector and no longer have as huge a margin for error for rookie mistakes, which could leave Horton-Tucker’s role more limited until Davis returns.
But before worrying about how this will affect Horton-Tucker’s development, it’s worth remembering that the drastically improved version of him we’ve seen so far this year wasn’t honed by getting tons of minutes during NBA games. It was formed in the film room. So if Horton-Tucker finds himself out of the rotation for more than just that one game, the way he was able to learn by watching is worth remembering. It’s an aspect of his development he touched on in a recent interview with Mike Trudell of Lakers.com:
MT: Of course, you’re learning quite a bit playing with and against an all-time great like LeBron, or one of the NBA’s smartest guards in Rajon Rondo…
THT: I used to watch film with Rondo in the Bubble, after certain games, back at the hotel. Having someone like that around, and also ‘Bron who would always be there to let you know what you’re doing wrong so you can fix it. Having those two guys was already crazy, but then to have other guys on the team just to help you too, was really helpful.
Even with Rondo gone, the opportunity to learn from James is a hell of a consolation prize:
MT: Does it feel like a cheat code sometimes getting to learn directly from LeBron, in his 18th season, still playing at an MVP level, with all that accumulated knowledge?
THT: (laughs) Yeah it’s happened a few times! Just being around ‘Bron and learning how to make certain reads that everybody doesn’t make, I look at it like, ‘Bron isn’t telling any other 20-year-old in the world this right now. So I’m getting something that nobody else is getting. That’s huge. And that goes with AD, KCP, too, and last year with Rondo, learning how he ran a team and especially when he started to shoot the ball a lot more in the playoffs, I was really happy for that.
If you talk to any of the Lakers about Horton-Tucker, one of the first things that comes up in common is that he’s a sponge who soaks up any knowledge that’s thrown at him quickly, a hungry, young kid who only wants to get better. Everyone on the team thinks highly of not just his potential, but his work ethic. That’s a quality that’s not going to go away, whether he’s learning on the court, or by watching from the bench.
As we saw with his leap in skills from last year to this year, minutes on the floor aren’t the only way Horton-Tucker can get better. So even if he ends up on the outside of the rotation looking in for a little bit, trust that he’s going to keep working to improve by picking the brains of every coach and teammate that will give him some time.