At his exit interview following the Lakers’ elimination from the NBA playoffs, sophomore guard Talen Horton-Tucker made it clear that he knows he needs to get better. He pledged to work on his defense and his shooting, vowing that he was ready to “take the next step” as a player.
What team Horton-Tucker takes that next step for remains to be seen — he’ll be a restricted free agent on Aug. 2 — but he has followed through on his promise to get to work this summer. First he was seen boxing in the gym to work on his whole body, and now video has surfaced of him working on his jumper with trainer Chris “Lethal Shooter” Matthews.
Matthews has worked with numerous Lakers in the past, most prominently Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, but also Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma. Considering that those guys shot 10-53 in the playoffs this season (18.8%) I’d imagine that’s not the first line on Matthews’ resume, but nevertheless, he’s seen by NBA players as someone who can help them shoot better.
And if Horton-Tucker can work with Lethal Shooter to become a lethal shooter this summer, it could genuinely change his trajectory as an NBA player and drastically raise his ceiling. Horton-Tucker is a career 28.5% shooter from distance, and while he’s working more on his mid-range shooting in that clip, it’s a fair bet he’s trying to improve his long-range sniping as well if he’s going to try to earn (and justify) the huge contract offer he could get this summer.
But even improving as a mid-range shooter could help Horton-Tucker’s game. As we’ve seen in the playoffs this season — most significantly with Phoenix Suns stars Devin Booker and Chris Paul — proficiency at a shot teams are trying to give up can help propel a team to postseason success. Learning more defensive awareness and getting comfortable in team schemes will be more important to Horton-Tucker’s impact on winning, but getting a reliable jumper could give him a counter-punch to go to now that opponents have figured out to solely play him for his single-minded drives to the rim.
Will Horton-Tucker actually be able to become a good enough shooter to punish defenses for playing off of him? That we won’t get to see until next season, no matter what uniform he’s wearing. But he’s at least trying to address his flaws as a player and prospect, and hey, that’s a start.