A rapid ascension from the G League, to the fringes of the rotation, to a bonafide role player in the NBA led to Talen Horton-Tucker securing a hefty payday this summer. And as a young player who still has so much untapped potential, Horton-Tucker is a source of possible upside for a Lakers roster full of mostly finished products.
His unique skill set, size and versatility means he could be used in a number of ways. Last season, the Lakers used Horton-Tucker as a point guard and in multi-guard lineups as well. The pay raise by the Lakers indicates not just the team’s belief in him, but the expectation of production from him moving forward.
The current Lakers roster differs vastly from last year’s, which could require Horton-Tucker to adapt his play as well. Talking to the media for the first time after signing his new three-year deal, Horton-Tucker spoke about what facets of his game he’s looking to improve in over the summer.
“Well first, defensively, just get better all around and try to just use my youth and my length to just get after it and kind of fill a need for that,” Horton-Tucker said. “And also, I need to continue to improve my 3-point shooting, my playmaking, a lot of different things like that. So just being able to grow around this group is going to be amazing.”
One of the biggest requirements of role players around LeBron James and Russell Westbrook this season will be shooting. That was not a strength of Horton-Tucker’s last year, as he hit just 28.2% of his attempts. As he plays more games and there is more tape on him, teams will learn more and more how to approach defending him, which will almost certainly result in them daring Horton-Tucker to knock down 3-pointers.
The acquisition of Westbrook likely means one of him or James will be on the court at all times this season, limiting the playmaking and on-ball opportunities. Last season, pick-and-roll possessions accounted for over one-third of Horton-Tucker’s time on the court, per Synergy, while he had just 116 spot-up possessions (where he ranked in the 10th percentile).
Offensive adjustments aside, one of the surest ways for Horton-Tucker to find consistent minutes will be defensively. But on a roster lacking many strong defenders and under a defense-first head coach, the path to playing time is clearer if Horton-Tucker can make an impact defensively. He’s confident he will do so, for one simple reason.
“Just playing under Coach Frank,” Horton-Tucker said, “He doesn’t let you forget the defensive principles that we have, so I feel like I just need to chase guys, also... being more aware off-ball is something I can do, just watching a lot of film and things like that. So I feel like I’m doing the right things, and just trying to keep my body in shape is something that I could do better also.”
Horton-Tucker showed flashes of his defensive potential last season. With a wingspan north of seven feet, he theoretically should have the ability on the defensive end to be a versatile defender that can make an impact in multiple ways.
While his role will change this season, playing alongside more stars and high-level players will ultimately help keep Horton-Tucker’s role simple within the team.
“Just being able to come in and kind of fill any void that we need defensively first,” Horton-Tucker said of ways he could adapt his game to get on the floor. “And then offensively, I feel like that will always come. I feel like me being on the floor with all the great guys that we have, that will create ample opportunity for me to showcase what I can do. And I feel like there is going to be an opportunity if I do those things.”
At just 20 years old, Horton-Tucker’s future is as bright as can be with the Lakers. It’s rare for a player so young to contribute to a title contender as he did last season, but much of Horton-Tucker’s career to date has been him breaking the mold. Based on how he’s adapted and progressed in his two seasons so far, there’s plenty of reason to believe he can continue adapting and progressing at a high level. If he does, Horton-Tucker could quickly become an x-factor for the Lakers that could push them that much closer to title No. 18.