Much has been made about the old men that the Los Angeles Lakers have signed this year. They will have at least eight players above the age of 30 years old on their 2021-22 roster, with five players at least 35 or older. This doesn’t even include potential re-signings of Jared Dudley (37 when the season starts) and Wesley Matthews (35 when the season starts), players that could elevate the team’s average age even more.
Now, LeBron James may not want to hear about the team’s age, but the Lakers did respond to their flurry of elderly signings on day one with some youth in the following days of free agency. Rob Pelinka swooped into Day 2 of free agency and added Malik Monk (23 years old) and Kendrick Nunn (26 years old). They also addressed their old age with another signing — possibly their best of this year’s free agency — as they brought back Talen Horton-Tucker on a three-year, $32 million deal.
That deal was officially signed by THT today.
Talen Horton-Tucker is back with the Lakers. He called it a "no-brainer" to come back because he wants to compete for a championship. pic.twitter.com/U6bgkWr61h— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) August 6, 2021
Amazing enough, this will be the third straight season that Talen Horton-Tucker will be the youngest player on the Lakers roster. I’m sure you’re thinking “But what about the two-way players? Are you counting them?”
Well, I could get into an argument with this fake person I made up about whether or not two-way players are actually part of the NBA team’s roster, but I don’t need to! Joel Ayayi was born March 5, 2000 while Austin Reaves was born May 29, 1998. THT will be younger than both of them, as he was born on Nov. 25, 2000.
Horton-Tucker only played in eight games in the 2019-20 season (including the playoffs), as he never saw the floor until the season resumed following its suspension due to COVID-19. He became a steady rotation player last year, however, playing in 65 of the Lakers’ 72 regular-season games, averaging 20.1 minutes per game. He averaged 9 points, 2.8 assists, and 2.6 rebounds per game during the 2020-21 season.
It’s also not hard to imagine that THT will receive another boost in playing time during the upcoming campaign. It all depends on how Frank Vogel views his guards who are nearly all combo guards, as opposed to being a true point guard or shooting guard. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook are all guaranteed to start, but that theoretically leaves another guard starting position open. Now, salaries are not the end-all-be-all reason for who starts on a team, but if you look at who the fourth-highest paid player on the Lakers is, well, it’s Talen Horton-Tucker.
Obviously the Lakers had their hands tied in terms of the total money they were able to offer to incoming free agents, so who knows what salaries their other additions could have received if that wasn’t the case. But still, we’ve basically had the Lakers confirm to us that they value THT much more than they valued Alex Caruso, and he started in a championship-clinching NBA Finals game for the team. If THT was to come into training camp with some obvious improvements, it really doesn’t seem like a stretch that he could be slotted into the starting lineup over guys he probably watched growing up in Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, and Trevor Ariza. If he’s even old enough to remember their primes.
Now, as I said, THT will have to make some improvements on his game to even be considered for the starting lineup. It’s probably more likely that he receives a boost in minutes while still coming off the bench as he continues to try and improve his shooting and defense. Those are easily the most noticeable weaknesses of his game, something he admitted as much in his exit interviews.
Last season, THT only made 28.2% of this 2 3-point attempts per game. He was bad all-around when it comes to shooting, as he was in the 9th (9th!) percentile of the NBA in terms of spot-up shooting efficiency, while he was also miserable with pull-up jumpers, only making 28.3% of those attempts on the season. Of course, we all know he offsets his poor shooting on offense with his seemingly God-given ability to get to the rack. He had half as many drives per game as LeBron James in the 2020-21 season, but he was also more efficient, with points being scored on 62.5% of his 6 drives per game, compared to The King’s 47.2% on 14.8 drives per game.
Reading that stat, and contextualizing that teams knew he literally can’t shoot and were just playing him for drives and he still finished more efficiently than LeBron anyway, and it’s not hard to see why the Lakers might think the kid can be special.
Shooting is also one of the more easily fixable aspects of a young player’s game, so let’s hope Lethal Shooter can help THT catch up to the old vets on the team in that regard. Horton-Tucker’s defense will probably improve gradually with more experience as well. He’s also on just the team to improve that defense, as he’s being overseen by one of the better defensive-minded coaches in the NBA today in Frank Vogel.
But no matter what this upcoming season holds for THT, it just feels nice that the Lakers organization finally held onto a young piece after letting Alex Caruso, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and a bunch of others all go earlier than expected for the more talented and proven old guys on this team.
THT may not start over the veterans on this team that LeBron, Davis, and Westbrook all likely vouched for, but as I’ve mentioned ad nauseam, those guys are old! The youth of THT (as well as Nunn and Monk) will be needed many times throughout this season, even if it’s just to give those older veterans a break. Because of that, and the potential leap THT could make in his third season, his re-signing is a win in the short term. However, it’s also a win in the long-term, as the Lakers have a player with the potential to not only be underpaid by the end of his current deal, but could also serve as someone who could help them win in both this era and the next one.