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Frank Vogel says Talen Horton-Tucker has been ‘challenged’ defensively, will sometimes guard best opposing player

Frank Vogel expects Talen Horton-Tucker to step up defensively this season following the three-year deal he signed with the Lakers this summer.

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Phoenix Suns defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 113-100 during game six of the Western Conference First Round NBA Playoff basketball game. Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

Although it’d be easy to assume that Talen Horton-Tucker would have an increased role this season, coming into his third year and after re-signing for big money this summer — just from a natural career progression standpoint — nothing can ever be guaranteed on a Lakers team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. When you throw in Russell Westbrook, THT’s role increasing becomes even more unlikely.

However, THT stans (like myself and apparently the person who runs the Overtime Twitter account) can rest assured that they may be seeing plenty of him this season after listening to Frank Vogel on Spectrum SportsNet’s “Lakeshow” podcast.

“Let’s talk about THT,” Vogel stated to the two hosts, “You talk about the defensive end, and who’s going to be that guy, he’s been challenged... Yes, we did (invest in him). For good reason. He has the ability, the last few years as a young player he’s gotten a little bit better as we’ve gone, but he’s one of those guys, that looking at KCP and Alex not being here, can you step up and fill into that role of guarding some of the other best players.”

For context on just how much Vogel wanted to talk about THT, the Lakers’ head coach wasn’t even asked a question about him! Hosts Allie Clifton and Chris Geeter were ready to move on to a non-basketball question until Vogel went out of his way to say, “Let’s talk about THT”.

Vogel seemed to be practically beaming while discussing the 20-year-old.

“Internal confidence goes a long way,” Vogel continued saying about THT, “And what you love about him is that he does have that humility and demeanor of being a sponge and knowing he’s a young player and wanting to get better and have a ‘whatever I can do to help the team type of mindset.’ He’s got the right attitude, but he’s also got great, tremendous internal confidence and guts... There’s a lot there. We feel like he’s going to improve his 3-point shooting this year, both with the work and with the shot selection, and he’s going to have opportunities to really compete on the defensive end against some great players.”

But while Vogel was not asked directly about THT, he came to the head coach's mind following questions about the team’s losses in the perimeter defense department this offseason. THT is a very interesting player to recoup those losses with, given the fact that he is still developing the defensive intelligence that would allow him to be an 82-game player that guards the team’s best offensive players on the perimeter.

However, as I stated the other day on Lakers Outsiders in my case for him to start, THT not only has the physical gifts in the form of his lanky 7’1’’ wingspan, but he’s also shown the ability to be an elite perimeter defender if given an increased opportunity, based on the metrics from B-Ball Index below.

Talen Horton-Tucker’s Perimeter Defensive Activity statistics, courtesy of the B-Ball Index

We’ll just have to see if THT is up to Vogel’s challenge on the defensive end, but either way, it’s the 3-point shooting that Vogel mentioned that presents the most worry. THT has yet to show that he can shoot efficiently from deep in the NBA, making only 30.6% of his “wide-open” 3-pointers last season (attempts made with the closest defender 6+ feet away).

But if the perimeter defense is there and his 3-point shooting is improved, this may be a breakout year for Talen Horton-Tucker. If it is, the sky may be the limit for the young kid out of Chicago, who — if everything goes as well for him as the Lakers clearly hope — could end the season with two championships before he even turns 22 years old.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Donny on Twitter at @donny_mchenry.

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