The pressure is clearly on for Talen Horton-Tucker to improve defensively this season. Or at the very least, the Lakers are putting the onus on him to get better with all of their public comments as training camp approaches.
First, there was head coach Frank Vogel bringing up Horton-Tucker of his own accord during a podcast appearance this week, saying that the team had “challenged” him to “step up and fill into that role of guarding some of the other best players” after the offseason departures of Alex Caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka — who signed Horton-Tucker to the fourth-largest contract on the team this offseason — went even further on Thursday.
“I think Talen has got to establish himself as a dominant defensive player,” Pelinka said during his customary preseason chat with the media on Zoom. “That’s going to be the expectation on him.”
Horton-Tucker has appeared to approach the offseason as such, slimming down and working on his cardio and hand speed with an offseason boxing regimen. He also said at his exit interview after the previous season that he planned to work on his defense this summer, something he reiterated shortly after signing his new contract.
“Just playing under Coach Frank, 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,” Horton-Tucker said.
Pelinka also cited Vogel as a reason for his confidence that Horton-Tucker can live up to the team’s expectations for him defensively.
“You guys know that Frank Vogel prides himself on that end. He builds everything with his defense, and there’s nothing that Talen doesn’t have to keep him from being an elite player,” Pelinka said. “We all know about his publicized incredible wingspan, broad shoulders, quickness, athleticism. If he makes a choice to dominate you on the defensive end with his body and his length and his athleticism, that could be a nightmare for opponents.”
That’s a lot of pressure and expectations for a 20-year-old, but the Lakers clearly believe in Horton-Tucker. If he can reward their faith, especially on the defensive end of the floor, it could be a huge step towards this team living up to its fullest potential this season.