After two seasons of showing all sorts of promise and potential, Talen Horton-Tucker’s stock took a massive hit this past season. An injury delayed his debut before having to hit the ground running immediately upon his return. Outside of a few promising stretches, he could not do so in a completely new role he’s never played before.
But Horton-Tucker’s season was a perfect example of talent vs. fit. With so many ballhandlers and so few shooters, Horton-Tucker was the one forced into an unfamiliar position and, thusly, ended up producing a highly inconsistent and unproductive season.
Horton-Tucker himself is well aware of his struggles, and spoke about the need to become a more consistent contributor during his exit interview.
“Just being consistent this year,” Horton-Tucker said. “That was the most important thing this year coming into the year that I wanted to do. Not having it was kind of frustrating, but I feel like that’s what we have the summer for, and that’s when I can try to lock in.”
Statistically, THT did average more points and rebounds and nearly as many assists. But his field goal percentage plummeted, and his 3-point percentage went even further down from the 28.2% he shot last season. But, as he noted, that wasn’t even the most frustrating aspect of his season.
Perhaps the best summary of his year was his first six games of the year. In his first three, all without LeBron James in the lineup, THT scored 70 combined points on 25-51 shooting overall and 8-20 shooting from the 3-point line. James then returned to the lineup, and THT’s play directly suffered as he managed just 10 points in the ensuing three games — including a scoreless outing in 29 minutes vs. the Knicks — shooting just 4-27 from the field and missing all five of his 3-point attempts.
And that was the story of Horton-Tucker’s season. Stops and starts, flashes of talent mixed with moments of dullness. Much of that was a result of a different shot profile.
Last season, according to Cleaning The Glass, 53% of Horton-Tucker’s shot attempts came at the rim compared to just 25% of them from beyond the arc. This season, only 42% came at the rim while 30% were 3-pointers. His accuracy didn’t change much in those zones, as he actually shot better at the rim — 60% this season compared to 59% last — and only marginally worse at the 3-point line overall, at least in non-garbage time minutes.
But when you’re sacrificing high-percentage shots for low-percentage ones, efficiency is going to drop overall. It was a new experience for Horton-Tucker this year, then, as he was moved off the ball with a career-low usage rate.
It’s also a setback he is hoping to learn from.
“I feel like every situation that I’ve been in is almost like a learning experience,” Horton-Tucker said. “Being on the ball, off the ball, it’s experience that you need. Obviously I felt better with the ball in my hands and I felt I had success with that, but just learning to play with stars was the most important thing they wanted me to do.”
“During those stretches I got to play a lot more. Bron was out to start, and then to finish the season we had some other guys out. Just the opportunity to have the ball in my hands and play and be at my best... It felt good to actually do that.”
It wasn’t a great experience or season for Horton-Tucker, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be one he learns and grows from. If the Lakers move on from Westbrook this season, it would likely open up the opportunity for THT to be back on the ball again, if he’s even on the Lakers next year.
Regardless, though, the same Horton-Tucker that had so much promise and had fans so excited still exists, and the Lakers — or another NBA team — will be hopeful to find him again next year.