Talen Horton-Tucker – The Lakers‘ Sophomore Surprise
With the Lakers' Finals Victory only lying a few weeks back, the champions started their preseason campaign last week. After acquiring various new pieces in hopes of improving the roster to pursue another title this season, the biggest surprise of the Lakers' first two preseason games, however, is a face not new to the scene: Talen Horton-Tucker.
Although an unknown to many casual observers of the NBA, the preseason-standout was already part of the champion's roster last year. After being drafted in the second round of the 2019 NBA Draft - at the age of 18 - Talen Horton-Tucker spent most of his rookie season playing for the Lakers' G-League affiliate. In 38 games for the South Bay Lakers, the Chicago native averaged about 18 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. He then managed to receive a roster spot for the Lakers' bubble trip. Before that, Talen established himself as a legitimate NBA prospect over the span of a single season at Iowa State.
Surprisingly, Horton-Tucker is still considered one of the youngest players in the NBA. Born in 2000, Talen was just 18 years old when he was drafted and 19 when he made his NBA Playoff debut this year. He turned 20 about three weeks ago, which makes him younger than multiple members of the incoming rookie class. Having already experienced a full NBA season at such a young age therefore makes him an intriguing prospect. Furthermore, during last season's playoff he became the youngest American player to win an NBA championship.
Other factors that make the 20-year-old such an interesting player are his physical features - especially his wingspan. Even though he is only listed at 6'4, Talen Horton-Tucker is able to make up for his lack of height with a 7'1 wingspan which enables him to provide the necessary length.
In the first two games of this season's preseason, he finally received the opportunity to showcase his talent and "THT" made great use of the minutes he was given. On Saturday he put 19 points on the scoreboard and additionally grabbed nine rebounds - he also had four assists - as he spent 37 minutes on the court versus the Clippers. The following day, the 6'4 guard unleashed his whole arsenal and erupted: 41 Minutes, 33 points, ten rebounds and four assists. This incredible performance made him the fourth Laker ever to score 30+ points in a preseason game (according to TheScore) - joining Kobe Bryant, D'Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram.
His outstanding play continuously impresses Horton-Tuckers' high-profile teammates. For example, LeBron James has voiced high praise via social media and newly acquired Wesley Matthews appeared to be similarly impressed as he allegedly found out about the sophomore guard's young age during the Lakers' matchup with the Clippers following a comment - "Hey Wesley, Talen is 19?" - stated by Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard.
It is still uncertain if Talen Horton-Tucker will receive similar or comparable opportunities during the regular season, given that the Lakers just recently acquired multiple talented and league-wide established players at the guard position in Dennis Schröder and the aforementioned Wesley Matthews - they also brought back guys like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Quinn Cook.
Without a doubt however, he possesses intriguing tools in his length, his youth as well as his aggressive and confident style of play that might persuade the coaching staff to provide him with the necessary amount of minutes so he can make a name for himself. Even this season's circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic might work in his favor as roster depth is going to be an increasingly important factor. Therefore, it may not be impossible for him to carve out a bigger role this season compared to the last one, if he is able to keep up his level of play and continues to impress his teammates and coaches alike.