The 2020-21 NBA season has been an up-and-down one for the Los Angeles Lakers. One of the league’s hottest teams out the gate, the Lakers slowed down dramatically, even before their two stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis went down to injury. Their role players and supporting cast reflect this: each member of the team has an equal share of shining positives in their game, but with glaring holes.
However, one of the biggest surprises this season has been the consistent growth of second-year player Talen Horton-Tucker since his rookie year. Tucker has steadily carved his own niche on the team as a defensive stopper and slasher from the two, and while he’s not the most efficient scorer in the world, he has become integral to this team’s championship hopes. Who knows, maybe Tucker’s extended exposure in LeBron and AD’s joint absence might have matured him even faster.
But who is he? Tucker is one of the quieter youngsters in the league, which goes hand in hand with how he entered it.
That said, congratulations to Tucker, and to the Lakers team as a whole for landing what might be one of the biggest steals of the 2019 draft. To celebrate, let’s ta e a look at where Talen Horton Tucker came from to become of the the rocks of this LA team.
1. Hyped beginnings
Tucker actually has one of the most prestigious pedigrees in basketball. Originally hailing from Chicago, Tucker led alma mater Simeon Career Academy to their first city league three-peat since the 1960s. If Simeon doesn’t sound familiar to you, it should: the school has recently been a hotbed for NBA-level talent. The team was headlined by Jabari Parker and Kendrick Nunn at the turn of the decade, and its most famous alumni is Derrick Rose, the youngest MVP in NBA history. Tucker had big shoes to fill, which he did splendidly.
After high school, Tucker enjoyed his status as a four-star college prospect (via ESPN) before committing to Iowa State University, where he would help the Cyclones to win the 2019 Big 12 Tournament. He ended up as one of 2019’s one-and-done freshmen, declaring for a stacked NBA draft (Zion Williamson and Ja Morant were the headliners).
So you see, before getting selected in the middle of the second round, Talen Horton-Tucker was on his own streak of success. He’s not a stranger to greatness.
2. A quiet rookie year
Getting drafted is a big deal for anyone, but as is common with most every player taken in the second round, Tucker was primarily seen as a bit of a project. His draft profile read:
“Reported 7’1 wingspan…One of the youngest players in this draft class, Talen Horton-Tucker is a strong bodied guard with a great deal of potential…He produced well as a freshman and was both a fierce competitor, and a stand out defender…His floor is pretty low at this point due to the fact he’s currently not ready for meaningful NBA minutes…”
The Lakers were willing to take that gamble, of course, opting to trade a 2020 2nd round pick and cash to the Orlando Magic to get him. With LeBron James and Anthony Davis in tow, you can afford to roll the dice late in the draft. He started off slow and was assigned to the team’s G-League affiliate before making his debut in early November. He only played 6 games for the team but started to show flashes of brilliance in the Orlando bubble, contributing in small minutes to the Lakers’ 2020 championship run.
Earlier this season, Talen Horton-Tucker really started to consistently flash the potential that he showed in the bubble. For many, it was just soon enough, as LeBron James and Anthony Davis have both missed significant time on the court this season. This ended up shifting Tucker up the rotation, jacking up his minutes to almost 20 per game from 13 the previous season.
Now, his draft profile is pretty accurate. As a shooting guard, he is not one of the more polished youngsters in the league, far from it as a matter of fact (44.6%FG, 27.4%3FG). But his form shows potential, given his performance from the line thus far, and his athleticism has positively exploded. Check out his highlight tape, courtesy of the Lakers:
Talen Horton-Tucker: This guy can hoop 🔥 pic.twitter.com/NthPRWzPQ1
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) January 11, 2021
His stats aren’t there yet. But just like LA’s Lord of Memes Alex Caruso, THT simply passes the eye test with flying colors. He is a solid, head-down player that is full of energy and is willing to learn. Remember being surprised at how well Caruso played in the bubble? Tucker is this year’s version of that. The Lakers need it, as they are coming into the postseason as battered as anyone.
If Talen Horton-Tucker is able to do things like this more consistently so that they show up in the box score, the Lakers might have found themselves a hidden gem of a franchise player.