After all, the reigning NBA champions spanked the Los Angeles Clippers in back-to-back preseason games, with THT putting up two amazing performances.
The 20-year-old guard flashed his well-rounded game in the Lakers’ first preseason match, dropping 19 points, nine rebounds, and four assists. He followed that impressive outing with another virtuoso effort just days later, erupting for 33 points, 10 rebounds, and four dimes.
LeBron James himself was beyond ecstatic that THT got a chance to bask in the limelight.
The Lakers still have two preseason games left against the Phoenix Suns, so we’ll probably see more out of the latest fan favorite.
But we probably should enjoy it while it lasts, considering Horton-Tucker likely won’t get this much exposure once the 2020-21 regular season officially rolls in.
Lakers superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis will suit up in the next two preseason games, so maybe THT won’t even have the ball in his hands too much.
Despite his stellar play in the exhibition games so far, it’s going to be hard for the incoming second-year player to break into a stacked rotation. Lakers head coach Frank Vogel acknowledged that THT’s emergence is a good problem to have, but it’s not like he’ll instantly take minutes away from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Wesley Matthews.
THT suited up in just six games in his rookie year, tallying 5.7 points, 1.2 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and an assist in 13.5 minutes per game. The majority of those came inside the bubble, where the Lakers fielded him in garbage time. He did suit up twice come playoff time and eventually became the second-youngest player to win an NBA championship.
The Lakers (as well as the fans and the media) have indeed hyped him up significantly after just two games, leading some pundits to question if they have some ulterior motive with THT. They have their sights set on claiming back-to-back titles this season, so it’s not like the Lakers have all the time in the world to develop a promising prospect in the process.
Are the Lakers hyping up THT in order to trade him later for more proven help, or will he be a legitimate part of their future as he gets set to become a restricted free agent in 2021?
What can the Lakers get for THT at this time?
Sure, Horton-Tucker balled out in the first two games of the preseason, but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves here: His trade value is still relatively low, even if the booming value of his playing cards now suggests otherwise. A THT-headlined trade package probably isn’t going to get a star.
Horton-Tucker must still prove himself in the regular season for him to really up his trade value. There’s a slim chance of that happening considering he’ll still likely be warming up the bench for most of the 2020-21 campaign.
At best, the Lakers could probably get more proven depth in a THT trade right now as they try to win another championship. But if Vogel does give him some meaningful time and he continues to impress, maybe the Lakers can get more trade value out of him down the road.
What the Lakers should do
The best play for the Lakers right now is to keep the promising youngster on their roster and see where it goes. In the event that injuries ravage the team, having a 20-year-old who’s ready to play should come in handy. Plus, THT already showed he is versatile enough to play multiple positions, so he’ll definitely fill in whatever role would be asked of him.
THT is a nice insurance piece to have for the reigning champs right now, especially considering Kyle Kuzma’s uncertain future with the franchise, so it doesn’t make sense to just give him away without seeing how good he can actually be. Judging by the two preseason games, the 6-foot-4 guard is an adept scorer and playmaker, and he could be another good option to relieve LeBron’s facilitating duties. In the event that Dennis Schroder struggles on that end or Alex Caruso doesn’t show improvements as a floor general, there’s another guy on that bench that Frank Vogel could lean on.
Even if THT doesn’t play much this season, he’s still just 20 years old and could be an important piece for years to come as other players move on. The Lakers could just see how things play out and then make sure the youngster gets a new contract, setting up him for a bigger role in the future.
If a good trade opportunity comes along, L.A. should obviously take it. But there’s no rush to trade Talen Horton-Tucker right now.