Talen Horton-Tucker’s situation is one of the most intriguing development cases around the league.
On what he offers the Lakers, how he does and doesn’t align with LA’s win-now vision, and all the challenges of this context: https://t.co/zhDI1Ethay
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) September 21, 2021
It’s a game in late March between the Los Angeles Lakers and Atlanta Hawks, and the six-minute mark of the third quarter has just passed.
Talen Horton-Tucker, defended by John Collins, holds the ball and is stationed near the right corner, with Montrezl Harrell sealing off Danilo Gallinari in the dunker spot. An entry pass would require some creativity, but it’s certainly feasible and would likely bear fruitful results.
Horton-Tucker doesn’t opt for it. Instead, he sizes up Collins, pushes a crossover dribble toward the middle, jolts Collins off-balance and wiggles back to the right for an acrobatic reverse layup over the outstretched arm of his Hawks counterpart. The decision pans out. Los Angeles trims the lead to 64-55.
A couple of thoughts culminate from that play. One: Horton-Tucker’s finishing ingenuity is dazzlingly impressive. Two: Boy, that was challenging. Couldn’t there have been an easier way? And broadly, that clip feels like an apt brush with which to paint a broad stroke of his offensive game through two seasons. The highlights are joyful and eye-popping. Dig deeper though, and so much of his production appears laborious.
Laborious does not have to be an antonym for effective. Difficult shot-making is often part of the package for high-level offensive players. Yet so is making actions look simple. Too often, Horton-Tucker skews closely toward the former. Figuring out pathways to the latter is critical.
He doesn’t turn 21 until late November and was a notably improved player when comparing him in December to May. The Lakers did not extend him a three-year, $30.8 million deal solely for who he is at this juncture. Growth is assuredly expected and baked into the rationale behind that deal. Discerning who he is, who he can become and how those complement or run counterintuitively to one another is important ahead of this third NBA season.
Chiefly, he’s a slasher to his core. Horton-Tucker takes 54.6% of his shots inside the restricted area, third highest by any guard behind Ben Simmons (69.5%) and Bruce Brown (61.2%). Long balls and the intermediate game are secondary options routinely treated as afterthoughts. Horton-Tucker wants to live at the rim.
His improvisational nature aids him in these pursuits. He’s constantly busting out counters to frequent the paint and transport through narrow windows. He’s excellent at covering ground after picking up his dribble with elongated strides and can vary these strides to flummox defenders. At 6-foot-4, 234 pounds, he’ll bowl through dudes to chisel out space.
Despite “only” ranking in the 23rd percentile in effective field goal percentage, Horton-Tucker can convert from an array of angles. His finishing touch is feathery. There’s an aspect of distinguished fluidity present in his deliveries around the rim. He kisses in finishes from unorthodox spots off the glass and adjusts his release point depending on the defense. The peaks are a masterclass of innovation and dexterity.
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