Talen Horton-Tucker is Here to Stay and Drive
On the excitingly unorthodox 20-year-old, snaking pick n' rolls and the art of lowering a shoulder.
Welcome to issue #29 of Throwdowns.
Given the lengthy delay in-between issues, a brief reintroduction if you’d allow me.
For new visitors, my name is Alex Regla. Over the past few years I have been fortunate to write about basketball for such outlets as SB Nation, Bleacher Report and KCET.
Since then, this newsletter has become my new home. A place where I can write about the Lakers, at my own pace, with my own flavor and presented in a more streamlined reading experience (ad / banner free).
For previous readers, a sincere thank you for your patience and continued support. It has always been, and will continue to be greatly appreciated.
With those things said, let’s move onto this one, which is about the blissful ignorance that comes with youth, running through walls and being done waiting your turn.
He’s only 20?!
It’s an exclamatory question I, the Lakers’ fanbase and even my fiancée (who hates the sport) have asked at some point when watching Talen Horton-Tucker play basketball.
The awe is not due to his physical stature, although it is staggering. It only takes a mere glance at his frame to comprehend how the Chicago product broke nearly every device used to measure prospects at the NBA’s draft combine back in 2019.
That data revealed a wingspan that was longer, and a body fat percentage (that he’s since begun sculpting) heavier than every other guard evaluated. Not to mention he sports Rawlings’ gloves for hands that eerily conjure up a similarity to that of “The Klaw.”
Instead, what makes Horton-Tucker so striking after only 59 games played in his professional career, is the craftiness of a seasoned veteran that he somehow already has down pat.
A key rotation player on this year’s Lakers — and cementing that in what is his actual rookie season — Horton-Tucker has dished out nuggets of promise each and every game. Primarily, through his unorthodox and dazzling drives to the basket.
It is here where experimentation, anticipation and magic happens.
Nell Redmond - USA Today Sports | Throwdowns Illustration
With the ball in his hands, and a Fred Flinstone-esque head start, the guard’s weaves in and out of traffic already feel like must-see television.
He carves out spots on the floor with shockingly deft crossovers, warps his defenders with timely spin-moves and floats the same rock he grips with dear life, over outstretched arms with the delicacy of a falling feather.
Yes, he is 20. But, there is a growing list of examples where he damn sure doesn’t play like it.
Horton-Tucker’s savant like ability in both creating his own shots and pathways to the rim exemplifies an array of attributes that many others his age rarely possess.
As seen in the plays above, the former 46th-overall pick sagely sets up defenders with a tool-bag consisting of: rejecting screens, hesitation moves and consistently freezing his foes with a devastating inside-out dribble.
His live handle out of the pick and roll has also shown great promise as Horton-Tucker has ripped through many of the nuanced tricks of the trade of a lead ball-handler.
Aspects like hugging the hip of his screener to cut off his defender’s ability to trail, snaking through empty spaces with ease, and sealing off those on his heels with his wide back (in jail), all come together to help propel him to the cup.
The other key component to the young Laker’s blossoming driving game rests on the undeniable fact that he is indeed — strong as shit.
Horton-Tucker chases the graceful technique and craft of his downhill game with his bulldozing upper body. When he makes contact with a defender (mainly through a cheeky lowered shoulder), they move, not him.
Beside simply being fun to watch visually, this smash-mouth approach helps generate additional pockets of space in the restricted area for finishes as unfortunate defenders are jolted out of the play.
As oxymoronic as his skills are, Horton-Tucker himself is a bit of an outlier in terms of the modern game.
There are of course aspects that are easily fitting. The aforementioned physical dimensions, and the dynamism and polish of his self-creating ability to name a few. But in terms of his shot profile, to say Horton-Tucker leans on shots at the rim is an understatement.
In fact, no other guard this season that is classified as a “combo” ranks higher than he does when it comes shot frequency percentage within four feet (52%) according to Cleaning the Glass.
And in terms of how Horton-Tucker stacks up among his peers (19-21-year old guards), he is downright lapping the rest of up-and-comers.
This is not to say this is bad thing. On the contrary. Even the most diehard analytical and eye-test minds can agree that chances closest to the rim often yield the best results.
However, for as brilliant as the flashes are in getting there, the actual finishing and decision making still expectantly needs work. As well as a jumper that has yet to be fully ironed out.
On the year, Horton-Tucker is finishing just 57% of his chances at the rim, which may sound like a good thing (and when considering the difficulty of his attempts, is a fair argument), but is still only in the 47th percentile among other combo guards.
Like other young players before him, turnovers have also been an issue (15.1% turnover rate / 10th percentile). These misses and fumbles have happened most frequently on those aforementioned drives, where the dreaded “tunnel vision” for a player takes over.
There is a blissful ignorance to Horton-Tucker’s game that both bolsters and hampers his production.
He is clearly not afraid of a singular rim protector, nor is there a set-defense that he doesn’t think he can unlock with one of his many array of moves. And yet while he can on occasion finish over that daunting big, or make a dazzling play to break through a wall of defenders, these attempts also have a steady rate of misfires.
Which is to only say this should be expected. Although Horton-Tucker does play well beyond his age for most of the time, it is also important to remember he is what his age says he is. Behind a patchy, but growing beard, still lies a baby face.
A player that can already carve up a professional NBA team for 20+ points on any given night, but also one that is undoubtedly still trying to figure out the inner workings of being in the spot he’s in.
I spoke to Horton-Tucker over a year ago. One-on-one, before he became this. He was shy, polite, humble. He said all the things you would want to hear from a young player.
But even then, there still lingered an air of confidence. One that suggested that despite being drafted on a team that had the likes of LeBron James and Anthony Davis on its roster, he should be playing. That he was ready.
“Of course everyone wants to play. You see everybody, all your other friends getting time, but everybody has their own different journey,” Horton-Tucker said. “When you are on a team like this that is very loaded and veteran-led, you got to wait your turn.”
Months later, and after the entire world was put on pause, Horton-Tucker would be thrown into a playoff game tasked with guarding James Harden. He played him tough, unafraid.
He even would dribble past Harden with what would become a signature drive to the hoop. And that was it. He was an NBA player, just like he always wanted to be.
Horton-Tucker ultimately did not have to wait long for his turn after all, because he made sure to go out and snatch it.
Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this or any other post in the archive, donations are highly appreciated via my Venmo (AlexRegla). No amount is too small, and it will go a long way in keeping this newsletter going.
Loved this piece. Once that jumper starts falling semi-consistently and he improves on his drive and kick passing reads the kid is going to be unstoppable.