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Talen Horton-Tucker is the super young, super long star of the Lakers’ preseason

Talen Horton-Tucker is the 20-year-old Lakers guard turning heads in the preseason.

The Los Angeles Lakers selected Talen Horton-Tucker with the No. 46 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Horton-Tucker spent the majority of his rookie season in the G League, playing 38 games with the South Bay Lakers before joining the big league club again for the NBA bubble. Now at the start of his second season, THT is turning heads and looks like he could be a promising young addition to the Lakers’ bench this year.

With LeBron James and Anthony Davis sitting out the Lakers’ first two preseason games of the 2020-2021 campaign, Horton-Tucker entered the starting lineup and flashed the talent that makes him such an exciting prospect. THT finished with 19 points, nine rebounds, four assists, and three steals in the opener, and followed it with 33 points, 10 rebounds, four steals, and four assists in the second game.

Horton-Tucker has an enticing combination of outlier length, burgeoning skill, and impressive feel. It might feel like he came out of nowhere, but close observers have seen this type of potential in him for the last two years dating back to his high school days in Chicago.

The Lakers are loaded with veterans on the bench this season as they try to repeat as NBA champions, but young depth feels more important than ever as we begin a season outside of the bubble in the middle of a global pandemic. Horton-Tucker is going to get a shot to show he belongs in the league this season, and the early returns are undeniably encouraging.

Talen Horton Tucker’s age makes him so intriguing

Horton-Tucker was born on Nov. 25, 2000. He was only 18 years old when he was drafted, 19 years old he made his debut in the NBA playoffs, and just turned 20 years old ahead of his second season in the league. Horton-Tucker is younger than many of this year’s rookies despite already having a year of NBA experience under his belt.

Talen Horton-Tucker’s wingspan is outrageous

Horton-Tucker is only 6’4, but he has an incredible 7’1 wingspan. His +9-inch difference between his height and his wingspan would appear to be the second biggest in the NBA behind Orlando Magic center Mo Bamba, who measured at 7-feet tall with a 7’10 wingspan.

WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart is also 6’4 with the 7’1 wingspan like Horton-Tucker.

Horton-Tucker showed his talent at Iowa State

Horton-Tucker grew up on the north side of Chicago and attended Simeon Career Academy High School, where Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker also graduated from. Horton-Tucker began to shoot up the recruiting rankings after a breakout rising senior year on the grassroots circuit, and ended his prep career as the No. 50 overall in the class of 2018 according to the RSCI.

After some drama surrounding his recruitment to Illinois, THT eventually landed at Iowa State. He turned in a productive freshman season that showcased his multi-dimensional skillset and his ability to stuff the box score. THT memorably dropped 26 points on the Illini in the Maui Invitational, and also showed out against Baylor in the Big 12 tournament (21 points on 5-of-9 shooting from three). While he struggled to score efficiently during his lone college season with 48.8 percent true shooting, his elite tools, alluring flashes, and youth made him a prospect with a sneaky high ceiling available late in the draft. The Lakers scooped him up in the middle of the second round, and haven’t looked back.

THT’s rookie year laid the foundation

Horton-Tucker spent the majority of his rookie year playing for the South Bay Lakers of the G League. In 38 games, he averaged 18.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.4 steals per game.

After the NBA returned from its Covid hiatus in the Disney bubble, THT joined the Lakers for the postseason run. He scored 10 points or more in three of his four appearances during the seeding round, and then got on the floor for real in Game 4 and Game 5 of the Lakers’ second round series against the Houston Rockets. Horton-Tucker had nine points in 10 minutes in LA’s closeout series win, but wouldn’t appear again in the bubble.

As a member of the Lakers’ playoff roster, Horton-Tucker capped off his rookie season by being the youngest American player to ever win an NBA championship.

LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard are impressed by Horton-Tucker

James was sitting out as the Lakers’ made their preseason debut for the 2020-2021 season when Horton-Tucker went off for 19 points against the Clippers. LeBron liked what he saw:

According to new Lakers guard Wesley Matthews, Kawhi Leonard was also impressed by THT. From our Lakers community Silver Screen and Roll:

“Hey Wesley, Talen is 19?” Matthews recalled Leonard asking him as they played. Matthews, who is quickly establishing himself as one of the most candid players on the Lakers, admitted he had no idea who Horton-Tucker was until he joined the organization, and that he didn’t know how old he was until he went and asked Horton-Tucker, mid-game, after Leonard asked him.

“I’m like ‘Huh? 19?’ So I asked (Talen), and he said ‘yeah, I just turned 20,’ and I was like ‘wow,” Matthews said. And we can safely add him to the list of Lakers people who are loving what they see from the youngest player on the team.

What type of role could THT play on the Lakers this year?

There’s no doubt the Lakers bolstered their roster this offseason after winning the championship in the bubble. Los Angeles added veterans Dennis Schroder, Marc Gasol, Montrezl Harrell, and Mathews via trades and signings. There should still be an opportunity for Horton-Tucker on the bench after his strong start to the preseason.

With the NBA playing a condensed 72-game schedule away in home arenas instead of the bubble, depth is going to be a bigger need in the regular season than ever before. It feels inevitable that minutes will open up amid injuries, positive Covid tests, and contact tracing. Horton-Tucker is still extremely young, but he has the look of a player who could be a contributor in a small role this year.

Horton-Tucker is going to be longer than whoever he is matched up against because of his outlier wingspan. He’s also strong enough to absorb contact at the rim as a scorer and as a defender guarding against drives to the basket. He plays an aggressive game with a ton of confidence, which should help him early in his career. He’s always posted a high three-point rate on offense and shown the ability to force turnovers on defense. How his game scales around James and Davis will be a key point of interest this year as he continues his development.

We asked Harrison Faigen from Silver Screen and Roll how Tucker fits into the Lakers’ rotation this season. This is what he told us:

It’s not incredibly clear how Talen Horton-Tucker will fit into the Lakers’ rotation this year yet. All that is clear is that he’s forcing Frank Vogel to put him there.

The Lakers are a bit deeper in the backcourt this year that they were last season, with Dennis Schröder, Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Wesley Matthews all demanding minutes there. Kyle Kuzma also — at least early in training camp — appeared primed to take the majority of the backup wing minutes.

Horton-Tucker’s emergence in the preseason may just change that calculus. Whether his minutes come on the wing — something hinted at when he started there in the first preseason game after hinting that Vogel had him playing a different position than normal in camp so far — or just by taking a few minutes from each of the Lakers’ four guards, he’s shown enough on both ends that he deserves a shot. He likely won’t get big minutes unless the Lakers are missing guys, but if he keeps playing like this, he’s going to take playing time from someone, with Kuzma as potentially the most likely candidate to be siphoned from.

Horton-Tucker is still far from an established NBA player, but his tools make him an exciting long-term play for the Lakers. Don’t be surprised if his second season in the league continues to show that he’s ahead of schedule.