Talen Horton-Tucker and his case for the playoff rotation

Talen Horton-Tucker
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – AUGUST 06: Talen Horton-Tucker #5 of the Los Angeles Lakers goes up for a shot against the Houston Rockets in the second half at The Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 6, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)

As the Lakers look to finish off the remainder of their seeding games, Frank Vogel has some decisions to make in regards to the playoff rotation. His decisions would have been easy if he had had a fully healthy and available team that coasted to the first seed in the Western Conference, but that is not the case. Avery Bradley opted out of the restart, while Rajon Rondo hasn’t seen any time since breaking his hand. The Lakers are also forced to replace these two players’ minutes with brand new players who haven’t played with the Lakers including Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith. There is one other player though that may seem new to the team, but has actually been around all year. That player is, of course, Talen Horton-Tucker.

Lakers fans knew that they would at least get a brief look at Horton-Tucker in these bubble games, with three scrimmage games preceding eight seeding games that nearly meant nothing due to their lead for the first seed. However, THT has shown some offensive flashes in the scrimmage games and has shown more of these flashes in the Lakers’ past two games (he did not play in the first four seeding games). Frank Vogel was asked about him after the Lakers’ 113-97 loss to the Rockets, and said this (h/t Christian Rivas and Silver Screen & Roll):

“He continues to surprise and impress me, and he’s making a case for being in the rotation, with just the way he’s performed this whole restart,” Vogel said. “[He] has really come along. He played really strong, looked really comfortable against a very good team tonight, and continues to make a case.”

Will we get to see our amazing, thicc* boy in the playoffs? Who would have ever dreamt that we would get this opportunity in his first year on a top-seeded team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis?

*It should be noted that THT has appeared to have lost plenty of weight since when he was first drafted. Also, the correct spelling is “thick”. I just wanted to clear that up.

Vogel can applaud the rookie as much as he wants to reporters, but the reality is that Horton-Tucker will be hard-pressed to find time in the playoff rotation when the Lakers kick-off against their first-round opponent. Teams usually already shorten their rotation to begin with, and THT only found two regular season games to appear in for the Lakers, both times in the final two minutes of blowouts.

In the Lakers’ loss to the Pacers on Saturday, Horton-Tucker was a +8 which was the fourth-best on the team. He definitely helped much more than he hurt the Lakers in the game, but he did make a few rookie-type mistakes that are just going to happen to a player with such little experience. One instance is below, where THT doesn’t recognize the wide-open Dwight Howard under the basket on his drive until it is too late. 

Below he makes a defensive mistake against Victor Oladipo, going under a screen being set for Oladipo giving him a wide-open straightaway three. THT has to know which players to go under/over screens on, and Oladipo is definitely not a player you want to go under on. You can see much of the coaches immediately make a hand signal towards him, telling him about the mistake he made.

In the clip below, he appears to miscommunicate with LeBron and Dudley on defense resulting in a wide-open layup. It was a shame, as it immediately followed a great corner three that resulted after two passes from LeBron and Dudley each. You can see at the end that LeBron James and Jared Dudley both make it a moment to learn, letting THT know what he did wrong.

Let’s just say if we see Horton-Tucker in the playoffs, the Lakers may be having some trouble. It would be a beautiful sight to see, but the appearance of him would only mean Vogel’s doubt in one of the other guards who have proven themselves in their careers including Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso, Dion Waiters, J.R. Smith, and others. In addition, THT’s chances at playoff time would be squashed immediately when Rajon Rondo returns which reportedly may be during the first round. He may have more offensive upside than anyone on this Lakers’ team, but the playoffs are made for veterans. That is because they make far less mistakes than younger players, with pretty much every possession in the playoffs holding value. 

The Lakers still believe that their shooting woes will correct themselves, but if they don’t, THT has shown an ability to make shots. He made two of his four three-point attempts against the Pacers and added some crafty work in the paint for his other two baskets. Maybe Vogel will end up using Horton-Tucker here and there at least in the first round. Still, that could be a sign of an early exit coming for the Lakers.

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