In a series of articles leading up to the start of the Lakers’ preseason on October 3rd, we’ll be looking at the best options for the team’s starting shooting guard and what those options could bring to the lineup. This is the second article of the series (we examined Kent Bazemore as an option in the first article), taking a look at Talen Horton-Tucker and why he could be an option for Frank Vogel to use at the starting two spot.
The 2021-22 Lakers are old. It’s not “breaking news” to say that, as it has been a running joke through NBA Twitter for this entire offseason. Ever since the Lakers surrounded LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook with players like Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, and Rajon Rondo, Staples Center has been envisioned as a nursing home for 2013 NBA All-Stars. LeBron, Davis, and Westbrook are all set to start, and with a possible starting center in Howard (35 years old) or DeAndre Jordan (33 years old), the team could have an average age of 30-32 years old in their starting lineup (although recent reports from Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer suggest AD will be starting at the five). However, that average age could easily plummet with an injection of youth in the form of Talen Horton-Tucker who will only be 20 years old when the season opens on October 19th.
Head coach Frank Vogel has already gushed over what the team’s fast breaks could look like with Russell Westbrook on the floor. If Vogel wants his team to get out and run early, the young legs of Talen Horton-Tucker may be the perfect fit alongside Westbrook in the backcourt. However, the fit in the backcourt between THT and Westbrook would be a little wonky in other areas due to the fact that the two have similar skill sets. Now, I’m not saying THT provides the same quality when doing similar things to Westbrook, but the similarities are definitely there. The difference is that THT’s shortcomings are due to his youth. It’s unlikely that a 13-year veteran like Westbrook would come into training camp with his stark weaknesses turned into strengths, but THT still has the time to reinvent, retool, and reinvigorate the facets of his game to try and be that perfect complementary piece that could shore up the starting backcourt.
If he doesn’t improve in his weaker areas (more on that in a bit), Horton-Tucker definitely could help provide some needed perimeter defense to a starting lineup that will need it now that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is in Washington. Defense is definitely one of Westbrook’s weak points, while THT has shown the talent and ability to be a good perimeter defender. Just take a look at his perimeter defense statistics above courtesy of B-Ball Index. You’ll notice that pickpocketing and collecting steals are his best abilities while defending on the perimeter, as the 6’4” guard has an insane 7’1” wingspan allowing him to cause havoc on the perimeter like in the play below.
Talen Horton-Tucker may have a slight regression in those perimeter defense metrics if his Defensive Miles increase once in the starting lineup. As the team’s starting shooting guard, he’d likely be tasked on most nights with guarding the opposing team’s running-and-gunning three-point specialist. In an extreme example, just picture THT running around screen-after-screen trying to keep up with the likes of the Warriors’ Klay Thompson. Still, you’d imagine he’d still have a knack for poking at the ball even with a little more cardio involved.
THT may continue to have mental lapses while on the defensive weak side, but those types of defensive worries pale in comparison to the biggest worry up-and-down the Lakers roster of this year, as well as the past couple of years. That worry is, yeah, you guessed it…spacing.
I don’t think there’s any situation where Frank Vogel would like Horton-Tucker to be taking pull-up three-pointers, but THT has trouble with wide-open spot-up three-pointers as well. In the 2020-21 season, THT took 1.3 “wide-open” three-pointers a game while only making 30.6% of those attempts (wide-open three-pointers are when the closest defender is 6+ feet away). That was the lowest mark on the team aside from Anthony Davis (30.0%) and Markieff Morris (29.4%). Overall, THT was in the ninth percentile of the entire NBA in terms of spot-up shooting.
Let's check in on THT 👀 pic.twitter.com/0tPm0M3v2U
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) September 21, 2021
THT knows he lacks in this regard, which is why he stated in his exit interview that he would be working on his shooting this offseason (in addition to his all-around defense). If Vogel decides to insert Horton-Tucker into the two position of his opening night starting lineup, that would likely mean that Vogel and the team saw some drastic improvements in his shooting as inserting the 2020-21 version of THT into this starting lineup could spell doom for the Lakers’ offense in the form of the opposing team packing the paint against a lineup of five guys who are always determined to get to the rim. Speaking of the full five guys (not the burger joint), Vogel and Anthony Davis’ decision regarding the starting center position factors into whether or not THT starts. If AD started at the five, someone like Kent Bazemore could start at the three which would cause all the worries above with THT starting at the two to be lessened.
The Lakers’ front office and scouting department would be celebrating before the season starts if THT were to debut the season as a starter. He’s the lone player on the team that has actually been drafted by the Lakers, and he’s one of only a handful of Lakers draftees to receive a new deal from the team in the past decade. THT starting would further validate the Lakers’ pursuits of top-level, veteran superstars with their other young assets throughout the years, as it would show that team can do that while improving around the margins in the present with their few draftees, while also preserving a long-term asset that may ascend to All-Star status down the road.