It has been obvious over the course of the entire NBA restart, going back to the Lakers’ debut game against the Clippers in late July, that coach Frank Vogel would have his work cut out for him when it came to finding a suitable guard rotation. Avery Bradley had opted out of coming back for the team, Rajon Rondo was out with an injury and the team had signed a pair of wildcard retreads, J.R. Smith and Dion Waiters.
But here we are in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals and the guy who is getting some serious run off the bench in the backcourt is … rookie Talen Horton-Tucker?
Yup, that was Tucker on the floor in the first half of the Lakers’ game against the Rockets in Orlando on Thursday night, making his playoff debut now nine games into L.A.’s postseason run.
Tucker, a guard who was acquired on draft night as a second-rounder in a trade with Orlando and signed to a multi-year deal, came into the league with a reputation as a long-armed defensive stopper, but in the first half for the Lakers, he did his part in stretching the floor, making a 3-pointer and hitting a driving layup as part of a 2-for-5 start, with 5 points. He also had 2 first-half steals.
Waiters, for what it’s worth, has scored 10 points in five playoff games. Smith has scored 14 in five appearances.
Talen Horton-Tucker getting buckets in Game 4 😳 pic.twitter.com/dXvbdPcbup
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 11, 2020
Horton-Tucker Had Played 5 Lakers Minutes Before NBA Restart
Before coming to the bubble restart, Horton-Tucker had played a total of five minutes for the Lakers in two separate games. He did play four games in Orlando once the Lakers had sealed the top seed in the Western Conference, averaging 8.5 points in 19.0 minutes.
The last time Horton-Tucker played against the Rockets, on August 6, he had 10 points with 4 steals in 19 minutes.
After that game, Vogel conceded that Horton-Tucker was giving himself a good argument for playing time with his performance in practices. Vogel said in the postgame press conference:
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. Obviously, he had great growth in our G League program this year and has really come along. He played really strong, looked really comfortable against a very good team tonight, and continues to make a case.
Talen Horton-Tucker Was Praised by Dudley, Waiters
Playing for the South Bay Lakers of the G-League this year, Horton-Tucker averaged 18.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 38 games. His reputation as a 3-and-D guy took a hit, though—he shot just 30.8% on 3-pointers.
Still, Vogel was not the only member of the purple-and-gold who was complimentary of Horton-Tucker for his work in the NBA’s bubble.
Veteran reserve Jared Dudley had support for Horton-Tucker, tweeting back in early August that, “Rook is making the most of his opportunity! Working his butt off everyday and soaking up a lot of info from some of the best IQ’s in the game.”
Rook is making the most of his opportunity! Working his butt off everyday and soaking up a lot of info from some of the best IQ’s in the game https://t.co/gpPtSHlEaa
— Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619) August 9, 2020
Oddly enough, Waiters, too, offered his praise for Horton-Tucker.
“I like Talen a lot,” Waiters told reporters in July. “I’ve built a relationship with Talen. I’ll just be in his ear a lot, just telling him to make sure he’s doing the little things… [to] watch the group that’s going before him and just stay locked in. He’s got a lot of upside also.”
Waiters is currently out with a groin injury, but if Horton-Tucker plays well enough, especially on the defensive end, it is possible he will replace Waiters in the rotation.