The Lakers are badly in need of good news these days, after another gut-wrenching NBA loss against a subpar foe—on Friday against the Timberwolves—and they should be getting it on Sunday as they prepare to face another (ahem) beatable foe, the Spurs. Third-year wing Talen Horton-Tucker will be ready to have his first action of the season.
That could be excellent news for a Lakers team that has been putting out two of the worst starters in the NBA, forward Kent Bazemore and guard Avery Bradley. The Lakers have an offensive rating of 100.1 points per 100 possessions when Bazemore is on the floor this season, and a defensive rating of 108.7. He has a minus-8.5 net rating for the year, eighth-worst in the NBA for players who have started at least six games on teams above .500, per NBA.com/Stats.
Bradley has been worse, with a minus-16.9 net rating. He has started the last seven Lakers games.
Horton-Tucker has been out since October, when he suffered an injury to his thumb that required surgery. He was a valuable contributor during last season, when he played 65 games and averaged 9.0 points, 2.8 assists and 2.6 rebounds while playing 20.1 minutes per game. He is gifted with defensive tools and a knack for attacking the rim, but his 3-point shot has been a struggle—he made only 28.2% of his attempts from the arc last season.
Still, with the Lakers down bodies, Horton-Tucker’s return is most welcome. Forward LeBron James remains out with an abdominal strain, and guard Austin Reaves went down for what is expected to be two weeks with a hamstring injury. Trevor Ariza (ankle) and Kendrick Nunn (ankle/knee) remain out as well.
Horton-Tucker Could Work Way Into the Starting 5
It will be worth watching how long it takes Horton-Tucker to get back into game shape after missing the Lakers’ uneven 7-6 start. Coming into the season, the Lakers’ backcourt partner for point guard Russell Westbrook was a bit up in the air, and it was believed that Horton-Tucker was a top candidate for one of the Lakers’ wing spots.
Instead, they’ve had Bradley at shooting guard and Bazemore at small forward. Not good. As one Twitter user called Bazemore, he is both the “odd man out” and “cooked.”
As ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote ahead of the season, when he pegged THT as one of the five “most intriguing” young players in the league this season, pointing out Horton-Tucker’s 3-point struggles:
No one will guard Horton-Tucker on the perimeter until he makes teams pay.But he is by far the most important young player on an old team; the Lakers signaled as much by re-signing Horton-Tucker to a three-year, $30.8 million deal, effectively choosing him over Alex Caruso, and coaches discussed the possibility of starting Horton-Tucker this season, sources say. The Lakers are searching for two-way wings to round out Anthony Davis-at-center lineups, and Horton-Tucker could be one the moment he hits enough open 3s.
That could be welcome news to the legion of Lakers fans who have grown weary of seeing veteran Kent Bazemore in the starting five, where he has been for all 13 of the Lakers’ games. Bazemore is averaging 5.2 points, shooting 33.3% from the field and 30.8% from the 3-point line this season.
Horton-Tucker Learning From Lakers Vets
For Horton-Tucker, though he will be battling much older veterans (he’s only 20) for his minutes this season, he’s recognized the opportunity to learn from the older guys, even as he has been injured.
“I’ve always said that just being around a group like this is going to be key for my growth,” Horton-Tucker told reporters last week, per SilverScreenandRoll.com. “Just being able to watch and be around guys like this has been great for me. … I just want to be able to get out there and get a feel for myself. See where I am mentally and my conditioning and things like that, to make sure I’m actually ready to go play. So I just want to take it a day at a time.”