Talen Horton-Tucker went off on Sunday night, dropping 33 points in a preseason game against the Los Angeles Clippers. Yes it's the preseason and his Los Angeles Lakers benched their best players, but Horton-Tucker's breakout has been coming for a while. He was undervalued in his draft year and has been undervalued as a prospect, but he's ready to explode.
In 2019 Horton-Tucker opted to leave Iowa State after his freshman year. A Swiss Army Knife on the perimeter, he averaged 11.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals in 27 minutes per game for the Cyclones. Undersized for a wing at 6-foot-4 and 234 pounds, some viewed him as a 'tweener with a difficult NBA position fit. His 7-foot-1 wingspan and high basketball IQ had scouts interested though and he was projected as a late first-round pick. Analytics guys loved him, and some believed he compared favorably to a wing version of a young Draymond Green: undersized but with all-around skills on both ends that could make him effective.
Horton-Tucker suffered a long wait on draft night, tumbling into the second round. The Lakers, seeing an obvious value, pounced. They sent a 2020 second-round pick to the Orlando Magic in exchange for the 46th overall pick and snagged Horton-Tucker. They stashed him in the G-League for most of the 2019-20 season, and in 38 games there as a 19-year-old, he averaged 18.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.4 steals. When you talked to anyone associated with the Lakers organization last season, they raved about the kid and predicted an impending breakout.
In October, Horton-Tucker became the second-youngest player in NBA history to win a championship at 19 years and 322 days old. He was with the team in the Orlando bubble and whispers began trickling out that he looked really good. Apparently he put his time to good use during the league's shutdown and worked on his game. I've heard the same stories leaking out of Lakers training camp this fall. Several insiders told me he would surprise people.
Through two preseason games, Horton-Tucker's hard work is showing. The 20-year-old has averaged 26.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 3.5 steals in 39.0 minutes per game. He's also shooting 50 percent from the field, 55.5 percent from 3-point range and 86.7 percent from the free throw line. He can shoot, attack the rim, has excellent vision and has played outstanding defense. The kid has been a legit weapon.
I'm aware that this is preseason basketball and I'm not suggesting these numbers will translate to the regular season, but just watching Horton-Tucker play it's clear he's ready for a regular rotation spot. He could be a big spark off the bench for the defending champions.
People have slept on Talen Horton-Tucker long enough. Let this preseason be the final notice that he's ready to break out big time.