Russell Westbrook Assists Talen Horton-Tucker by Vehemently Defending the Lakers’ Inconsistent Youngster
As the Los Angeles Lakers‘ 2021-22 season goes from bad to worse, one bright spot has been Talen Horton-Tucker. Or more specifically, one bright spot was Talen Horton-Tucker.
The 21-year-old has been marred by inconsistency for the vast majority of his third NBA season. It’s something the Lakers, who are paying THT more than all but three players, should certainly be concerned about. But one person who isn’t concerned is Russell Westbrook, who came to the defense of his young teammate.
Talen Horton-Tucker has been unable to replicate his early-season performance
The Lakers expressed no shortage of confidence in Horton-Tucker. Despite making just five regular-season starts across his first two seasons, LA gave the former Iowa State Cyclone a three-year deal worth $30.8 million. That makes him the fourth-highest-paid player on the roster, trailing only Westbrook, James, and Anthony Davis.
Following recovery from thumb surgery, Horton-Tucker immediately rewarded LA’s faith in him. In his season debut on November 14, the 21-year-old scored 17 points in 27 minutes against the San Antonio Spurs. The next night, the Chicago native put up a career-high 28 points with four 3-pointers against the Chicago Bulls. He then followed up his strong performance with a 25-point, 12-rebound effort against the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks.
Even when James came back from his abdomen injury on November 19 against the Boston Celtics, THT had done enough to earn a regular spot in the starting lineup. But he went 0-for-6 in that loss to Boston, the first of several poor performances he’d have over the next few weeks.
From November 19 through December 3, Horton-Tucker broke double-digit points once, scoring 12 against the lowly Detroit Pistons. December has seen a more-promising output from the youngster, headlined by a 19-point outing against the Orlando Magic on December 12. But he has still been prone to a disastrous outing every now and again, recently going 1-of-13 from the field in 31 minutes against the Phoenix Suns.
Russell Westbrook is confident Horton-Tucker will turn things around
In his first season with the Purple and Gold, Westbrook has been as polarizing as it gets. But if there is one positive about Russ’ up-and-down campaign, it’s the fact he’s drawn attention away from other struggling teammates, Horton-Tucker included.
After last week’s disastrous 138-110 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, Westbrook gave a vote of confidence to THT. The young guard finished the game with 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting in 38 minutes.
“He’s gonna be fine,” Westbrook told reporters, courtesy of Lakers Nation. “He’s a great talent, he will figure it out and get his wind back. He will be fine, I’m not worried about THT at all.”
Horton-Tucker wound up improving slightly in his next game, scoring 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting on Christmas Day against the Brooklyn Nets. Though he has yet to reach the level of production he displayed in his first few days of action.
Talen Horton-Tucker is still a huge part of the Los Angeles Lakers’ present and future
It’s no secret the Lakers are old. Yet at 21, THT represents one of the few players who can benefit the Lakers now as well as in the future.
For this year, Horton-Tucker was re-signed to be a key piece of the rotation. And he largely has been, evident by the youngster being in LA’s most successful five-man lineup in terms of point differential. But with Davis now out for several weeks with a knee sprain, the pressure is on for the 6-foot-4 guard to routinely pick up some of the scoring AD left behind.
As far as the future goes, Horton-Tucker joins LeBron and Davis as the only players who are guaranteed to be on the books past this season. In all likelihood, Westbrook won’t opt out of his $47 million player option, but LA could opt to move him after a disappointing season. So barring any trades, THT’s spot in Hollywood is set for 2022 and beyond.
There’s no question the talent is there. Westbrook sees it, and the Lakers see it. But finding consistency is the key for THT to break through and help LA reverse a disappointing season.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.