If New York’s lottery odds have you worried, take a look down the line and think deeply about what changing your team’s long term trajectory looks like. It certainly involves taking a huge chunk of clay and carefully molding a young star into something statuesque. Rookies just have a way of needing time. Even the kids that hit the ground running need time to iron out their kinks and some of them fizzle out after promising starts.
One kid with gobs of potential is Iowa State Cyclones’ freshman, Talen Horton-Tucker. The youngest college player in the draft, Horton-Tucker is a Chicago native that starred at Simeon Career Academy. While there, the Wolverines won city championships three years in a row and THT led the way as a senior making huge plays on both ends. Other past and notable Simeon stars include Derrick Rose, Ben Wilson (if ya don’t know, now...), Bobby Simmons, Nick Anderson and Jabari Parker.
This rumbling behemoth is the type of armful you’ll have to do in several trips. A big galoot of a guard. Horton-Tucker has enormous mitts with huge long arms and a purported 8’8” standing reach towering over his rocky 6’4” frame. He’ll be able switch one through four on defense in lots of situations. He’s too big for guards and too tricky for bigs. His length helps his defensive effort switching up or down and his stout body becomes an impenetrable wall for the uninitiated. Offensively he’ll punish a goofy-footed close out with his quick first step and a hot rod’s giddy up as he gets his shoulder in front of a defender’s hip, then roars into the chest of any paint palookas.
Talen will never really be a bouncy athlete skying over the top to cram on taller guys. Rather he’ll rock and lull defenders into one content plant of their foot then burst into open spaces. He can definitely stand to chisel off some baby fat, which could help him to be a little lighter on his feet, but he will always be a physically imposing nuisance. Sometimes he moves a little fast or grooves a little too slow and gets caught putting up awkward, twisting layups in a desperate attempt to avoid getting blocked. More often than not he gets where he wants using his wide base and finishing at the rim with either hand.
He’s probably a two or a three in the NBA but his versatility will let him fill in as needed around players that require specific roles. Best used as a secondary pick and roll player who can initiate the offense for spurts. He can also play on the weak side, catch on the swing or kick out and cause an avalanche to pour over a slow rotating defense.
Tale(n) of the Tape
The video I’ll be using is silent, so if you want to set the stage, here’s a little spoonful for the Chicago native to chug along to. Lets get things rumbling by looking at Talen in transition.
Here we have a legit stock (steal + block) then, changing ends, he drops Ayo Dosunmu in a hole with all the torque a tank can muster, little more chug and the over the shoulder flip. His handle always stays tight and contained even when stretching his full court legs.
Here again we have a steal and push the other way. After a seamless switch, Talen squares and pounces on an indecisive Christian James (Oklahoma’s senior scoring leader). After it’s popped loose, THT just subsumes James and rides him backward before getting the ball on the glass where it gets goaltended.
Here he tracks the ball and keeps eyes on his man, a non-shooter of the highest order. Pounce on that first bounce. The big man has no chance but to hold on for dear life; jump ball.
Zooming in to the half court, watch Horton-Tucker put the clamps on Jarrett Culver and Matt Mooney.
Talen Horton-Tucker is a defensive stopper. Very few players were as good at limiting shots coming at the rim as Horton-Tucker this season, despite playing almost 30 minutes a night. His technique, toughness, and defensive IQ were always on full display in team defense settings. pic.twitter.com/K1TzH682y5— Joseph Gill (@JosephGillMA) April 5, 2019
He consistently does an excellent job getting his feet square to keep his man in front, bellying up and never jumping to a spot only to be crossed over. Talen’s mind for the game, and anticipating precisely what will come next translates to the offensive end pretty similarly.
Talen Horton-Tucker's unique blend of power, quickness, and length was too much to handle for both perimeter and rim defenders in Big 12 play this season. When taking it to the rim in both PnR and Iso situations, his PPP of 1.10 was too much for defenses to correctly scheme for. pic.twitter.com/cHd7ZNgNIy— Joseph Gill (@JosephGillMA) April 4, 2019
He gets where he wants to go with deception and hesitation, keeping all his options open for as long as there’s a pie on the window sill. He’ll need to figure out a middy game to keep defenders honest while rambling toward the paint, but he fakes, crosses and spins deeper and deeper with a measure of comfort you don’t see from many freshman. Once in the middle and drawing help, he finishes with either hand and has a knack for smart flips and dump offs that get right on the hands or into the cutter’s breadbaskets.
The lack of elevation could become a real problem for his shot creation on the move, but he has shown some real chops with a step back game and- while the percentages were dodgy- he can get hot shooting the deep ball.
Get a load of this:
While not the cleanest connection, that is a wild shot for any player at any level. Watching that game, he had it rolling before that, but this stuff is nothing to sneeze at.
A pretty clean, balanced and easily repeatable form that can probably get sped up a little bit and be perfectly fine. No real wasted motion. Nice dip on the catch and he turns into it with good follow through. Take an extra gander at the corner try for a good look at that gangly wingspan. Don’t worry, symmetry-seekers, I’ll balance out that missing right corner three for you. With a reminder that you really need to stop the ball against this guy!
Right now most mock drafts have Horton-Tucker being picked in the back half of the first round, if not later (fools!). The Knicks will have to make some moves to be in a position to go after this bruiser. So he may end up being a trade or a second contract target if he ever makes it to New York. Or perhaps he’d be the type of reclamation project David Fizdale tried to make his calling card in year one. Who knows where the Knicks will be in a few years. Hopefully not tanking and gathering castaways. Be that as it may, I think this kid is a lottery talent that the majority of the league is going to regret missing out on.