"I Believe In Him" | Not Your Average 22-Year-Old, Horton-Tucker's Maturity Allowing Him To Thrive In The NBA

Ryan Kostecka
Digital Content Writer

To say that Talen Horton-Tucker has had an up-and-down season would be putting it lightly. 

After firmly entrenching himself as a part of Will Hardy's rotation in the early parts of the season, his playing time had deteriorated as the calendar flipped from December to January — including straight DNPs as the trade deadline approached in early February. 

For most 22 year olds in the league, those sorts of struggles would have easily derailed a once-promising season. But as head coach Will Hardy said of Horton-Tucker, he's not your ordinary 22-year-old. 

"He understands what is real and what is not," Hardy said. "He wants to play more, he wants to be in the rotation, he wants to be a key player. At that age, to have that level of maturity to understand that you might not always get what you want, and that you have to keep working. … That's a credit to Talen."

That understanding and maturity have now culminated in one of the best stretches of Horton-Tucker's four-year career. With the Jazz riddled with injuries, he's taken over the starting point guard role and run with it. 

After struggling to adjust to his new role, Horton-Tucker has responded to score 20+ points in his last three games. He's averaging 27.0 points and 5.0 rebounds per game on 55.4% shooting from the floor and 38.5% from deep during that stretch.

It all culminated in his 37-point, 10-assist, 8-rebound near triple-double on Saturday night against Charlotte — a game in which the man who's barely played point guard looked extremely comfortable running the show for the Jazz. 

"Very clearly, the story of the game is Talen Horton-Tucker," he said. "I am incredibly hard on Talen, I have been all season. … That is because I believe in him. His talent, his ability, he has some real physical gifts that were on display tonight. … He had his best game of mixing attacking to score and attacking to find his teammates."

"Playing here and playing with coach, knowing what they want for me, they want me to get downhill and kind of help get other guys involved and sometimes score for myself," Horton-Tucker added. "I feel like I try to do that every game. … Tonight, I gotta do it at a higher clip."

As his opportunities on the court have continued to rise, so has the potential for mistakes — and he has no problem admitting there were some severe growing pains as he's adjusted to his new role. Whether in the rotation or not, playing shooting guard or point guard, the consistency has been up and down, and with it, so has his play. 

But that's also made his rise over the past week so impressive — he's stuck with the program. He's continued to show up every day and work, trying to learn as much on the fly as possible while still being a positive contributor to winning. 

More than the scoring and the shooting numbers, the most impressive part of his growth is how he's turned a perceived weakness into a strength. The point guard, who once struggled to play under control and at a proper pace, is averaging 7.3 assists per game over his last three games. 

"I'm not trying to be, like, cocky, I just feel like I can do it more," Horton-Tucker said. "It's not the only time I've been able to do that. The reps that I've been getting here, I hadn't got those in my career yet. … So, being able to get them here, I've got to take advantage of it and try to turn it into something."

For Hardy, watching Horton-Tucker almost single-handedly lead the Jazz to a massive victory over the Hornets was incredibly special — especially on a night when they were down their two starting guards, and All-Star Lauri Markkanen had his worst shooting night of the season. 

Everything he'd gone through during the regular season, all of the trials and tribulations, culminated on a Saturday night in Charlotte.

"All the hard work showed tonight," Hardy said. "The way that he's gone about this season, from a work standpoint, from a patient standpoint, competing and controlling what you can control every day, like that's what we want to be about. … He embodies that."

"He was spectacular," he continued. "He has not always gotten what he wanted, he's had moments where he was out of the rotation during this season, and he's never complained, he's worked really, really hard every day. … And he's taken hard coaching from me. I'm just really happy to see him have some success like this in a big game."