Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 70 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.
This installment breaks down Iowa State’s Talen Horton-Tucker.
Talen Horton-Tucker is perhaps the strangest player in the 2019 NBA Draft. He’s 6’4 and plays like a guard, but has arms that extend for days and weighed in heavier than a lot of power forwards and a few centers at the Combine last month. He’s the second-youngest player in the class and the youngest college player, with his 19th birthday not coming until late November. He can handle the ball, get out in transition like a poor man’s Charles Barkley, and defend several different positions, but how well he fits into an NBA offense and what sort of players a team needs to put around him make him a difficult evaluation.
The physical traits on Horton-Tucker are incredible. He stands 6’4 with a 7’1 wingspan, a plus-9 difference that would immediately give him the second-largest wingspan-to-height ratio in the league. His 235 pounds would make him the shortest player in the league to weigh that much. He’s built like a mailbox with arms and legs, only those arms and legs stretch out to incomprehensible lengths. The result is a player who has a physical profile that mirrors P.J. Tucker, Draymond Green, and a slightly shorter Boris Diaw, players who all bounced around various positions and took time to find a calling as NBA players.
Horton-Tucker is a bully with the ball in his hands, with defenders bouncing off him as he makes his way to the rim. He’s a terror in transition, bringing about comparisons to Charles Barkley in that area. He creates a ton of space with his strength, but also has enough of a handle to hit larger players with quick crossovers and step-backs. A secondary playmaking role should be in his future to take advantage of his strong passing and vision characteristics.
Shooting the ball remains a difficulty for him. He converted just 63% of his free throw attempts as a freshman at Iowa State this past season and displayed poor touch on shots around the rim but not directly at the basket. His floater game won’t necessarily be a huge part of his toolbox in the NBA, but it helps project what his feel looks like on shots from longer distances. I’m also not quite as sold on his finishing as a lot of people are; his overall at-rim numbers are boosted by all of his transition opportunities and his half-court finishing was only about average.
He should be able to hit a spot-up jumper, but he won’t have a ton of gravity as a shooter and won’t be someone for whom teams can run plays to shoot on the move. His mechanics are awkward at best and without a near-total overhaul, he likely won’t ever be a plus shooter overall. His pull-up shooting follows this trend as well, which limits his upside as a playmaker. It’s far more likely that he is more of a secondary or tertiary ball handler than primary creator as a result of his shooting, but he’ll be a spot-up threat with his ability to hit a stationary three-pointer and put the ball on the floor to go past or through opponents.
With his frame and athleticism, it isn’t hard to project Horton-Tucker to be a quality defender at the NBA level. He’s missing some defensive fundamentals, but he’s just 18 and has a ton of room to grow in this area. His lateral quickness likely isn’t quite there to defend opposing guards, but with his strength and length, he should be tasked with defending opposing power forwards more often than guards.
In time, he’ll work off some of the extra bad weight he’s holding, even if he gets stronger to offset the weight loss, in order to slide better with guards on the perimeter. Day-to-day, Horton-Tucker will likely be a power forward defensively, but you could see a team going to him as a small-ball 5 someday, especially in a playoff situation where teams normally go smaller and more versatile and switchable.
Issues with his defensive upside lie mostly with his basketball IQ and focus, both of which are lacking but will improve as he ages and gets more high-level basketball experience. If he’s going to be a (very) small-ball 5 eventually, those areas of his game will have to improve, as players like Tucker and Green make up for the size and athleticism disadvantages they have with unreal basketball IQ and toughness. Horton-Tucker is just 18, so there’s a ton of time for him to develop those traits, but he’s not there yet.
Horton-Tucker will have time to figure out who he is at the next level, with his age and the length of rookie scale contracts giving players some breathing room to grow. It’s not a foregone conclusion that he’ll hear his name called in the first round, but there’s enough buzz around him that it’s a relatively safe assumption. He’s an intriguing prospect, even if he doesn’t fit the traditional norms we’ve come to expect from the various positions he can play.
Adding another ball handler at a position (power forward) that traditionally doesn’t bring a lot of ball handling to the table will be interesting to teams who believe that secondary ball handling in the next frontier, much like shooting has been over the last decade or so. Unlocking that ball handling will require developing some semblance of an outside shot, so that defenders have to close out to him, but if he’s an adequate spot-up shooter, then he’ll have ample opportunity to put the ball on the floor and make plays for himself and his teammates. A team won’t bet on him to be a knockdown outside shooter, but he brings enough other skills and a unique profile on both ends of the court to make him a good choice as a late first-round pick.