It is clear that the Utah Jazz are going through a potentially seismic change in direction. After getting a mammoth haul for center Rudy Gobert from the Minnesota Timberwolves earlier in the summer, many still expect them to part ways with Donovan Mitchell, and go into a full-on rebuild that will take years to come to fruition.
With news from other Western Conference teams already causing ructions at the bottom of the standings, it is clear that the Jazz are a middle-of-the-pack outfit if they keep Mitchell. They need only look at Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers — good enough to win some games and get knocked out of the playoffs early, and bad enough not to tank properly — to know this is the worst place they can be.
Acquiring Talen Horton-Tucker was a no-brainer for the Utah Jazz.
There is no way that he will not work out with the Utah Jazz. Beginning with the cost to acquire him, the Jazz only had to trade Patrick Beverley to the Los Angeles Lakers in order to get him. Given that Beverley is the kind of player who you want to have if you’re trying to win now, this also gives us some indication that the Jazz really are about to blow it up and start from the bottom again.
Introducing Beverley to a complicated roster is a problem for the Lakers to solve, with the Jazz instead getting to add a young player to a hell of a lot of future draft picks (five firsts alone from the Gobert and Royce O’Neale trades). Horton-Tucker has played three seasons in the league, a total of 131 games for the Lakers (24 starts).
If nothing else, the cost alone means that even if Horton-Tucker goes on to tank horrendously, this will never be seen as a bad move. He is also only 21 years old. For context, a guy with experience playing next to LeBron James and being able to navigate a locker-room with an all-time great in the premiere market in the league is younger than, or the same age as, the following players:
- Jalen Suggs (21, entering second season).
- Cam Reddish (22, already been traded after only two seasons in the league).
- Keegan Murray (22, entering the league as a rookie this coming season).
- Tyrese Haliburton (22, entering third season having already been traded once).
It can be argued that it is being selective in choosing the above players. But the fact remains that Horton-Tucker is younger than all of them, and has also appeared in two playoff series already. He averaged 10 points a game last season despite a usage rate when on the court of 19.2. The Jazz are taking the calculated gamble here that good things will happen if Horton-Tucker gets more of the ball.
Even if that doesn’t happen and the Jazz go on to either keep Mitchell or draft a future superstar, we already know that Horton-Tucker can exist in these ecosystems as well. His 3.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists are hardly reason to get excited, but if you’ve watched the Lakers you will know that he was one of the few players out there who did a small bit of everything, never complained about his role and was above average defensively.
Horton-Tucker’s 3-point shooting to this point has been gross (27.6 percent for his career) and at three attempts per game last season, that is not good enough. The Jazz had the best offensive rating in the entire league last year (116.2) and ranked 10th defensively (110.0, should that worry Timberwolves fans?), but they are about to go through an entire identity shift.
Those figures were predicated on Gobert being a huge part of everything they did. If Utah is about to become a place to jettison bloated contracts and players that aren’t working out elsewhere, while also attaching young prospects and picks, then this is absolutely the fertile ground where Horton-Tucker can grow into whatever it is he is destined to be.
With the Utah Jazz, he won’t be pigeonholed into a particular role (at least once Mitchell is traded), and the front office will give him his chance to have the ball in his hands more and to see what he can do. Even if he doesn’t end up being what the Jazz require for the long-term, he surely will have more trade value than Beverley by that point.
This is the other reason Horton-Tucker will succeed, and it was a smart move by the Jazz to leverage the desperation of the Lakers. The most likely path is that Horton-Tucker becomes a defensive-minded guard who can get into the paint and distribute at a higher level than we’ve seen from him so far.
Even if the shooting never develops to become more consistent from 3-point range, he will have the kind of game that playoff rosters would love to have for any given series. A guy who can come in, hound All-Star level talent, not be a complete disaster offensively and who will net the Utah Jazz something of value in return. Talen Horton-Tucker is going to be a success in Salt Lake City.
He has already shown flashes, and is about to move into a situation that is going to give him ample opportunity to showcase his talent more frequently.