It's not easy for a rookie in the NBA to get drafted to a team that has championship aspirations, because it usually means the playing time will be sparse. That's what happened when Talen Horton-Tucker was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers on draft night in 2019 from the Orlando Magic. He played in just six games his rookie season, but in each opportunity he got in a game, he made the most of it and began to turn heads within the Lakers organization and around the league.
In Year 2, Horton-Tucker became a regular fixture in L.A.'s rotation off the bench, averaging 20 minutes a game, where he put up nine points, 2.8 assists and 2.6 rebounds. But his journey to becoming a player who could see a sizable contract this summer wasn't easy, something he reflected upon on CBS Sports' "Draft Day Memories: Presented By Jeep."
"At the [draft] combine I found out I had an injury, and they helped me out," Horton-Tucker said. "I felt like it hurt my draft stock, but it was a great process for me to find out earlier and didn't let it go any further than that."
Horton-Tucker suffered a stress fracture in his right foot which limited him throughout his rookie season, starting with summer league. But on draft night, Horton-Tucker was just happy to get picked by a team.
"Leading up to the draft the feeling for me was just to get picked," Horton-Tucker said. "I wasn't really focused in where I was gonna go. I just wanted to hear my name called."
To hear his name called was already a monumental moment for the Iowa State product, but to be traded to the Lakers was even more special for Horton-Tucker, who grew up idolizing the late Kobe Bryant. Horton-Tucker said his mom told him about Bryant, which made him try to mirror his game after the Hall of Famer.
Growing up in Chicago, Horton-Tucker was around rich basketball culture, something the city and the players who come from there pride themselves in. He was walking in the footsteps of the likes of Dwyane Wade, Isiah Thomas, Anthony Davis and Derrick Rose, all of whom carry Chicago with them wherever they go. Rose was especially an inspiration for Horton-Tucker in the way he played the game, and being able to watch him play for the hometown Bulls magnified that. He also grew up idolizing LeBron James, who he would later go on to call a teammate.
"On the court and off the court LeBron and [Anthony Davis] have been great for me," Horton-Tucker said. "I could pick up the phone and call and I feel like I have a big brother, a teammate and a mentor."