Talen Horton-Tucker thinks you should believe in Talen Horton-Tucker. Here’s why, Jazz fans

The Utah Jazz guard has drawn some criticism for the team’s slow start, but the 22-year-old has confidence in his game and what he can do to help turn things around.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Talen Horton-Tucker (5) as the Utah Jazz host the Memphis Grizzlies, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023.

Talen Horton-Tucker has been the topic of a lot of conversation around the Utah Jazz this season.

Fairly or unfairly, the 22-year-old Iowa State product has drawn the heaviest criticism for the way that the Jazz have played so far this season. Named a starter at the end of training camp, in his eight games so far, Horton-Tucker is averaging 10.1 points and 5.6 assists in his average of 24 minutes per night — though that production has also come with 38% shooting from the field and a 2.3 turnover per game average as well.

I asked Horton-Tucker if he wanted to have the chance to speak to Jazz fans about the scrutiny, and its typical focuses: his shot selection, shooting ability, passing and turnovers. Here’s our conversation.

Why is it that fans should believe in Talen Horton-Tucker?

“I feel like just being a young guard in the NBA is already a challenge. I feel like being 22, you have the opportunity to only get better. You get an opportunity to play in this role, this is my first opportunity getting that. I feel like I’ve been able to make plays for my teammates and get others involved and learn how to control the game.

“I feel like people should be believing in me. I know I take some shots sometimes that are, like, different. It’s one thing that we always talk about: All the shots that I shoot in the games are shots that my coaches and teammates have seen me make. So it’s not coming from a place where it’s forced or — it’s not like, you know, selfish. So I’m just really trying to get everybody understand to me a little bit more, to know that anything that I do is never coming from a selfish place. I’m trying to get better, get my teammates better, get in communication with everybody, and just try to get it right on the court. Being an extension of [head coach Will Hardy], is another thing I’ve been trying to do lately.”

When you watch yourself on film, when do you say ‘Hey, that’s a shot that I practice and I stand by,’ and what’s the shot that you don’t want, that you want to take out?

“I don’t want to take any shot out of my game, honestly. Every shot that I shoot is something I work on, the same way that everybody else works on their shots. That’s really how I treat it. Sometimes, it’s the NBA, it’s not going to go in. Some shots — tough twos — obviously it’s a numbers game and it’s understanding which shots create better scoring opportunities for us. But it’s just being able to just differentiate getting an easier shot and making it harder on myself. I’m just really just trying to differentiate the two. It’s never like — I feel like the only time it’d be a crazy shot is if I come up, no pass, nobody else touching the ball, take a shot. If we get down to a late shot clock, if I miss, that’s just a miss, you know? But that’s a shot I actually work on. Every shot that I shoot, it’s never like ‘Ah, I’m just trying things.’”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Talen Horton-Tucker (5) float in a shot as the Utah Jazz host the Orlando Magic during NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023.

Tell me about the development of the 3-point shot for you.

“It’s definitely a lot better now. I’m just trying to find every game consistency. Some games this year I hit two, or I hit one, and then next game I’m not hitting any. I’m just really trying to get my volume up. I feel like the more you make, the more you can take.

“I feel like it’s been pretty good. I feel like if I’m just trying to come in and I’m shooting the same shot every time, just working on my mechanics and making sure everything is in line with each other, I feel like everything will handle itself. And then I’m getting a lot of work in with the coaching staff with Rick Higgins. He’s just trying to get me to understand that all you got to do is just shoot every day, eventually you’ll be there.”

Going from the bench to the starting lineup last year, what was that transition like? And being the starter at the beginning of the season, what does that mean to you?

“Just coming off the bench last year, I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes coming in shooting the ball too much. I want to get us in stuff and actually get us into the right action. But it came along pretty easy, being able to play with Lauri [Markkanen] and other guys like JC (Jordan Clarkson) and even Ochai [Agbaji]. This year coming in, not even knowing if I was gonna start or not — I was just coming in with the mindset to work hard and play. It ended up just happening that way. So it’s just about trusting myself, trusting my work that I’ve put in this summer, just trusting my teammates are gonna continue to make shots.

“I want to just keep bringing us up. Because I feel like when they’re making shots, it opens up, it’s easy for me to get downhill and then get more shots for everybody. So that’s really the most important thing is — I really just want to make everybody better around me. If you do that, it opens everything for you.”

You haven’t really played much point guard before coming to Utah. What has that move been like?

“It’s been great, honestly. I’ve always been a player that’s been unselfish. I’m never trying to just always be out there scoring for myself, so being able to get the opportunity to almost run a team, get looks for other guys and set other guys up for something that I’ve always wanted to show in my game in the NBA. I’m actually just happy I’m getting the opportunity to do it.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Talen Horton-Tucker (5) as the Utah Jazz host the LA Clippers, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Friday, Oct. 27, 2023.

Tell me about how your passing has developed since the move to point guard.

“Honestly, my passing’s been the same. The year’s early, but we haven’t been able to get to too many lobs and things like that, but that’s really all my game is, I feel like. Actually, this is my first time ever actually being able to show it. So it’s almost like, ‘bear with me a little bit.’ Last year, I got this opportunity at the end, the last 20 games. Those 20 were like ‘OK, I might start,’ so I was just learning how to be out there with the starting group and playing like that. It was good, but now... I feel like my passing is a big part of my game, where it separates me from different people.”

You were one of the youngest players in the NBA when you were drafted, only 18 years old. What have you learned over the last five seasons?

“They kind of treat me like a little vet here sometimes, so it’s kind of funny. I’m still only 22, only a year older than Walker [Kessler] and the same age as Ochai.

“But yeah, coming in at first it was just really just trying to learn as much as possible. I was around with LeBron, Anthony Davis, Rondo, Dwight Howard, a lot of Hall of Famers. So when I first came in I just wanted to listen as much as possible. Just get all of the knowledge from them and take bits and pieces out of everybody’s game that I could put into mine. And habits — just seeing like how different guys work.

“Coming into the NBA early was really a learning process for me, just learning how to be a pro and learning how to work efficiently. Then coming here, being in my fifth year now, it’s really just understanding that like ‘OK, you’re playing now.’ First, you’re listening, now you’re playing. It’s another stage in my career path. So I’m just trying to be ready for it. I feel like I am. It’s a new game every two days, so there’s new opportunities to show yourself.”

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