2019 Orlando Magic Draft Preview: Talen Horton-Tucker tests the limits of length

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 15: Iowa State Cyclones guard Talen Horton-Tucker (11) drives to the basket in the first half of a semifinal Big 12 tournament game between the Iowa State Cyclones and Kansas State Wildcats on March 15, 2019 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, MO. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 15: Iowa State Cyclones guard Talen Horton-Tucker (11) drives to the basket in the first half of a semifinal Big 12 tournament game between the Iowa State Cyclones and Kansas State Wildcats on March 15, 2019 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, MO. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Iowa State Cyclones guard Talen Horton-Tucker has a wingspan that will get him plenty of looks alone. His skill development will determine his future.

It has become the joke that everyone is in on now.

Fans know it, carefully observing a player’s wingspan measurement before even sitting down to examine how the player even looks on the floor.

They have quickly picked up on the Orlando Magic’s predilection for this physical attribute after seeing the team select Jonathan Isaac, Mohamed Bamba and Melvin Frazier and understanding John Hammond and Jeff Weltman’s draft histories with their previous teams.

Players are in on this joke too. They understand their physical makeup can help paint over a lot of flaws in their game just as it can make their strengths harder to justify.

When Kentucky Wildcats guard Tyler Herro was in Orlando earlier this week for a workout, the player with the fourth-shortest wingspan at the NBA Draft Combine directly acknowledged he had to work harder and prove his defensive worth more because of his short wingspan.

This is the new buzz word around the league. And certainly, it seems, the obsession for the Magic.

Their picks last year all had long wingspans — Mohamed Bamba set the then-Combine record with a 7-foot-10 wingspan and both Melvin Frazier and Justin Jackson were among the longest wingspans for guards at the Combine.

Which brings the attention to Iowa State Cyclones guard Talen Horton-Tucker. He was one of the best young defenders in the nation last year and has that part of his game working well beyond his offense at the moment.

He too is in on the joke.

"“I feel like I could have been a better defender,” Horton-Tucker said following his workout with the Magic on Wednesday. “There are still some plays that I can grow at. But my length, my defensive instincts and my basketball IQ help me.”"

Horton-Tucker averaged 11.8 points per game last year and shot 30.8 percent from beyond the arc. His numbers are not much to look at. Even his 1.3 steals per game and 0.7 blocks per game.

But Horton-Tucker posted a +3.1 defensive box plus-minus, according to Sports-Reference. And that can be directly attributed to his extremely long wingspan for a player of his size.

This wingspan is likely why he is getting first-round buzz and could be a player the Magic look at with the 16th overall pick.

Horton-Tucker measured out at 6-foot-4 with a 7-foot-1.25 wingspan. That is the same wingspan carried by the much taller KZ Okpala of the Stanford Cardinal. His 7-foot-1.25 wingspan is the third-longest among wing players measured at the NBA Draft Combine and longest among players listed as guards.

That massive difference between height and wingspan is sure to pique interest. He will have natural defensive potential to make up for mistakes because of that width and could be a suffocating defender on the perimeter.

That is a big part of the appeal of Horton-Tucker. It is almost all of the appeal because of his poor shooting and still-developing offensive game. The fact Horton-Tucker feels comfortable enough to enter the draft on seemingly his size alone shows just how valuable that characteristic might be.

He knows he can find a home in the league.

"“I feel like the NBA is changing a lot,” Horton-Tucker said. “Everybody shoots threes and everybody’s arms are super long. I feel like I can transition to the NBA a little better than I did in college. I feel like I will be ready.”"

Horton-Tucker knows he has to work on his shot. He said that has been his focus throughout the pre-draft process. If he wants to stick in the league, it is clear that developing a jumper will be a key part of that process.

He will have to as he is still learning how to play on the ball too. He said he wanted to show his pick-and-roll skills more in the workouts. But that is a work in progress for him.

Horton-Tucker could clearly make a difference defensively as he is good at holding his ground and poking the ball away from attacking players. That will be the skill that will translate directly to the league, especially as he gets into a NBA weight program.

But his athleticism is not overly impressive. He measured with a 34.5-inch max vertical leap, which was in the lower end for wing players and guards at the NBA Draft Combine. Right now, his game is based on his physical length, his strong body (which he continues to improve) and positioning.

That can certainly be enough. There are plenty of players who fit his profile. But all developed consistent 3-point shots.

Horton-Tucker is still developing a lot of his skills at a NBA level. He was impressive enough in college to get a look. And the promise for him to serve a role off the bench is abundantly clear.

"“I was able to show my guard skills at Iowa State, but just showing them on the floor and playing in the pick and roll, my shooting and just showing other teams my body has changed since the season has been over with,” Horton-Tucker said of his approach to pre-draft workouts. “Just show how hard I have been working. That is the most important thing for me right now.”"

All of this comes back to his wingspan and his length.

Ultimately, that is what a NBA team will be drafting and betting on. They will be banking on his length carrying him onto a team, into a rotation and into the game.

Skill development will come as he grows on a roster.

The Magic have made picks like him before. The wingspan difference was a big reason the team ended up taking Frazier in the second round last year. He too had the longest wingspan among guards at the NBA Draft Combine.

Orlando has clearly taken a philosophy that it can develop shooting when players get into the league. It seems they value in the draft taking players with characteristics that cannot be taught. Grabbing lengthy players can help them fit the versatile vision for this team.

Horton-Tucker said he could see himself easily fitting in with the rangy defense the team is building around Mohamed Bamba, Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon. It is hard not to see that mass of arms closing down passing lanes and stymying defenses. Especially if they can all switch and play multiple positions.

But Horton-Tucker has a lot of work to get there. His offensive improvement must come quickly. Right now he is only defined by the most obvious inside joke in the league.

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Length and versatility will trump all on draft day and give any player a good chance to crack a NBA roster.