Following Friday night’s loss to the Denver Nuggets, I caught up with the newest Sacramento King, Marcus Thornton, in the locker room. In Thornton’s 20 games with his new team, averaging 21.8 points (46% fg, 40% 3pts), 4.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 37.5 minutes of action. Marcus has been lights out, on and off the court, fitting seamlessly with the Kings’ young core.
JH: I found it interesting how last game, you were so modest about how well you shot and again, you seem to have the same demeanor tonight. Is it really as simple as some nights it goes in and sometimes it doesn’t?
Thornton: We play 82 games a season, 90 including preseason. It is impossible to have 90 straight great games. It is impossible. We are the best of the best and guys scout us every day. We just played this team and I kind of did well against them, so I knew they would throw a lot at me. There were shots I could make but I didn’t. You have nights like that. We have practice tomorrow at 1:00 o’clock, I’ll go in there, work on my shot and get ready for Utah.
JH: Last time you had a game like this, which is only one other time as a King, I heard you were over in the practice facility shooting until midnight.
Thornton: Yeah, I was.
JH: Is that going to happen again tonight?
Thornton: I’m going to let that one go, I’m beat right now. I’ll be in there early tomorrow morning, before practice starts, at least an hour or two early. That last game I felt terrible because I felt like I could have done better. This game too, but rest is important too and that’s what I’m going to do tonight.
JH: You weren’t getting this much playing time in New Orleans. Do you think it’s possible that after 19 or 20 games here, playing full-time, that fatigue might be catching up with you a little bit?
Thornton: (pause) Yeah…I’m human, but that’s not an excuse. That’s not an excuse, this is what I wanted, I wanted playing time and I’ve got to suck it up for the rest of these seven games and give my teammates all I’ve got.
JH: You are a restricted free agent in the off-season, and this is a really crazy off-season coming up. With every one of these big games you are having, is it going through your head that, this is good for me, this is good for my career?
Thornton: It is, it is, but whatever is going to happen this summer is going to happen. I think teams have a good idea of what I do, particularly this one. This summer is this summer, and whatever happens, happens.
JH: Do you think you have found a home here with these guys?
Thornton: I sure hope so. I like being around these guys. I like the team, I like the area and I like the camaraderie we can have next year when we start over fresh and I can be here the whole season, instead of just twenty-something games of the season. If we can get a comfortable feel with what everybody does around here, I think we can be a really good team.
JH: You are coming in here with a seasoned NBA head coach who also played for a long time in the NBA, which is different than what you had in New Orleans. Not to knock Monte Williams, but he’s a rookie coach and he didn’t play very long in the NBA either. How is that adjustment going?
Thornton: Coach Westphal played the game and from what I’ve seen and heard, he was a pretty good player. He knows the ins and outs of the league, he knows what it takes to win ball games and I’m just happy he found the abilities in me, to bring me in and let me show the whole league what I can do.
JH: Watching you, you aren’t just a scorer, but you have an ability to both handle the ball and also to distribute the ball. Can you play both guard positions in this league?
Thornton: Yeah, I can. I know I can do it, some people have questions, but I know I can do it. It’s not proving them wrong, it’s proving me right. I played point guard in high school and junior college so it’s nothing new. Anything to win man, to help my teammates win, to be successful, I’ll do it.
JH: The word coming in was that you weren’t a very good defender, but I haven’t seen any glaring issue on the court.
Thornton: That was a rumor. If you look at every game since I’ve been here, I’ve guarded the toughest player on the team. If you go back and look every game, I don’t where that rumor came from, but I’m not worried about it. The only important thing is these guys in here and these coaches – outside, it is what it is.
JH: You like the city, you like your teammates and this new team, but this off-season is going to be crazy. Are you prepared for a long work stoppage?
Marcus Thornton: Very prepared. I’m not the type of guy to go blow my money. I’m very conservative with my money so I’m very prepared.
Although I have talked with Thornton in the standard media sessions since he joined the team at the trade deadline, this is the first one-on-one time I have gotten with him. To be honest, he is a smooth interview. Marcus is bright, confident and he answers anything you throw at him. There is no question that he brings something the Sacramento Kings were lacking – a swagger, a scorer from anywhere on the court, a player without a conscience. Earlier in the week, I had an opportunity to ask Coach Westphal about the early returns on Thornton.
JH: Do you think Marcus Thornton is the single biggest reason for your team’s recent improved play?
Coach Westphal: He’s been great and I think that what really helped was balancing the team. We had four bigs that you had to play and there is only time for three of them. In the back court, we were looking for guys to play, so he balanced out the roster and on top of that, he’s been very, very good.
JH: He’s better than you thought he would be, right?
Coach Westphal: He’s consistent and his reputation as a defensive player or his deficiencies as a defensive payer were really exaggerated. He’s helped us defensively. He’ll lose his man every now and then or something will happen, but he’s tenacious, he gets steals at opportune times, he gets the team thinking about defense and the players respect him. He’s got leadership skills on both ends.
Clearly Thornton has made a splash with his new team and he’s playing himself into a very nice long term contract with every 20+ point performance. If Coach Westphal has anything to say about it, Thornton will have a home with this team, regardless of when and where they play in the future. At 23 years of age, Thornton fits the Kings long term and short term goals of building a winner with youth through the draft, trade and free agency. Look for Thornton to get a substantial raise over the $760,000 dollars he’s making this season, and rightfully so.