The Sacramento Kings finished the 2011-12 season with a 22-44 record. By any standard, that is a completely unsatisfactory result.
While injuries are part of the game, the Kings went 3-12 in 15 games leading scorer Marcus Thornton missed due to injury. The versatile two-guard out of LSU signed a lucrative four-year deal to stay with the team shortly after the lockout lifted and quickly paid dividends.
Be it as the starting shooting guard or as a sixth man candidate, Thornton is now a long-term fixture in the Kings’ rotation.
Thornton can score in bunches and he can do it from almost any spot on the floor. This year, he averaged 18.7 points, two assists and a little under four rebounds a game while shooting 43.8 percent from the field. His scoring average ranked him fourth-highest amongst NBA shooting guards behind only Kobe Bryant, Monta Ellis and Joe Johnson.
One of Thornton’s best attributes is his attack-the-rim mentality when shots aren’t falling from the perimeter. He sports an impressive 68.8 field goal percentage on shots attempted around the basket. Similar to Fredette, Thornton’s numbers drop dramatically away from the hoop. But like Jimmer, he should spend some time this summer refining his floater.
From the perimeter, Thornton is more of a bulk shooter than a marksman. His 34.5 3-point percentage was good enough for third place on the Kings, but not exactly something to write home about. The numbers show an interesting trend – Thornton’s best spot by far was the left-elbow three. That just so happens to be DeMarcus Cousins’ home base. If the Kings can use these two more often in either a two-man game or feed Thornton from the inside-out, they could really capitalize on this anomaly.
Plenty of Thornton’s interior points came off offensive rebounds. He is one of the best rebounders in the league for his position. His 3.7 rebounds per game ranks eighth overall, tied with All-Star Joe Johnson, but it is his work on the offensive glass that separates him. Thornton’s 1.7 offensive rebounds per game ties him with Tony Allen for the top spot in the league at the shooting guard position.
While Thornton can score from anywhere, he is the definition of “streak shooter”. He’s either hot or not and sometimes it takes about five or six shots to figure that out. Thornton is at his best in the first and fourth quarters, where he shoots 47.7 percent and 47 percent respectively. Unfortunately, he shoots just 35.5 percent in the second quarter and 42.5 percent in the third. The second quarter is clearly not acceptable, but that is the quarter that Thornton typically rests, so the low number can be attributed to a smaller sample size.
Thornton finished well at the rim, but according to his shot chart, he could use improvement from every other zone on the floor.
Thornton missed 15 games on the season with thigh contusions. He attempted to play through the initial injury, which was bound to have an effect on his lift and field goal percentage. We should also cut Thornton a small amount of slack on his high number of 3-point attempts. The Kings desperately needed him to shoot and make long-distance shots to open up the lane for both Cousins and Evans. Thornton also played with a pair of rookie point guards and played very few minutes with Terrence Williams once he was signed to the team.
One of the major issues with the 2011-12 Kings roster was that there were too many roosters and not enough hens. By that, I mean there were too many willing shooters and dribblers and not nearly enough willing distributors. Coming to the Kings, Thornton had spent some time with the Hornets as a lead guard during injury stints. In his 27 games as a King during the 2010-11 season, he put up a healthy assist percentage of 15.3, but that number dropped to 9.4 percent this season. Instead of being part of the solution, Thornton joined many of his fellow teammates as part of the problem.
Thornton finished eighth out of all two guards in rebounding, but his defensive-rebounding percentage took a major dive. After posting an incredible 13.3 percent between the Kings and Hornets in 2011, that number dropped to just 6.7 percent this season. I would love to attribute this number to the development of Cousins and Thompson, but Thornton’s offensive rebounding percentage actually went up this season. Thornton loves the offensive put-back, but that ability needs to translate on both ends of the floor.
On the defensive end, Thornton came to the team with a certain reputation. While he gives a solid effort, he struggles with technique. Thornton has a difficult time deciding whether to go over or under a screen. He consistently finds himself out of the play because of this issue. The Kings play horrible help defense, which should improve with time, but Thornton needs to watch himself play defense and then compare himself to some of the leagues elite defenders.
Again, effort does not seem to be the issue, technique is. I would love to see Thornton play with his arms extended and not lead with his head as a defender. This would improve his ability to get through screens and cut down on the opponents passing lanes. While Thornton’s 1.4 steals per game were good enough for sixth place among all shooting guards, he went without a steal in 17 of the 51 games he played. When Thornton felt like getting a few easy buckets, he played the passing lanes and came away with some easy turnovers. The Kings don’t need a gambler, but they need Thornton to be more aggressive and a more active body off the ball.
Thornton is a King for the long haul, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he is a starter long-term. Depending on what happens this off-season, Tyreke Evans could very well end up back in the backcourt, as the starting shooting guard for the Kings. This wouldn’t be the end of the world for Thornton. While he is a versatile scorer, Evans gives the Kings a more balanced game. If the Kings add a sharp shooting wing, I could see Thornton transformed into a Jason Terry or Jamal Crawford type bench scorer, something Geoff Petrie has been searching for since Bobby Jackson retired.
If Thornton remains the starter, I expect him to improve in multiple areas. The injuries that cost him 15 of the Kings 66 games were freak-type injuries that will have no lasting effect. He needs to refine his shot selection and take more pride in his overall defense. Thornton’s scoring ability is borderline elite and his ability to take and hit big shots in the clutch is welcome on any team.
If Thornton is your number one option, you might be in some trouble. That doesn’t mean that he can’t continue to lead the Kings in scoring, but the team already began to shift towards Cousins as its go-to guy and that trend is only going to intensify. With the make-up of the 2012-13 Kings completely up in the air, Thornton’s ability to fill up the basket will make him a valuable asset – something the Kings are not likely to give away.