Marcus Thornton handles the ball while Jermaine O'Neal chases him down court. (Photo: Steven Chea)

Keith Smart will reveal his starting lineup for opening night in the preseason finale against the Los Angeles Lakers.  Whether Marcus Thornton is a part of that unit is one of the big questions heading into Thursday night’s game.

Thornton has played in all six of the Kings’ exhibitions and his time as a starter and time as a reserve have been split evenly.  He came off the bench against the Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors and in the second meeting with the Lakers.  He started in both contests against the Phoenix Suns and in the match-up against the Lakers in Las Vegas.

Looking at the numbers, the 25-year-old shooting guard performed better off the bench in areas that define his game.

  • He’s shot well from beyond the arc – 40 percent from 3-point land (six of 15) as a reserve compared to 33 percent as a starter (four of 12).
  • He’s scored more points off the bench (21.7 points per 36 minutes) than as a starter (18.2 points per 36 minutes).

In his sixth-man role, Thornton has been able to showcase an improving element of his game – his passing.  Per 36, he’s averaged almost two assists as a reserve in contrast to half an assist as a starter.  Those numbers may not exactly set the world on fire, but in practices and in games, last year’s leading scorer has shown a greater willingness to share the ball.

“I think the game comes much easier for me if I do that first off,” Thornton recently told Cowbell Kingdom.  “And get them (teammates) to spots where they know they can be effective and letting my game come to me.”

If he does come off the bench, Thornton’s minute distribution in the preseason should be a good indicator of what’s to come in the regular season.  In three appearances as a reserve, Thornton played the entire fourth quarter in games against the Warriors and Lakers.  Against the Trail Blazers, Thornton registered all but 50 seconds of the fourth period in the Kings’ double-digit victory.

“For the summer, I wanted to go home and just become overall a better player,” Thornton said.  “That’s what I’m going to bring to the team this year.”

Whether he does that as a starter or a reserve is still to be determined.  The fourth-year guard may not like the idea of coming off the Kings’ bench, but coach Smart has the data he needs to plead a valid case.