With the weight of the world on his shoulders, Marcus Thornton finally came alive. After struggling through five preseason games and six regular season games, the veteran shooting guard woke up in last night’s 21-point victory over the Brooklyn Nets.
Scoring 24 points on 10-of-19 shooting from the field, Thornton’s best of game of the season just so happened to coincide with a reassignment to the Sacramento Kings’ bench.
“I did it all last year so it wasn’t that new,” Thornton said of playing as a reserve for the first time this season. “I’m just trying to find myself now, get myself in a rhythm and keep going. I guess that was the best way to do it.”
Thornton has faced harsh criticism from fans and pundits alike for his disappointing production early this year. In the Kings’ previous six games, he averaged a paltry 8.7 points on a lowly 33.3 percent shooting from the field. Not the kind of numbers you’d like to see from a player making roughly $16.5 million over the next two years.
Thornton wasn’t helped either by the fact that his counterparts at shooting guard have appeared more deserving of playing time. Rookie Ben McLemore, who has replaced Thornton in the starting lineup, and third-year guard Jimmer Fredette looked more effective than the 26-year-old guard in both preseason and regular season play. McLemore, for example, had posted a 14.2 player efficiency rating through the Kings’ six previous games, nearly two-times the rating of Thornton’s 8.4 PER.
But it was McLemore, not Thornton, who struggled last night. Though the rookie went 1-of-8 from the field in his first career start, he was excited to watch his veteran teammate finally get on track.
“Oh man that was great to see that,” McLemore said yesterday evening of Thornton’s outing against Brooklyn. “That’s what we need from Marcus. (He’s a) great shooter, great player all around and he definitely showed up tonight. (He) was aggressive the whole night and (had) a great, tremendous game.”
Thornton admitted last night that he had been overthinking his game. He didn’t know what was the cause, but whatever it was had affected his confidence.
“Today, my mom called me,” Thornton said last night. “My brothers called me and everybody called me, just telling me relax and play your game. That’s what I tried to do man. That’s what I’ll try to do from here on out.”
Despite his struggles, head coach Michael Malone has maintained trust in his veteran guard. Malone noted before yesterday’s game that his rotation wasn’t changing much despite shuffling Thornton and forward Patrick Patterson out of the starting lineup.
“I thought they were terrific,” Malone said of the two former starters who were relegated to the bench. “The one thing that I want to make clear is that I made those changes, but it wasn’t Marcus Thornton or Patrick Patterson that made us 1-5. I wanted to shake things up and to their credit they came in the game off the bench and had a huge impact.
“After the game, I told Marcus that maybe I should’ve put him on the bench sooner with that performance,” Malone added.
As a starter, Thornton was paired with newcomer Greivis Vasquez in the backcourt. As a reserve, he played substantial minutes with Isaiah Thomas, a teammate with whom he already has existing chemistry. The third-year point guard didn’t think that played much into his teammate’s breakout performance last night, but Thornton certainly did.
“It did because me and Isaiah we got this thing going,” Thornton said when asked if his familiarity with Thomas helped his play Wednesday night. “He’s constantly looking for me on the break and I’m looking for him too. It felt good playing with him out there.”
Thomas believed instead that aggressiveness was to credit for Thornton’s best game of the season.
“I think he made his first shot and then got going,” said Thomas, who has scored in double figures in the Kings’ first seven games this season. “We need him to be aggressive. We need him to score at that level and he did a good job tonight. I mean, teammates found him and he knocked down the shots and he was aggressive.”
Thornton is thankful that his role remains defined despite moving to the bench. He believes that will help him going forward as he tries to build off of his first big game of the season.
“For me, I just haven’t found myself in the offense yet,” Thornton said. “And hopefully tonight, I can just take off from here on out.”