Marcus Thornton Scouting Report

Our good friends at Hornets 24/7 have been kind enough to exchange scouting reports with us on the key components of the latest Kings trade. They’ll have words from me on Carl Landry in a short while.

Here is what Michael Mcnamara says about what the Kings are getting with Thornton:

From an outsiders perspective, the story of Marcus Thornton’s 2010-2011 must seem somewhat confusing. Here’s a guy that was second team All-Rookie the previous year, coming off a second half that saw him average 20 PPG, competing with journeymen Marco Belinelli and Willie Green for a starting two guard spot, and yet his minutes are inconsistent and his numbers are down across the board.

More often than not, NBA players make “the leap” in their second year, and many expected that from Thornton this season, as evidenced by the fact that he was a sixth round pick in most fantasy drafts during the offseason. Little did they know that the hiring of Monty Williams essentially doomed Marcus from the start, as the coach’s heavy emphasis on defense was just not a match for a player who readily admitted that he had never had a coach spend time with him working on that aspect of his game.

Thornton dug himself a huge hole in the summer by intentionally skipping some of Monty’s “voluntary” defensive meetings. Thornton took the term voluntary too literally, and because of that he was way behind when training camp started. Veterans Willie Green and Marco Belinelli don’t have one-third of the offensive potential that Marcus has, but they made an impact on the defensive end and because of that Thornton’s playing time has been spotty all season long.

It was no secret to Hornets fans that Thornton would likely be moved before the trade deadline, as he is a restricted free agent this summer and it was unlikely that the Hornets would match any substantial offer, since he just does not fit in with the philosophy that GM Dell Demps and Monty Williams are trying to install with this franchise. He is, however, an extremely talented offensive player that Kings fans will come to love as long as they can accept the fact that he will likely only make an impact on one end of the court.

Offense:

The majority of Thornton’s scoring will either take place behind the arc or at the rim. He is a streaky three-point shooter who can get hot from distance, and unlike most three-point shooters, he is actually better at creating his own shot than he is at spotting up and waiting for someone else to get him a look. Thornton is one of maybe only 20 or 30 players in the entire league who is capable of going off for twenty points in a quarter, and a large part of that is because of his ability to get his own shot off the dribble.

While he is dangerous from deep, Thornton is surprisingly ineffective from mid-range. He actually has shot a higher percentage from three than he has from 16-23 feet out, and a large part of that seems to be because of his inability to control his body when attacking a defense. He seems to only have two modes: slow and deliberate or full speed. The majority of his offense starts with him getting the ball behind the arc and waiting for a big to set a screen. From there, he either creates an off balance three for himself or he attacks the basket at a supersonic speed. If he chooses the latter and a defender gets in his path to take a charge, Marcus lacks the ability to stop on a dime for a mid-range shot or shoot a floater in the lane.

As far as his passing ability, Marcus can make the fantastic pass and he can make the horrible pass. What he seems to lack is the ability to make a solid pass or collect “hockey assists.” A team that depends on a lot of ball movement, swinging the ball around the arc, runs a lot of motion plays, etc. would not be a good fit for Thornton. He is a black hole in a lot of ways when he touches the ball, although he will sometimes surprise you with an exciting no look pass to a big when the defense collapses on him in the lane.

The Hornets were forced to play him at backup point guard at times last season when CP3 went down, and it wasn’t pretty. He is not a creator or a facilitator, and it took away from what he does best. When he started alongside Collison, however, and was given the freedom to shoot, he put up 19.8 PPG and did not hurt the team with turnovers. Despite a relatively high usage rate, Thornton only turned the ball over one time per 36 minutes, mostly because once the ball got into his hands, the only way it was going to leave his hands was if it was a shot. No passes, no turnovers.

Defense:

Have you ever seen a fly stuck to a glue trap? If so, then you can imagine what Marcus Thornton looks like playing defense. In all my years of watching basketball, I have never seen a player who gets caught on screens like Marcus Thornton. It seems as if he cannot make up his mind whether to go over or under screens, so he just plows right into the middle of defenders and gets stuck there. It has been a habit that has drove Monty Williams crazy all season, and has often got Thornton the quick hook.

When Thornton is on one of his hot streaks, it is very easy to overlook his defense, but when he is not giving you a scoring spark it is hard to justify keeping Thornton on the floor. The last Kings/ Hornets matchup was a perfect example. I know most people remember that game as being the DeMarcus Cousins show, but there was a stretch when the Hornets had gotten back into the game in the 3rd quarter, but just couldn’t get over the hump. Luther Head drained some big shots, got to the bucket for an And One, and generally took over those last two or three crucial minutes in the third. Guess who was guarding him?

Now I am not bashing Head, but if you can’t guard him, how are you going to slow Ginobli or Kobe or even James Harden come playoff time? With a team built around defense, Thornton just wasn’t a good fit even off the bench, because he lacked the ability to even guard role players. On the plus side, Thornton is one of the most tenacious defensive rebounders I have ever seen pound for pound, inch for inch. This season he is averaging nearly 7 rebounds per 36 minutes, which is fantastic for a guy his size. Beyond the stats, just using the eyeball test, he is a guy that attacks the boards and seems to get rebounds in big moments in games. He has tenacity and a determination that is uncommon for guys his size and this, more than anything else, makes him a fan favorite.

Intangibles:

Marcus Thornton is a great locker room guy who is liked by players, but he has a personality and an immaturity that rubs coaches the wrong way (I am sure that sounds familiar to Kings fans). The guys love him and he seems to have fun on the court, but there just does not seem to be that fire burning inside of Thornton that will make him do whatever it takes to be an elite player or to be a winner.

I don’t want to assume that Thornton would rather get his stats than win, but it is interesting to note that the Hornets actually won more the less Thornton played last season and in that 28 game stretch at the end of the season when Thornton averaged over 20 PPG, the Hornets were 8-20. This year, the Hornets actually had a better record when Thornton played over 15 minutes than when he played under 15 minutes, but the difference was not substantial.

Another concern for the Kings might be the fact that Marcus Thornton has been a beast at New Orleans this season, but he has been horrible on the road. Thornton is from Louisiana, he played ball at LSU, and he has dozens of family and friends who attend every home game, which gives him added incentive.  At home this year, he is averaging 11 PPG on 47% shooting, while also hitting 47% of his shots from three. On the road he is averaging 5 PPG on 33% shooting and 21% from three. To say that he is more effective in his home games would be an understatement. On the plus side, the Kings do play at New Orleans Arena one more time this season!

Overall:

Thornton has the potential to be an elite scorer in this league if he can develop a mid range game and he can get more creative when he attacks the paint. These are the two things that separate him from the Jason Terry’s and Ben Gordon’s of the world. With some maturity and fine-tuning, he can definitely evolve into that type of player, but the question is whether he will work hard enough on his game to become that kind of player.  If he does, it might be a little easier to forgive his lack of ability on the defensive end.

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