What’s happened to Marcus Thornton?

Marcus Thornton in mid-air against the Portland Trail Blazers. (Photo: Steven Chea)

What is going on with Marcus Thornton?  After averaging a career-high 18.7 points per game last season as the Kings’ starting shooting guard, the once-confident scorer is now struggling to find his way off Keith Smart’s bench.

On paper it, it looked like an easy sell. Thornton’s game reminds you of the Celtics’ Jason Terry and the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford.  He is a pure scorer – be it from long-range, off a screen or at the rim.

The plan was clear.  Tyreke Evans was supposed to slide into the starting shooting guard position after finishing last season at small forward.  Thornton was still going to get the same minutes he did a year ago, but this time as a super sixth man.  He was supposed to carry the scoring load for the Kings’ second unit and have a non-stop green light.

But Thornton’s scoring average is all the way down to 13.5 points per game and over his last four contests, he is averaging just six points on 24-percent shooting (7-for-29 from the field).  Over that same stretch, the Kings have gone 3-1, mostly without the services of Evans.

This should have been the moment where Thornton stormed into the spotlight, but instead he has wilted.  In fact, Thornton has become a non-factor in most of the Kings’ wins this year.  While the team is 7-13 this season, Thornton is shooting 36 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point land in those seven victories.  In the losses, Thornton’s numbers improve to 42 percent from the field and 34.7 percent from deep.

His stats are down across the board and fewer minutes played has something to do with that.  Per 36 minutes, Thornton is slightly off last season’s numbers, but his shooting percentages, especially from mid-range, are considerably down.

2011-12 Shot Chart                                                                2012-13 Shot Chart

From inside the arc to the 10-feet range, Thornton is shooting just 26 percent (13-for-50).  A season ago, Thornton shot 37 percent (46-for-124) from that same area on the floor.

Perhaps the biggest area of concern for his teammates is that Thornton hasn’t been the clutch fourth quarter performer he became known as last year.  With the Kings losing plenty of close games due to fourth quarter meltdowns, Thornton has gone from a 47-percent shooter in the final period last season to a 38-percent shooter this season.

Twenty games is still a reasonably small sample size, but the Kings need the real Marcus Thornton to please stand up.  If he doesn’t, coach Smart has plenty of other perimeter scoring options, which he’s already started to use.

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About: James Ham

James Ham is co-owner and senior editor of Cowbell Kingdom, providing extensive Kings coverage through news analysis, in-depth interviews with players and staff and daily coverage of breaking news. Along with providing original content for the site, including the Cowbell Kingdom Podcast and his weekly Sunday Musings column, James also is one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary film "Small Market, Big Heart".