Checking in on Marcus Thornton

Published: November 8, 2010

As the Hornets continue their quest to become the first undefeated team in NBA history, one man has been relatively lost in the mix. Expected to be the main spark plug off the bench, Marcus Thornton has instead been relegated to fourth, or even fifth guard status on certain nights. His contributions can’t be ignored, since he’s impacted a number of games in a positive way, but expectations were a bit higher after his fantastic rookie year.

Marcus said before the season that he had never really had a ton of coaching on the defensive end, and Monty’s one word answer to anything asked about Thornton, “defense”, started making even casual fans take notice of his struggles on that end of the floor.

Coach Monty Williams has said point blank that Thornton has to become more than just a scorer, and Marcus has taken note. As Ryan noted, last year he rarely stayed home for rebounds, and instead leaked out in search of the fast break points. It was both a strength and a weakness for a Hornets team that struggled on the defensive boards, and excelled in getting easy buckets. Hard to say in hindsight whether or not it helped the team. This year Monty has him sticking around for the boards instead of heading to the races.

YearOffensive rebs/40Defensive rebs/40Total/40

Another problem Marcus had last year, and continues to battle, is getting around screens. For whatever reason, Marcus rarely committed to going under or over the screen, and too often wound up just running into the screener, and losing his man. He hasn’t been fantastic in this regard this season, but you can see him at least making the decision earlier to go one way or the other, which is an improvement over last year.

Last year he also cheated too much off his man, who was often standing in the corner waiting to take three pointers, or drive the hole. He gave his man so much room at times, that even if he was able to hurry back in time to potentially stop the three, the guy was too often able to fake the three and blow by him on the baseline. Marcus took it just like he gave it in that regard.

This year he has his head on a swivel, constantly looking back and forth from his man to the ball, trying to keep himself in ideal position. He’s still given up a few threes, but overall his play has been better. He’s always looking to get a hand on the ball and run the floor, which is nice, but it’s no longer resulting in so many easy buckets for his mark.

Offensively it may appear that his numbers have dropped, and they have slightly, but I tend to think that as he gets a little more used to the offense, and Willie Green in particular, he will show off an improved game. He’s drawing less fouls, and taking less three pointers, which he’s converting at a higher rate.

It’s a concern, if this is possible, that Marcus isn’t being aggressive enough attacking the rim. Last year he had a remarkably low free throw rate (fta/fga) considering how often he drove to the rim. His rate was .2, far below the league average of .3 for guards. This year he only has a rate of .07, good (or bad) for 118th of the 126 guards who average more than 10 minutes per game.

So what’s the problem? Simple. He avoids contact. Perhaps it’s a product of the disrespect he received at the hands of NBA officials last year. One of the first mental images that pops into my head of Marcus is the look of confusion and anger on his face after driving, getting obviously fouled, and not hearing a whistle. It must have been a frustrating year for him, being essentially a no-name rookie in a league in which star power seems to equate to more respect from referees.

But that was last year, and this is now. He can’t shy away from contact. Shooting 80% from the free throw line (his stats from last year) isn’t fantastic, but it’s good enough where getting to the line will result in two points 64 percent of the time, and one point 31 percent of the time. By taking contact and not worrying so much about making the shot, Marcus will wind up scoring substantially more than if he avoids contact and makes the shot at his current rate.

Let’s finish with his overall offensive number per/40. Aside from what I mentioned they are very similar to last year.

StatPointsPoints/ShotFG%assiststurnoversPERWin Shares
Thornton 09-1022.61.2045.12.41.617.55.92
Thornton 10-1120.01.0545.22.31.416.17.5 (rebounding influences this heavily)

What the future holds for Thornton is unknown. If he continues to make improvements on the defensive end, and makes some slight tweaks to his offensive game, there’s no reason that he can’t play a much bigger role on the team going forward.


  1. Michael McNamara

    November 8, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    Great data to back up your points Joe.

    If Thornton can continue to improve on the defensive end to the point where he is average or slightly above, I think he will start to take time from Willie Green and Belinelli. There will be times, like in the Spurs game, where the offense is sputtering and Thornton can be that spark.

    With this team just refusing to give up 100 points, however, the fact is that offense is not really needed in most games. The Hornets can just keep in tight and hand it to CP3 in the final 5 minutes and he will win them far more games than he will lose.

    Thornton will become valuable to this team if and when the injury bug begins to bite (knock on wood). For now, the team can score 96-99 points without him and the way they are playing on the defensive end, that is all they need.

    • 42

      November 8, 2010 at 12:26 pm

      I see the nice distribution of minutes across The Colony being a boon to struggling players. Given the play of Smith etc., any rational being (to borrow the construct of Kant) would conclude that there is significant development going on in practices. Who has really taken a step back here? Who is worse than in training camp? Monty clearly has a plan and these guys seem to largely be living up to it. If what is determining playing time is the flow of the game, then that component of the playing time is not an indictment of the players not getting the time. And you know what? I LOVE that he plays the matchup game. Coaching isn’t looking at the clock, seeing 4 minutes have elapsed, and putting D West back in.

      One of the biggest factors in Thornton’s development, according to the crowd right here at hornets247, was confidence. Going out there and stinking up the place is not going to do that. Monty has shown that he’ll give minutes to Thornton (San Antonio) though Thornton played worse than most of the team in preseason. Marcus is going through a change right now and change is hard to deal with. It’s a punctuated process, but he’ll get there and he’ll get his chances. When he gets his chance, he’s going to light it up, you can take that to the bank (as someone who is buying Marcus).

      All that being said, that’s not to say he’ll be a Hornet next year or even all of this year. Time will tell on that front, but even if it’s only been 6 glorious games, we’ve got to trust the Hive Mind here; they’ve earned it for a little while at least.

      • usufruct

        November 8, 2010 at 7:41 pm

        Gotta love a Kant reference!

  2. MaxALM

    November 8, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    I just hope he becomes the integral part of the team we all hoped he’d be. I don’t want to see him get traded in a packaged deal, only to blow up on another team and dominate. I like the idea shaping a home-grown stud a lot more than just trading for someone. My theory/hope is that Monty is just developing him like he did with Nicolas Batum in Portland, until he is a complete player and is ready to explode with big minutes.

  3. Blattman

    November 8, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    Fun fact: according to the advanced stat Thornton is our best defender at the 2. His Defensive rating is 100, Green’s is 103 and Bellinelli’s is 104.

    Anyway I still think Thornton is an important part of the future of the franchise and this year is the best timing to do this defensive adjustement: it decreases his contract values, Hornets would sign him more easily next summer and he’ll be a better player for years to come.

  4. James Online

    November 8, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    He’s absolutely lost on defense and limited as an overall player on offense. Move him with Peja for a big.

    • ur_gmas_daughter

      November 8, 2010 at 5:36 pm

      Can you expand on this, cause I couldn’t disagree with you more. I admit we NEED a back-up center but MT5’s D has vastly improved since last year and I haven’t seen him lost at all through the first 6 games. I’m not sure Marcus is that limited on offense either. He’s been able to create his own shot, cut back door even come off screens and score, that’s a pretty multifaceted offense player, given he’s no Kobe Bryant but “limited as an overall player on offense?” I see much room to grow, not even close to limited…please explain!

      • HiMyNameisSteven

        November 8, 2010 at 6:37 pm

        ya ur def not watching the games since he has been pretty good on defense in my eyes… and how limited if he can spot up create his own shot pull up or drive? seems pretty complete to me

    • OkiJeff

      November 8, 2010 at 10:01 pm

      I don’t think you are watching the games James. MT5’s defense is much better this year. Last year it was bad. Now he can play acceptable D. His offense is awesome.

  5. m-W

    November 8, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    I understand that Willie Green is better on D than Marcus. But if Green is shooting 1-9 is he really helping the team? Is Monty saying every 9 times MT5’s man gets the ball, he’ll score 8 times? What about Bayless? Is he a top defender? Or scorer that “fits” here yet? At the very least, Buckets deserves minutes to show he is learning what coach wants. If it all came down to what you show in practice, anyone could be a star. But it’s real games that matter, so Monty needs to give Marcus real minutes.

    I’m hesitant to question Monty when I like so much why he’s done with this team, but it just can’t seem right, based on what we saw from Marcus last year, that Buckets doesn’t qualify for mite than 8 minutes per.

  6. thechosenuno

    November 8, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    I’m really hoping that coach sees Marcus’ potential and takes him under his wing as a project, just like he did/is doing with Bayless. As you mentioned, he never really had much of a coach in the NBA given last year’s happenings.

    Also, saw on HoopsHype today that Dell isn’t shopping Peja and hopes he can contribute down the line, seeing as the season is a marathon and not a sprint. I hope it’s true and it means Marcus won’t likely be used to sweeten the bitter pill of Peja’s contract…

  7. Schmide234

    November 8, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    how much of a hard ass does monty have to be to know this great talent is on his bench but wont play him because he doesnt play the level of D required. i mean that really sends a message

    • Forever504

      November 8, 2010 at 6:11 pm

      yea but instead you play bayless

      • Schmide234

        November 8, 2010 at 6:30 pm

        bayless plays very solid defense which is his focus. he knows bayless can score and it will come with time along with chemistry with the second unit. i like marcus a lot but he doesnt have the tools to run the point and so far willie has been more effective at backup SG across the boards. I feel like if we move Thornton for a backup C or maybe a really good 2 itll help more than keeping him unless he shows vast improvement on both ends. on offense i just disagree with his shot selection. he seems to force a lot :/

  8. L_Reazy

    November 8, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    I agree with ‘James Online’ for the most part.

    On offense, I wonder if Marcus Thornton got most of his points in transition last year, and if so, maybe that’s the reason for his drop-off on offense this season?

    Is there a stat on how many of his points came on ‘fastbreaks’ versus the ‘half-court’ offense?


    • Michael McNamara

      November 8, 2010 at 7:58 pm

      Ask and ye shall recieve:

      Last season he made 5.5 Field Goals a game. Of those, 2.6 came “at the rim” and 2.9 came in some other form. He averaged under 2 fast break points a game, so lets say that maybe 1 of his field goals per game were uncontested (and I don’t think it is that high, but I will be generous).

      The fact is that Marcus was very efficient last year offensively and he did not just score garbage buckets or transition buckets. However, it is true he did this for a team that went 8-20 during the stretch when he was on fire after the All-Star break.

      Simply put, he is instant offense on both ends of the floor. That is fine for a bad team who needs to outscore people to win, but it isn’t necessary for a defensive minded team who is holding opponents to 91 PPG.

      Take shots at his defense, because it is warranted, but there is absolutely no evidence that indicates he is a below average offensive player- he is well above average by nearly every measureable stat.

      • L_Reazy

        November 8, 2010 at 10:04 pm

        Thanks ‘Mike Mac’

        That’s what I was hoping to read … that his offense is the same, but the system has changed. Defensively … to say that he has gotten better really isn’t saying much, and I think we all agree with that.

        In regards to elite teams, players either ‘do’ or they ‘don’t’ … there is no in-between. Every rotational player has to ‘consistently’ excel at something on a nightly basis in order to be considered as contributing to the team; making them a contender.

        This season, Okafor – rebounds and blocks, West – points, Paul – assists and tempo, Ariza – defense, Belinelli – jump shooting, Smith – high post play, Green – stability in the backcourt, Bayless – on-ball defense, Mbenga – shot alteration, but fouls (at the very least), but what about Marcus Thornton? Marcus can’t seem to find his consistent niche on this team … consistency that the team knows it will get from him every night in a certain area.

        Now, I will agree that he is a scorer, but it’s like you stated ‘McNamara’ the team’s philosophy is defense right now, not scoring, and every point the Hornets score is in the flow of the offense, unless they chose to let D. West go to work on somebody. Nevertheless, Monty would put Marcus Thornton in regularly if he was excelling at what is supposed to be his main attribute …scoring!


  9. 42

    November 8, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    Offense, for some reason, is easier to `see’ than defense. From a team perspective, these are largely just two sides of the same coin, and the same is true to an extent at the individual level. Every time someone shoots (offense), it’s reasonable to assume something has tried to impede that attempt (defense). Some teams to good at both, others bad at both, most are a time-varying mix.

    With offense, a guy has a ball and he does stuff to it. Easy. Look-a-herr . . . bounceboucebounce . . . orange . . flying through the air.

    Many of the stats just follow the ball: ball in the hole (points), ball fall into hands (rebound), he had the ball (assist), he took the ball (steal), he hit the ball (block). Very few stats capture what’s happening away from the ball (assists come the closest of the basics).

    In most cases 0 to 1 players posses the ball. That one player draws a defender. That’s about where most people’s real understanding stops and where the coaching dollars start to start.

    Regardless, 80% of the players are largely ignored. It’s like the giant subconscious of the game. We know it’s there, but we sort of ignore it in favor of the simple and bright: the ball. And the guys futzing with it.

    People talk off-ball stuff all the time, but is it really easy to study while watching live? No. The ball is bouncing. Follow the bouncing ball, and with good reason.

    If only in terms of subtraction, a good offensive player can help another one score by drawing not only a defender, but by altering the spacing of the floor. Does he get credit? No. Is there a stat? +/- captures it and buries it beneath a bulk of other information (I only look at +/- with the difference between the margin of victory and +/- as a pair, weighted for minutes, but what do me and my phd in statistics know?).

    The +/-, however, is the basic idea of what one needs to look at: How do you affect the score. If you hurt the team more than you help, you deserve to sit unless you are only the 7th worst in that department of the active. Some players (Paul) are so great, they affect it positively regardless of the situation, but most are good only in situations. Marcus was one of these. Perhaps Monty is giving him the chance to develop HALF his game and really be something special. Maybe not Chris, but hell, Luke would be space toast if not for Han so there you go.

    I’d also like to point out that last year many people were ready to tear D West a new one and were denigrating Emeka on a number of levels, but now where are they in our power rankings that we were praising so much not 12 hours ago? 2 and 3 behind Chris . . . We can call agree that’s the best they are going to do as a pair and move on. If you disagree, go miss Okur.

    Why was this happening, the bad feelings? Defense. Defense. Defense. They can’t play together. We all knew it and it was objective. We could see the ball just go right past them, and they guy attached to it.

    Yet, they are playing defense now. Monty is a genius? D realized that Tony Chachere’s has special powers before the game? Or, as Gil said, it’s the defense on the perimeter? Was it something not quite around the ball but that allowed these possessions to start between the arc and the lane?

    Well, Chris wasn’t playing. Collison was. He’s gone. Peja was. He’s benched. He seemed to do a good job, but he’s older, not as effective a defender as Ariza (let’s ask Mr. James), and is trade bait, frankly. And then their is Marcus. The one with potential at a position where we don’t have the best player in the league at. He’s getting his shot, but he’s not going to screw up the dollars we have at the 4 and 5 (nearing $20m).

    I’ll take what we have now, Chris and our `bad defenders’ from last year playing with these new chumps and we’ll just try to play teams that score about 90 a game and let Marcus adjust.

    Sarcasm aside, it’s clear to me now, in contrast, that Marcus is being given a tremendous opportunity. Monty has found the gold in our players that Byron and Bower didn’t know was there or knew but couldn’t mine out. The same Monty has to this point, for some reason, spared Marcus. I trust that is because Marcus will emerge stronger than we can imagine, a complete player and meaner than the proverbial junk yard dog.

    We. Need. Patience.

  10. James Online

    November 8, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    Marcus doesn’t see the floor well or execute on offense. That’s what I mean by below average offensively. He is a scorer, not a shooter, and doesn’t understand spacing or combinations. Selfish. Nothing creative about his game. Poor instinctually. I understand he’s a home town favorite, but guys like him are dime a dozen in the NBA. Willie Green is a much better option off the bench. That’s just the way I see it.
    It has been a joy to watch the way the Hornets are playing overall this year, and I give lots of the credit to Monty Williams who is quickly learning the ropes. He’s a lot like another young coach, Keith Smart, at Golden State (where I am a season ticket holder). A treat to watch them both.

  11. L_Reazy

    November 8, 2010 at 10:19 pm

    Once again, I gotta agree with ‘James Online’ … and trust me yawl … he is not me, and I am not him … lol! I know I’ve agreed with him twice in the last two hours, but honestly, that’s the way I’d sum-up Marcus’ game too.

    I play against cats like him all the time, and they love the one-on-one competition, but when their are plays to be ran their game usually comes to a halt like ‘And-1’ ball players!

    So, we all agree that Marcus Thornton is a talented scorer, right? Well, I’ll raise a different question about him then … to piggy-back off of what ‘James Online’ was eluding to;

    How many believe Marcus Thornton has a high I Q for the game of basketball?


    • Caleb

      November 9, 2010 at 9:53 am

      I do.

    • 42

      November 9, 2010 at 10:03 am


  12. C.C.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:59 am

    The Hornets would be foolish to trade keep Marcus or not continue to focus on developing him. Last year when CP3 broke down, he was one of the only reasons I continued to watch the hornets. Not that CP3 and Marcus are my only reason for watching the Hornets play. Lets be honest, we looked horrible last year on defense. Darren and Marcus were two rookies that were giving every hornet fan some hope for the future. Now all of a sudden after a funky preseason start, people are beginning to doubt that this guy is a great value to this club. This is the 3rd head coach/system that this guy has had to adjust to in less than one year. Can’t some of you see potential when it’s staring you in the face? Come on guys???

  13. C.C.

    November 9, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Sorry, I meat the Hornets would be foolish to trade Marcus or not continue to focus on developing him.

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