The Thornton Dilemma: 6th man or Starter?

If I had been told what Marcus Thornton’s numbers would be (13 ppg on 46% shooting, 39% from deep in 18(!) minutes) before the season started, it would have been pretty obvious who the Hornets’ starting shooting guard should be.  Particularly since last year Devin Brown was the whipping boy for everything wrong with the Hornets.  Well, Devin and Hilton.  And Julian.  And Peja.  And Chandler.  And . . . well anyone not named Chris Paul.

However, this season there is something to be said about the idea of continuing to start Devin Brown and using Thornton as a sixth man.  Despite Brown’s propensity for charges, badly run fast breaks, and horrible drives, he plays strong defense against the bigger, slower, shooting guards in the league and has been surprisingly good at spreading the floor for the first unit.  For a starting group that features West, Stojakovic and Collison(or Paul) as primary scorers, Devin Brown isn’t bad as a fifth option in a pinch.

Starting Brown has allowed Thornton – who heats up faster than a 14-year old discovering his first porn site – to come off the bench when two of the primary scorers sit down.  That has kept the pressure from falling entirely on the one remaining primary scorer, allowed Thornton to abuse second-tier talents, and has paid remarkable dividends.  In the minutes Thornton has played, the Hornets have averaged 1.14 points per 100 posessions, which is .07 higher than the team’s average, and the biggest offensive impact of anyone on the team.

It seems sensible then that Bower will continue to start Devin Brown, evaluate if he is contributing this game or not, and then replace him earlier or later with Thornton for a burst of explosive firepower.  There are also a number of you who have made comments that you are in agreement with the idea.

I’ve decided, however, that Thornton needs to start when Chris Paul returns for one reason only: Darren Collison.

The reality is that three of the Hornets best five or six players are guards who can only play the guard positions. (Thornton is a bad rebounder as a shooting guard, as a small forward he’d be a disaster)  Paul, of course, is going to command 36 or more of those minutes.  If Devin Brown also gets 20 minutes as a part-time starter, that leaves only 40 to split between two of the most effective players on the team.  That’s simply not good enough with the way Collison and Thornton have been playing.

To me, the the Hornets should bench Devin and run a staggered, three-man guard rotation of Paul, Thornton and Collison.  Paul and Thornton play 20 minutes together, Collison and Paul play 16 minutes together, and Collison and Thornton play 12 minutes together.  If having two small guards in Paul and Collison on the floor at the same time is hurting the Hornets, then pull in Devin Brown when needed.  That rotation keeps two excellent ball-handlers on the floor at all times, amps up the pace and aggressiveness, and gives away less defensively than one would assume since both Paul and Collison are very solid defenders despite their size. 

What do you think?   Thornton as 6th man, or starter?

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