Marcus Thornton and Vinnie Johnson

Marcus “Buckets” Thornton has been labeled by just about everyone as a pure scorer. Like it or not, the media has him portrayed as that, he scores a lot, and that’s that, right?

Nope. Not even close. What Marcus Thornton can be is so much more important than simply a one dimensional guy who puts points on the board. This may sound a bit crazy, but Thornton is a guard. He’s not a point guard or a shooting guard, and really shouldn’t be labeled as either quite yet. The guy I find him most similar to, and one in which he may wind up most resembling is…

Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson

Vinnie is best known for being the third guard on Pistons teams that won both the 1989 and 1990 NBA Championships. His nickname, “The Microwave”, was given to him via Danny Ainge, of the then rival Celtics, because of his knack for instantly heating up the scoring. Vinnie came off the bench and is regarded as the epitome of how valuable a sixth man can be.

Standing at 6’2, and with a skill set suited for both guard positions, Johnson was able to relieve either Joe Dumars at shooting guard, or Isiah Thomas at point guard. Along with their championships, that trio holds the unofficial title of best back court ever.

Offensively, his jumper was the number one move in his arsenal, and he hit it with precision. When they weren’t falling, it didn’t change too much, as he just kept shooting until they started going in. Vinnie attacked the rim hard and played with a fearless style. He had good court vision and was often able to make passes that others wouldn’t have even realized were possible.

He cared passionately about winning and was willing to sacrifice his body for the cause, as was the case in the rather well known head to head collision with Adrian Dantley in the 1987 Eastern Conference Championship. A prowess for offensive rebounding worked in his favor as well.

The Differences

Vinnie was likely a better ball handler than Marcus will turn out to be, even with an optimistic projection. Johnson averaged nearly five assists per game for his career. Thornton’s career high is only 7, but he’s been running the offense for the Bees more often, and effectively, as the season progresses, and his assist per minute stats are reflective of that.

Johnson was commonly regarded as the best offensive rebounding guard during his time in the league, so he will likely remain better than Thornton at that also, but make no mistake about it- Thornton attacks the offensive glass hard.

Johnson was a bit shorter, slightly quicker, and probably a little better at two-point jumpers and finishing. What Marcus has over Vinnie is a three point shot. Already an adequate .377% shooter, Marcus can only expect to improve in the future, especially once CP3 comes back into the picture. Paul has a propensity to find wide open three point shooters, which should bode well for Thornton’s efficiency numbers in the coming years.

Note- The three point line was introduced into the NBA during Johnson’s career, explaining why he was never a threat from there despite being known as a good shooter.

The Similarities

Obviously the number one characteristic that both these competitors share is the ability to put points on the board in a hurry. Both guys are jump shooters and drivers. Marcus hasn’t been quite as spectacular at finishing as he would like, but already is a guy who can hit the hole hard, and will do so repeatedly if you give him the chance. Johnson was that same way.

Scrappy play and hustle define them both, which might just be why both are fan favorites. Johnson’s legacy has lasted decades in Detroit, where he is still held with the utmost regard.

Thornton’s on the other hand, is just beginning. Helped out by his ties to LSU and local roots, Marcus already has his own unofficial cheering section, the self proclaimed “Thornton’s Thunder”, in section 120. Sporting a four seat wide sign, the group has been among Buckets’ biggest supporters throughout the year. From their often answered chants of “We want Marcus”, to their introduction to him at Casino Night, they have made it known that Hornets fans are thrilled to have him. that’s something that can’t be said about all players in the NBA.

It’s very, very hard to root for guys who just don’t seem to care, and are unwilling to give it their all. That way of playing translated over to the defensive side for Vinnie, and although Marcus isn’t yet considered a particularly good defender, his attitude and propensity to work hard will certainly establish him as someone not to be trifled with in the near future.

The commonly overlooked connection between the two is the capability of playing either guard position, and herein lies something grand. With a guy like Marcus coming off the bench, the team has the opportunity to force other opponents to play to it’s strength, as opposed to our recent countering of opponents’ moves.

The argument here isn’t that Marcus can’t be a starting shooting guard, because he can, and is as of right now. What matters is that he’s capable of being more than that. As a wise man once said to me, “It’s not important who starts, it’s important who finishes.” Sixth men bring a whole new dynamic into the game when they enter. The instant burst of energy and firepower that can turn a tight game into a ten point lead within minutes is huge. A true sixth man is something that the Hornets have drastically missed since the inefficient Jannero Pargo left, and that’s saying something.

I have a fondness for guys like Manu Ginobili, who are just willing to do whatever it takes to win, regardless of the starting lineup. They are called team players and in order for a team to win a title, it’s imperative that guys are willing to work within a system. Thornton is that kind of player.

If Collison winds up being sent elsewhere this off-season, attached to an expiring or in exchange for something else, it will have a lot to do with Thornton’s performance while handling the ball in the past few months. When you have a guy like Marcus who can instantly heat up the offense by himself, it’s unwise to limit him to playing almost entirely off the ball. With Paul and Collison both on the roster, there won’t be much room for Marcus to handle the rock, and consequently some of his best attributes will fall into the wayside.

Thornton is a good shooter, an excellent scorer, and has excelled in the starting shooting guard role for the Bees. That said, given his sixth man skills, it’s hard to see him staying in the starting roll for too long.

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