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.

[table id=7 /]

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.

[table id=8 /]

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.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.