by Colin Powers
The first-year man outta the Bayou put on a show last night in Cleveland, methodically dismantling the Cav defense for 37 points in a valiant losing effort. Along the way, he set the franchise-record for scoring output in a single quarter his 23 in the 2nd. This wasn’t the first such outburst out of the polished rook that GM Jeffrey Bower uncovered in the 2nd round of last June’s draft, and his dynamic collaboration with fellow freshman Darren Collison bodes well for the Hornets down the road. Nevertheless, Thornton has been a somewhat invisible man in spite of his impressive body of work, his name often forgotten in discussing the distinguished members of the 2009 Draft class.
How is it that a dude who averaged an efficient 20 ppg in his two years of SEC ball at LSU lasted until the stages of non-guaranteed money last June at the NBA Draft? Again, it seems, teams across the El distrusted their eyes, confining their evaluation methodology to some anachronistic formula that demands a player fit neatly within a standardized, tidy definition of a particular position. As a shooting guard, Thornton’s undersized 6-4 frame was apparently enough to discourage many-a-GM, their traditionalist approach to scouting blinding them from the simple fact that dude can score, on anyone. Proto-types are nice, but basketball is a game built on fluidity, creativity, and adaptability; you don’t need to fit some a priori mold of PG, SG, SF, PF, C to find success. Haven’t we learned anything from Monta Ellis, Craig Smith, Carl Landry, Chuck Hayes, Ben Gordon, etc? These guys get it done, period. They always have. Who is to say they won’t do the same in the League? Aren’t they worth taking a shot on if only because of their track record? Shit, sometimes unorthodoxy and a style that cannot be simplistically pigeonholed as “creator” or “shooter” or “interior scorer” makes you even more difficult to defend. There’s no blueprint for the D to base their preparation on.
Nevertheless, there will always be a bias against those guys who don’t fit into pre-conceived notions of positionality, and there will continue to be opportunities for teams to find a late gem like Marcus Thornton. He’s already topped 20 points in 8 games this season while maintaining the precision and efficiency of his college days (44% FG, 38% 3s, 79% FT). Last night he took just 22 shots to produce 37 points, and the economic nature of his stat line is furthered when you give his game the eye-test. Thornton’s not breathtakingly explosive but is more than adequate athletically with a relatively thick frame that keeps defenders from hanging off him and impeding his movements. Additionally, Thornton’s quick, clean mechanics and extensive range on his jumper force defenders to stay tight and opens up the dribble-drive. He has a smooth handle, solid footwork, and a veteran savvy beyond his years for finding space to get his shot off (see: fast-break pull-up jumper before LeBron could contest last night). In short, Thornton’s a refined, complete, versatile weapon who will get his at the tin, from mid-range and from distance. He also seems to be blessed with that somewhat intangible scoring know-how, that innate feel certain guys have for finding little creases and opportunities to exploit both on and off the ball, surprising you when you look up and see they’ve got 20 on the night.
This kind of gift for scoring the rock is rare and it doesn’t come in any prepackaged shape or size. Sometimes, husky, undersized big dudes without any hops just know how to get it done on the block (Z-BO, Luis Scola). Sometimes, smallish 2s without the blessing of freak fast-twitch fiber also get theirs no matter what (Joe Dumars, Jeff Hornacek, even Brandon Roy to a certain extent). Marcus is not gonna be the alpha male on a winning team, but he will be a valuable asset who knows his role…and plays it well. I think we’ll be hearing his name for years to come.