Well, well, well.
From the first day of the season, this story always had a sense of inevitability to it. I never wanted to write it, but I always had a sneaking suspicion that I'd have no choice.
And now here we are.
Marcus Thornton is a Sacramento King.
Before I begin, let me make one thing clear. I've been a fan of Dell Demps' moves until this point. I liked his decision to move Darren Collison for Trevor Ariza (not so much Monty Williams' usage of Ariza in a perimeter, shooting role, but that's neither here nor there). I think Jarrett Jack is an infinitely better player than he's shown so far. I think Demps' ability to swallow his pride on Jerryd Bayless was impressive. And I refuse to buy that Demps gave away the "asset" that was Peja Stojakovic's expiring contract. Not only is the EC market saturated, Demps cleverly worked a return of a trade exception exactly equal to Peja's contract's value.
So no, I never believed the "so many assets and so little to show for it" line. To claim that is to not only overstate the value of New Orleans' assets and underrate the return on those assets, but also to completely ignore the Chris Paul and team ownership situations.
But enough about that. What do we make of this trade?
Carl Landry, the Hornet
One of the most glaring holes on the Hornet roster was the front court. As many reported before the trade actually took place, New Orleans never actively shopped Marcus Thornton. Rather, they listened to offers, and when a potential remedy for their front court woes came up, Dell Demps listened.
So the question becomes: how well does Landry fill that front court hole?
The thing that stands out first and foremost is Landry's defensive rebounding. The league average rebounding percentages for bigs tend to be around 10/20/15, offensive/defensive/total. For the Kings in 2010-2011, Landry's at 10/10.6/10.2. For his career, he's at a meager 10/14/12. For reference, Marcus Thornton's defensive rebounding percentage stands at 17% to Landry's 10%.
But in a sense, New Orleans can afford to overlook that a little bit. The Hornets have been an elite defensive rebounding team all year, even after Emeka Okafor went down. It's one of the central tenets of Monty Williams' defensive philosophy. Even if Landry does not return to his earlier and better rebounding percentages, there's a decent chance it won't hurt the team too badly. New Orleans emphasizes rebounding from its non-big positions, and when Landry is on the floor, he'll be supported by that luxury as well.
Landry as a defender is right around league average, as per Synergy's defensive data. His relative strong suit on the defensive end is in isolation situations (where he allows opponents 32% on field goals). Overall, he'll fit right into Monty Williams' defensive rotations. As much as I think Thornton's "bad" defense was overstated (an extensive Synergy post on him, Jack, and Green coming Saturday), Landry will almost certainly provide more value on the defensive end.
But where Landry will make his most significant impact is on offense. It's no secret that we're a really, really bad offensive team. Here are the current Hornets ranked by offensive possessions used and with their offensive points per 100 possessions listed. 107 is league average.
1. David West, 111
2. Chris Paul, 124
3. Trevor Ariza, 97
4. Emeka Okafor, 113
5. Willie Green, 101
6. Marco Belinelli, 105
7. Marcus Thornton, 99
8. Jarrett Jack, 95
9. Jason Smith, 98
Outside of Chris Paul, who's basically played a different sport, David West, who's a solid supporting star, and Emeka Okafor, who's had a terrific year, that's a ton of really bad offense. No Hornet outside the Big 3 (and Aaron Gray in limited minutes) ranks above league average.
Carl Landry? Through 6000 career minutes, he's at 118 points/100 possessions. For all the talk about Thornton's potential, the fact is, even including his outstanding rookie season, his career points/100poss stands at 107- exactly the league average. Landry isn't "instant offense" the way Thornton is, but he's certainly the much, much better scorer at this point (and even if we assume Thornton continues to develop, he has a ways to go before reaching Landry's levels of efficiency).
Importantly, Landry produces much of his offense for himself. This year, Marcus Thornton has been assisted on 54.7% of his made field goals. Landry? 49.6%. Landry leads the NBA in field goal percentage near the rim, has a solid array of post moves (primarily up fakes, according to Kings fans and those who watch him more closely than me), and he's got a decent midrange game as well. Granted, he's something of a black hole- when the ball goes into him, he's getting a shot up. But in general, that's exactly what the second unit needs- an efficient scorer that can get efficient shots.
The biggest drawback to Landry is his contract. Landry is an unrestricted free agent this summer. The allure of playing with Chris Paul must be mentioned, but Landry originally went to Sacramento in the pursuit of a starting job. Would he agree to back up David West through the prime of his career? Maybe, but I personally do not see it. Landry would be an intriguing fall back option if David West departs... but if David West departs, things will most likely have gone horribly awry anyway.
But let's go back to the original question: does Landry fill the front court hole? Yes, he definitely does. He hustles after loose balls, he'll fit in defensively, his biggest weakness (d-rebounding) is one we've shown we can effectively hide, and his offensive production looks fantastic.
Marcus Thornton, the King
And with that, we come to MT5.
We'll have plenty of time for more personal reflection on Thornton's time as a Hornet in the upcoming days (he was my first ever interview and just a great, great guy). But for now, let's try and look at this with as little bias as we possibly can.
Marcus Thornton was superb as a rookie. He produced 111 points per 100 possessions on 25.3% usage. He posted an effective field goal percentage of 52%. He was tremendous off the ball, and while he took a lot of shots, he also made a lot of shots. While I don't fully discount his extremely pedestrian (99 points per 100 possessions) performance in 2010-2011, I also don't think it's indicative of his true value (not to get into too much detail, but Monty Williams' erratic rotation of Thornton in and out of the lineup was at least mildly absurd).
But that last statement leads us to the very heart of what this discussion is all about- what is Marcus Thornton's "true value"? It's closer to his 2009-2010 performance, sure. I think almost all of us agree on that. But here's the more important thing. Thornton was 22 last year; he'll be 24 this June. If you analyze player performance curves by age, you'll see that treating Thornton as a "rookie" and predicting his future performance from such a framework is a bit daft. As much as I love Marcus Thornton as a player (and think Monty Williams woefully misused him), I think his ceiling is far closer to his rookie season performance than most people would assume. I realize there will be constant fear of the question "what if he turns into an All Star"- but statistically speaking, it's unlikely.
Thornton is a huge usage scorer that for various reasons was not getting it done this season. Monty Williams seemed unlikely to hand him the consistent minutes he needed to possibly bust out of his season long slump. From a raw production standpoint, Carl Landry will almost certainly outdo whatever Thornton would have done in limited minutes through the rest of the season. But there's also a reasonable argument that in terms of overall value (and here, I'm talking future, theoretical Thornton, not crappy, current Thornton) Landry and MT5 are a lot closer than we think.
Again, there's the not small issue of Landry being a UFA. But with their current attitude towards Thornton, what were the odds of the front office matching a solid offer for Thornton anyway? What were the odds of Thornton wanting to stick around and not take a qualifying offer to get out of New Orleans quickly, given his extremely odd and minimal role on the team?
I understand that those are things the front office can and should be criticized for. The Hornets have no excuse for driving down Thornton's value and selling low on him. But at the same time, those things don't enter the trade calculus for me. The team's treatment of MT5- a local favorite, an exciting scorer, a decently charismatic guy off the court- isn't beyond reproach. But taking those things as a given, a Landry-Thornton deal makes a good deal of sense on paper.
I do like the front court rotation that's shaping up for the remainder of the season. David West/Carl Landry/Emeka Okafor is a really solid trio from both an offensive and defensive perspective, and the addition of Landry makes a Gray/Mbenga duo at backup center decently palatable. What happens with Jason Smith? I don't know, but it's not a terrible question to have.
For me, there's no question that the Hornets improved themselves from at least now through April. And to reiterate the above point, while the Hornets' devaluation of Marcus Thornton was criminal, it's less likely to cost them than a purely sentimental perspective (one that I certainly adopted when I first learned of the trade) might suggest.
Any analysis of this trade will be incomplete until we learn what happens with Landry this summer and until we find out what further moves Dell Demps makes over the next couple days.
I won't say that I'm a fan of this trade because I'm not a fan of losing Marcus Thornton, a young, talented, cost-controlled player that should have been properly valued. But I am a fan of Landry, and if Okafor, Ariza, Paul, and West stay healthy, this team has just as good a shot of making some noise in the first round of the playoffs as it did with Thornton on board.
Welcome to New Orleans, Carl. Go Hornets.