According to several sources, the Hornets and Kings are finalizing a trade whereby the New Orleans Hornets will send second year swingman Marcus Thornton and cash to the Sacramento Kings for scoring forward Carl Landry. Thornton, who played collegiately at nearby Louisiana State University, was clearly a hometown favorite and will undoubtedly be missed by many of his fans at New Orleans. Although the trade is still being finalized and has not been made official yet, I take this opportunity to review Thornton's contributions to the Hornets since his joining the team as a rookie last year and comment on why the contemplated trade may be good for both Thornton and the Hornets.
Marcus Thornton was one of the surprises of the 2009 draft, stepping into a big role after head coach Byron Scott was fired at the beginning of the season and the Hornets were depleted by injuries. He finished the season averaging a solid 14.5 points per game on 45.1% shooting. Considering that many second round draft picks don't ever make it in the NBA, Marcus Thornton in his first year was easily one of the most productive second round draft picks of the past decade and easily justified the two future second round draft picks given up by ex-Hornets general manager Jeff Bower to acquire him.
That said, last year the situation was nearly perfect for Thornton when the Hornets played an up-tempo style and he toiled with almost no significant competition at the shooting guard position. Jeff Bower, who as general manager undoubtedly had Thornton scouted before the draft, knew his game well and played to his strengths with a faster style after stepping into Byron Scott's position as head coach of the Hornets.
This year, however, it was a completely different story as new head coach Monty Williams has emphasized defense over offense and slowed the tempo, leading to less shots, more half court sets and regular milking of the shot clock. Although Thornton showed flashes of scoring ability from time to time, occasionally scoring in quick flurries, overall even his most ardent supporters would have to admit that he really struggled this year in the new system, scoring a lowly 7.5 points per game with a Field Goal % that hovered around the mediocre 40% mark for most of this season.
Some might blame Monty's sporadic use of Marcus which might have made it harder for Marcus to find a groove as a volume shooter. There were even some rumors that Monty and Marcus did not get along. Others point to Marcus' inability to find his way in Monty's defensive scheme particularly early in the season. However, the most likely reason for his inability to find his groove was simply the fact that the new system was never suited for Thornton who is best in transition and fast tempo offense.
Consider Thornton's scoring efficiency this season relative to seconds used in the shot clock (below stats are from 1/19/11 according to www.82games.com):
Thornton was at his best this year when shooting early in the shot clock, on the fast break and in transition, recording an excellent 61.2% effective Field Goal % when shooting after 0 to 10 seconds used on the shot clock. Thornton's effective Field Goal % dropped precipitously if the Hornets took longer than 10 seconds to shoot the ball. In fact, Thornton was increasingly poor as a shooter the later his shot came in the offense, with an atrocious 32.4% effective Field Goal % when shooting with 21+ seconds used on the shot clock.
This season isn't a total aberration either. Even in Thornton's good rookie year when he played more frequently at his natural shooting guard position, Thornton was still at his best shooting early and shot increasingly worse the longer the Hornets took to shoot in the offense:
Most importantly however, whereas 46% (nearly half) of Thornton's shots last year were within 0-10 seconds used on the shot clock, this year, only 28% of his shots came within 0-10 seconds used on the shot clock in Monty's slow-down offense. This is the main reason why Thornton did so well last season while struggling so much as a scorer this season.
Just for purposes of comparison, let's take a look at the shot clock usage shooting stats for Willie Green, who has emerged as the Hornets' current starting shooting guard:
These stats, again provided by www.82games.com, indicate that Willie's scoring efficiency does not change too much whether he shoots early or late in the shot clock. In fact, his effective Field Goal % has been highest when he shoots shortly before the shot clock expires (21+ seconds), which is the exact opposite of Thornton who has been the least accurate with the shot clock winding down. Willie's steady scoring efficiency this year regardless of the shot clock is largely in line with his efficiency the previous two years when Willie played in Philadelphia which also employed a similarly slow-paced offense.
Despite Thornton showing some ability as a rebounder this year and signs of improvement on defense as the season has matured, the slowdown, milk the shot clock attack employed by Coach Williams simply did not play into Thornton's strengths on offense. Since the Hornets were frequently outscored last year when playing the faster paced style despite Thornton's surprisingly strong play, there was little chance that Monty would quicken the pace this year just to suit Thornton. Thornton, at times buried in the rotation this season behind Trevor Ariza, Marco Belinelli and Willie Green, simply had to go.
If the trade that would send Thornton to the Kings goes through before the trade deadline as speculated, the Hornets would receive in exchange for Thornton an experienced and reliable scorer in Carl Landry who, at his best, crashes the offensive glass and has a fantastic knack for scoring around the basket (career 54% shooter). In Sacramento, where the Kings play fast and loose, shoot first and worry about defense later, Thornton will enjoy a new beginning and a chance to reclaim the form he enjoyed as a rookie.
It might just work out well for both the Hornets and Thornton.
__________________________________________________________________________________________ NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 22: Marcus Thornton #5 of the New Orleans Hornets shoots the ball during the game against the San Antonio Spurs at the New Orleans Arena on January 22, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Hornets defeated the Spurs 96-72. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) __________________________________________________________________________________________