This summer has been a fresh start for the Sacramento Kings. There's new ownership, new front office, new coaches and new players. For once, fans can think about the future without worrying about whether or not the team will actually be here.
But in all this talk about the future, one current player stands out to me as someone that seems to have been left by the wayside in most Kings fans' minds: Marcus Thornton.
Last season was not a particularly great one for Thornton. Keith Smart moved him to the bench after a year and a half of starting and also fell victim to Smart's inconsistent rotations and ill-defined roles (as did most of the team). However, Thornton let his displeasure show and that combined with his contract (second highest to just John Salmons) and lack of defensive effort caused him to lose some favor with many fans. A lot of conversation among the fans has involved how to trade Thornton in a salary dump so as to clear some space for someone else, especially since the Kings drafted Ben McLemore.
Marcus Thornton should not be discounted so easily.
For starters, Thornton's salary isn't exactly an albatross. This year he becomes the highest paid King at $8.05 million and then his contract ends in 2014-15 at $8.575 million. Only O.J. Mayo and Caron Butler make less money than Thornton as the highest paid players on their team.
Thornton is also entering the prime of his career, as he will be just 27 years old when his contract ends.
One knock on Thornton is that he's too one-dimensional, focusing only on scoring. That's true enough, but Thornton also manages to be very good at what he does. In both of the last two years, Thornton ranks in the Top 10 Guards for Per 36 Minute scoring while shooting at least 42.9% from the field and playing at least 1500 minutes a season.
The only players on those lists making less than Thornton are Kyrie Irving (rookie contract) and Jamal Crawford (33 year old journeyman who already had his big contract).
Thornton's been able to do so much damage despite playing much of the time without an elite passing guard. MySynergySports ranked Thornton as the 39th most effective offensive player in the NBA last season as he scored 1.02 Points Per Possession. He's most effective when spotting up, and this will be the first year in Sacramento that he will be playing with a pass-first Point Guard in Greivis Vasquez, which should increase his efficiency.
Unlike the other two players Sacramento could play at Shooting Guard (Ben McLemore and Jimmer Fredette), Thornton has no issues with creating his own shot. He's able to take the ball to the basket, pull up for jumpers, or come off screens and catch and shoot. One thing he doesn't do often enough is get to the line with just 3.3 FTA per 36 minutes.
Just like with the franchise, this season can be a fresh start for Thornton. Ben McLemore is probably not ready to be the starter just yet, and while he's the future, having Marcus Thornton on hand gives the Kings the opportunity to bring him along slowly while also allowing Thornton the room to do what he does best. Thornton is still an asset to this team, and with Tyreke gone, he'll have every chance to prove it.
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