It's no secret that the Sacramento Kings are in a transitional stage. As the Kings work through revamping their front office and frontcourt, shooting guards Marcus Thornton and Jimmer Fredette have been locked in an ongoing battle for minutes.
Rookie sensation Ben McLemore only needed six games to swipe the starting job from Thornton, who hasn't played since November 17. Most people expected McLemore to gradually ease into the job vacated by Tyreke Evans, but the first-round pick was forced into the role by Thornton's poor start to the season.
Fredette, the 10th pick in the 2011 draft, has had an up-and-down career with the Kings so far. He struggled as a timid rookie and was glued to the bench for much of the Keith Smart era, despite averaging 18.5 points per 36 minutes in 2012-13.
Jimmer rose to stardom at Brigham Young University through his sweet three-point stroke and shot 41.7 percent from deep last season. He also has a decent mid-range game and has developed a reliable teardrop.
Past Kings coaches have tolerated Thornton's streaky shooting, but Mike Malone has exercised a short leash with him after games like November 8 against the Portland Trailblazers, when Thornton went 2-11 and scored five points in 40 minutes.
After a four-point outing in 20 minutes the next night, Thornton exploded for 24 points off the bench against the Brooklyn Nets. A few days later, he was inexplicably benched for the next four games.
Now Jimmer has gone two games without getting on the court, and Thornton is back to 20-point performances like Sunday against the Golden State Warriors.
Consistent playing time helps shooters establish a rhythm, which is why Thornton typically puts up big numbers after a couple down games. If both received equal, steady playing time, Fredette would likely outscore Thornton.
Jimmer's classic move as a rookie was to drive to the elbow, get stuck, pivot and dish out to the perimeter. While he has evolved as a playmaker over the last two years, he's still not able to beat good defenders off the dribble.
Thornton, on the other hand, can slash to the rack in set offenses and move well in open space. He's a little bigger than Fredette and can absorb contact to finish plays.
While Jimmer's complete lack of in-game dunks throughout his career has done nothing to help the stereotypes about white men's hops, Thornton has flown high to throw down some nasty jams on the break.
Like most Kings, Thornton and Fredette struggle on defense. At 6’4” and 6’2” respectively, both are undersized shooting guards who aren’t quick enough to stay in front of point guards.
Aside from picking off the occasional pass, neither player can be considered a defensive force. The hope is Malone will hide their deficiencies in a strategic team defense like he did with Stephen Curry on the Warriors.
Advantage: The Other Team
Fredette's background at point guard helps him be a better passer in a half-court offense, but he won't wow anyone with crazy streetball passes. Still, his game is right for Malone's settled offense.
Thornton hasn't averaged two assists per game in any of his three full seasons in Sacramento and often stalls possessions by trying to take defenders one-on-one.
He's also more likely to pass his way into ESPN's Top 10 plays with alley-oop lobs like the one on the right. But as former Kings like Donté Greene and Hassan Whiteside proved, occasional flashy plays don't often turn into wins.
The Kings' 2013-14 season is unlikely to end in a playoff run. This year is more about seeing what players will benefit the team in the future and trading those with limited upside.
At this point, what is there to lose by giving Fredette a chance to prove himself? Even if the team doesn't improve, he'll boost his stock before the trade deadline and could attract a buyer.
Sacramento shouldn't cut Thornton out of the rotation entirely. Rather, they should split minutes between the two guards unless one is particularly hot.
If the Kings were in a different situation, Thornton would be an ideal sixth man à la Jamal Crawford. But giving Jimmer an honest crack at some real minutes will help the team in the long run.
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