Will Marcus Thornton Trade Elevate Brooklyn Nets' Playoff Ceiling?

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 19, 2014

The Brooklyn Nets have a new toy to play with. 

Jason Kidd's squad has been steadily climbing up the ranks of the Eastern Conference, but the Nets are no longer content to go to war with the roster they'd been deploying night in and night out. According to NBA.com's David Aldridge, they've completed the first trade of the pre-deadline festivities: 

Hardly a blockbuster deal, but an important trade nonetheless. 

Brooklyn is in a rather precarious position, as it's now got over $200 million committed for the 2013-14 season and is still struggling to figure out its playoff ceiling. 

Is Marcus Thornton an upgrade over the dynamic duo of Jason Terry and Reggie Evans? Will he help this team find more success at the end of the Nets' campaign? 

Let's break it down. 


What Was Lost? 

Neither Terry nor Evans was making a big impact for the Nets during the 2013-14 season, and both have fallen out of the rotation at various points throughout the second season in the Barclays Center. 

At the time of the deal with Sacramento, Terry had played in 35 games, but he was spending just slightly over 16 minutes per contest on the court. The majority of the time, he was functioning as an overpaid cheerleader, though "overpaid" might always be redundant when discussing Mikhail Prokhorov's franchise. 

Maybe it's age-induced. Maybe it's because he was thrust into a situation where he wasn't as comfortable and couldn't spend as much time playing as he did with the Boston Celtics

Whatever the reason, Terry has struggled throughout his first go-round under Kidd. He's averaged only 4.5 points, 1.1 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game, and he's doing so while shooting 36.2 percent from the field. His much ballyhooed three-point shooting has dipped to 37.9 percent on limited tries from downtown, and a lack of impact from the perimeter pretty much makes him irrelevant. 

That quote just doesn't look so good anymore. 

As for Evans, he was receiving less time than the teammate moving across the country with him, but he had proved slightly more valuable. Just as you might expect, the energetic and passionate big man was making a huge impact on the glass whenever he was on the court. 

In fact, he was recording 13.4 boards per 36 minutes, and his rebounding percentages, according to Basketball-Reference, would be right up near the top of the league leaderboards if he'd played enough to qualify. 

Both Evans and Terry have their niches, but neither was a true game-changing player for the Nets. The former can be replaced internally be handing more minutes to Andrei Kirilenko and Mason Plumlee, and the latter has an upgrade coming in via Sacramento. 

As for the Kings, acquiring them has a few hidden benefits. Not only does it save a bit of money for next year and open the door for Ben McLemore to receive a handful more minutes during his rookie season, but these two players can be separated and traded in the offseason with more ease than Thornton could. 

This was not a move geared toward 2013-14 for the Kings, but nothing could be further from the truth when discussing the Nets. 


What Was Gained? 

Thornton may not be a star, but the 26-year-old shooting guard is an immediate upgrade over the 2-guard he was traded for. 

During the 2013-14 season, the oft-shooting backcourt member has been embroiled in the midst of a lengthy slump. He's averaging 8.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game, shooting only 38.1 percent from the field and 31.8 percent beyond the arc en route to recording those numbers. 

Fortunately for the Nets, this all feels like an aberration. 

Thornton's confidence has looked completely shaken, especially because his struggles are carrying over to the charity stripe, where his percentage has dipped from 88.1 last year to 80.8 this season. He's had trouble ceding playing time to the younger guys, and the lack of visual encouragement he's received from seeing the ball drop through the net hasn't helped things. 

A fresh start will do good things for him, especially because he's only 26 years old. Thornton is too young to decline this sharply, especially under two calendar years removed from averaging 18.7 points per game. 

As B/R's Stephen Babb explains, there's still a reason Brooklyn wanted to acquire him: 

The big takeaway is that this season has been uncharacteristic. Typically Thornton is a high-volume shooter who can absolutely light it up on any given night, and the Nets haven't forgotten that.

In Thornton, they see a close approximation to the Jason Terry of old—a born-and-bred shooter.

Even if Thornton continues to slump, he'll be no worse than Terry was this season. It's the classic case of zero risk and plenty of reward, because a comfortable Thornton is still capable of putting up a rather big night if he heats up in the early stages of the game. 


All About Playoff Positioning 

Just prior to the Thornton trade, the Nets were 24-27, sitting at No. 7 in the weak Eastern Conference standings. 

Amazingly enough, the ridiculously poor start to the season hasn't prevented this squad from remaining within striking distance of the No. 3 seed in the East. That currently belongs to the Toronto Raptors, who sit pretty with a 29-24 record. 

Yes, that means the gap is only four games. 

It's one that's easily overcome, especially if the newly acquired 2-guard proves to be a solid contributor, providing a scoring punch off the bench. Not only will he help the three-point shooting—Brooklyn is right in the middle of the pack in both attempts and makes, according to Basketball-Reference—but he should also be able to provide a boost in offensive efficiency. 

This might be surprising, given Brooklyn's penchant for acquiring veteran offensive talents, but the team's offensive rating (No. 18 in the NBA) is only slightly better than the defensive rating (No. 20). Replacing the slumping Terry with the slumping Thornton, who has much higher upside at this stage of their respective careers, will only help. 

Once more, that four-game gap between the Nets and Raptors can be closed, and there's a realistic possibility that Brooklyn trails only the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat in the final regular-season standings. 

OK. Cool. Does that matter? 

It's all about the playoff ceiling for this team, and Thornton doesn't really help improve that. This team—ever since it put together some of the pieces and actually began listening to Kidd—has been the third-best squad in the East. 

The Nets have gone 14-6 since the beginning of 2014, and only the Raptors (15-9) and Chicago Bulls (15-7) have really come close to matching the record. Hell, the Pacers have only gone 16-7 since the calendars flipped to 2014. 

Should Brooklyn manage to win a first-round playoff series, some credit will inevitably be handed out to Thornton. But the truth is, this team was really already in position to do so, despite what general perception might indicate. 

If the former King really wants to increase the team's playoff ceiling, he has to put the Nets in position to topple either the Pacers or Heat. 

Unless he's bringing a secret map to the Fountain of Youth along with him to the Barclays Center, that's not going to happen. Thornton may make the Nets marginally better, but that still doesn't raise the overall playoff ceiling. 


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