It's doubtful that anyone on the Nets is actually flipping coins to determine Marcus Thornton's nightly performances, but sometimes it feels that way. Check out his March game log so far:
Thornton can't seem to find any sort of middle ground. Either he makes a basket or two on the way to a modest handful of points, or he catches fire from the perimeter to spark a victory.
In ten games since arriving via trade on February 19, he has scored ten points or less six times, and 19 points or more on four occasions. Never has he finished between those two figures as a Net.
Brooklyn would probably like their superstars, such as Deron Williams or Joe Johnson, to show some semblance of consistency. Meanwhile, the team's very content with Thornton's up and down outputs. Basketball games often become series of runs, with the winner usually being the team to strike frequent or late outbursts on the scoreboard. To the Nets, Thornton embodies the promise of a couple of those runs every other game.
Examples are abundant. Thornton scored 10 of the Nets' 12 points in a five-minute stretch to start the fourth quarter on Saturday night against the Wizards in a game the team would eventually lose. On March 5, Thornton poured in 13 points in a three-minute stretch before halftime to pad a Nets lead over the Memphis Grizzlies that they would never relinquish.
In a March 9 win over the Sacramento Kings, Thornton dropped 19 points in a wild five-minute stretch bridging the third and fourth quarters. After the game, head coach Jason Kidd jokingly summarized Thornton's offensive mentality.
"There are plays, he knows them—it’s called 'shoot it,'" Kidd said per ESPN.com, before adding that Thornton is a "threat behind the arc [who] can also get to the basket. He’s played extremely well since the trade and he gives us another weapon offensively."
The duality of Thornton's attack is why he has fit so well in the Nets' system so far. As Reed Wallach of Nets Daily notes, Thornton doesn't need much space to unleash his jump shot, but will also storm to the basket if guarded too closely. Such versatility allows Thornton to either create his own shot off the dribble or be the beneficiary of kick-out passes from slashers like Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston.
Thornton's contributions are especially exciting for Brooklyn since they fill an offensive need that ex-Net Jason Terry simply couldn't. Brooklyn had hoped that Terry, acquired via trade with the Boston Celtics last summer, would provide the occasional scoring outburst off the bench.
But Terry, who scored at least 14 points on 17 different occasions last season, could not muster the same effort for the Nets. He finished in double figures only six times in 35 games with the Nets. It wasn't a big surprise, then, when the Nets shipped Terry and big man Reggie Evans to the Sacramento Kings for Thornton last month.
Compared to Thornton's recent productivity, Terry's statistics are disappointing:
|Games||Minutes||Effective FG percentage||Points per game||20+ point games|
With the trade, the Nets' 2014-15 salary increased by less than $1 million, and they replaced Evans' rebounding ability by scooping up center Jason Collins off the free agent market. Therefore, the team basically just upgraded to Thornton from Terry, who won't be seeing game action until next season anyway:
Kings announce newly-acquired guard Jason Terry will miss the rest of the season to rehab his injured left knee.— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) February 22, 2014
Thornton's combustible offense shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the guard's career. He averaged 18.7 points per game split between the Kings and the New Orleans Hornets in 2011-12.
Despite having a down year for Sacramento before the February trade, he still broke out for the occasional monster game. He scored 42 points on 16-of-27 shooting against the stingy Indiana Pacers on January 24, and even lit up his future team for 24 points when the Kings hosted the Nets on November 11 of last year.
Most valuable for the Nets, however, is not Thornton's stat sheet but the team's 7-3 record since he was acquired. The Nets are jostling for playoff position and priming themselves for a postseason run. They don't expect Thornton to lead the charge every night, but the occasional offensive eruption is a huge boost for Brooklyn as they chase a higher seeding.
Potential playoff opponents should be very cognizant of Thornton's abilities. In a tightly matched series, bench play can easily determine who moves on to the next round. LeBron James may have hoisted the Finals MVP trophy last June, but it was reserve Shane Battier's six three-pointers in Game 7 that ignited the Miami Heat. In 2014, it could be Thornton who plays such a pivotal role.
All statistics from Basketball-Reference.com