[Wizards 2010-11 Player Preview Index: Gilbert Arenas, Hilton Armstrong, Andray Blatche,
Trevor Booker, Kirk Hinrich, Josh Howard, Yi Jianlian, JaVale McGee, Kevin Seraphin,
Al Thornton, John Wall, Nick Young.]
-by Kyle Weidie
I think Al Thornton really appreciates his situation. Appreciates, as in understands it and will take the necessary steps to respond accordingly. Sure, Thornton likely would rather be playing with a secure extension and not heading into the qualifying offer portion of his contract in the Summer of 2011. But were it not for this situation, Al might not have the opportunity to become the player he could be, which is a great unknown … speaking of, what is it that Al Thornton does anyway?
Well, let’s see how he spent his summer…
What I mean by Thornton “appreciating” his situation is that he’s been doing his best to be more of a veteran leader and has worked this
summer to bond with his relatively new teammates (some completely new). After spending time in his home state of Georgia and former NBA home of Los Angeles this summer, he showed up in Washington in early July to practice with the players at the mini-camp the team held prior to the Las Vegas Summer League. At the time, he admitted that he was overweight last season and that his focus this summer was to work on his body, get in better shape and improve his eating habits.
Thornton traveled with the team to Vegas, and thought about suiting up for a game at one point, but decided to let the rest of the guys have their chance. Knowing that Thornton knows he has a chance to start and that he’s done his part to be with the team provides a certain comfort that he is on the right track toward improvement … even if we’re still not exactly sure what he provides outside of diverse offensive athleticism without a consistent jumper or overall flow, along with potential adequate man-up defense, but questionable team defense.
Oh, and Thornton also started riding the Twitter wave this summer by opening an account, @AlThornton14. He’s quoted Winston Churchill, tried to dance to Beyonce in his living room, has gotten hungry for the season, has said he’s basically a vegan, but has also expressed love for Oreo cookies (via #RealTalk), and mostly, has hit up the gym. But more on Thornton’s Twitter exploits later in this post.
-by Adam McGinnis
2010-2011 is shaping up to be the most important season of Thornton’s professional basketball career. With Josh Howard not returning from injury until at least late November, if not later, he has the inside track to the starting job at the small forward. Aside from Howard, Yi Jianlian and possibly Nick Young and Cartier Martin could be also competing for minutes at the three spot. Or the Wizards might roll with a three-guard lineup of Hinrich/Wall/Arenas. The Washington Post’s Michael Lee recently wrote that the Wizards are concerned about Thornton’s consistency.
Let’s take a quick look at Thornton’s career per 36 minutes stats from Basketball-Reference.com:
I also decided to compare Thornton’s stats from starting to coming off the bench.
The takeaway is Thornton’s numbers are pretty consistent, regardless if he starts or not (of course, oddly enough, he has shot 8-percent better from deep coming off the bench for his career). Naturally, his points and rebounds increase with additional minutes. He is an athletic player who has ability to get out on the break and fill the lane, so there will be an opportunity for his game to benefit with Wall and Arenas pushing the ball up the court.
Thornton’s commitment to the defensive end and whether or not he can be a legitimate stopper will likely have more impact on his playing time than his offensive contributions.
-by Stephen Riley
Have you ever been disappointed by a full-length action movie? Tricked by the trailer when an actual sit down and study left you feeling like you deserved more? Those damn previews, they get you every time. They show just enough action, just enough excitement and flash just enough firepower to believe you’re on to something when you go purchase your ticket. Consider Al Thornton’s NBA career one big movie preview up to this point; some plays make you think ‘this guy’s the next big thing’ when an actual sit down and review can leave you feeling shortchanged.
Thornton’s potential is through the roof but his inconsistency has failed to inspire coaches with the same confidence that I reserve for him. He’ll drop double figures one night and single digits the next. He can be a ball hog at times and often fails to even look in a teammate’s direction. However, physically, Thornton’s got it all. The 6’8” swing man jumps out the gym, blocks shots, throws down hammerfied dunks and can shoot the J with range. A career 13.4 points per game scorer, Thornton has proven efficient when given the chance. The lone season where he averaged more than 30 minutes a game he responded with a career season, averaging just under 17 points and five rebounds per night in the ‘08 campaign.
He has the talent, he has the ability and he has that gamer quality you want to see, he just has to receive the minutes and do something with them. One quick click of his YouTube tape and you’ll think you’re watching the diet version of Josh Smith because Thornton has that kind of athletic ability. But see, that’s how he gets you. You watch the tape, you get excited and you go watch Thornton play and you come away wondering ‘where was that masked man I saw online?’ With more playing time this season, maybe this is the year where Thornton’s movie will actually fulfill the promise of his trailer.
The Perfect Play.
-by Beckley Mason
Al Thornton’s perfect play should take into account his phenomenal athleticism and consistent mid-range stroke as well as his weak passing and sub-par ball handling skills. These limitations narrow down the feasible options to wing isolations (he scored most efficiently last year from the left wing at 43-percent, per NBA Hot Spots ) and running him off of screens toward the basket, where he can finish over just about anyone.
Ideally, a high percentage of Thornton’s shots will come in transition—punching down alleys from Wall and putting back O-Boards off of Gilbert’s transition pull-ups. In the half court, here’s a look that will give Al an opportunity to finish at the rim off a curl, or going into a left wing mid range ISO series. You may notice that Thornton is not the first option in the play—he’ll often be the team’s fourth option, so don’t expect many pure ISO looks for him next year.
The team lines up in a 1-4 set with the four a little below free throw line extended. Wall (No. 2) dribbles Thronton (No. 14) off of the wing; Thornton cuts through the baseline (This should be someone who can run a baseline pick and pop like Blatche (No. 7)); Arenas (No. 9) holds at the wing; McGee (No. 34) finds Thornton’s man on the weak side block.
Wall comes off the Blatche screen to the middle/Weak side curl for Thornton. This is the primary action of the play, Wall coming middle and Blatche fading to the baseline for a mid range shot. On the weak side, Thornton comes off the screen from McGee, looking to curl into the middle. If he gets the middle he can catch and elevate over any small forward and drop in an 8-footer or take one dribble to get to the rim. As Thornton comes off, McGee looks to seal and roll should Thornton get the ball. Meanwhile, Arenas slides down to the corner to space the court for Thornton. If Thornton has can’t get the curl, he can flare slightly to the left wing.
Note: Thornton’s defender may get hung up defending the middle of the court as Wall penetrates, so the flare may also be a catch and shoot opportunity.
Note: This action puts a lot of pressure on Wall to both run the pick and roll and be aware of the weak-side opportunities that Thornton’s cut may open.
Thornton Iso off of the flare: After screening for Thornton, McGee waits for Wall to make a decision. If he kicks to Thornton, McGee needs to vacate the left side of the court. When Thornton gets the ball there will probably only be about 10 seconds left in the shot clock. He won’t have to hurry and will be operating from 16-20 feet with the help defense weakened by the primary Wall ball screen and the Thornton curl action. Arenas should now fade all the way to the corner so that if Thornton drives baseline, he will have a good kick out angle.
Go to work Al! The floor is spaced, the clock is winding down, it’s time for Thornton to take a dribble and pull up or try to get to the cup.
-by Arish Narayen
In the first piece I wrote for TAI, I had a chance to analyze the Wizards’ offseason options at small forward. Given my propensity for good timing, I wrote the post a few weeks before Josh Howard signed his one-year deal. Nevertheless, my conclusion from that exercise was that Washington should a) sign a veteran to fill their short-term need on the wing, and b) hope that Thornton becomes a serviceable player alongside John Wall.
What does Al need to do to succeed in the League? I don’t think his talent has ever been questioned, as clearly, the man has some ridiculous athletic ability. But highlight reel dunks notwithstanding, Thornton’s NBA career has been marked by inefficiency, and a lack of commitment to the team concept. In 2008-09, arguably Thornton’s best season as a professional, he averaged 16.8 points per game for the Clippers. However, his True Shooting Percentage that year was 50.2%, and the Clippers won 19 games.
Kevin Arnovitz’s January 2009 piece on ClipperBlog.com, which I referenced in my first TAI post, is particularly instructive on why Thornton’s talent has not yet translated to success in the NBA:
“When you look around the league, you see that capable teams have one of a few varieties of small forwards: Teams like Cleveland, Boston, and Denver have high usage small forwards who are pure, complete scorers, who can do everything well [check out Carmelo Anthony's rebounding rate]. Teams like the Lakers, Orlando, Utah, and Detroit have smart facilitators who can pass, handle the ball, and use their length to defend. Teams like San Antonio and Houston have historically allocated the SF position to a defensive specialist who doesn’t need the ball, but can spot up if necessary.
It seems to me that if a starting wing player is not one of the two most efficient scorers on the floor, then you need him to create opportunities for others, or deny the opponent’s most potent perimeter threat similar opportunities. Al Thornton has little capacity or inclination to do either of these things.”
So, what can Thornton do to improve? He needs to figure out his role within the team. Thornton needs to maximize his strengths (scoring in transition, scoring off cuts to the basket, getting to the free throw line, using his athleticism and length to bother opposing wings) and minimize his weaknesses (relying too much on his jump-shot, poor ball-handling, getting lost in team defense) to be successful. It is unlikely that Thornton will be the primary, or even secondary, scoring option when he is on the floor for the Wiz in 2010-11. As such, he might have limited time to show his worth to the Wizards’ brass. It is highly unlikely that the Wizards’ extend him before the season, so Thornton essentially has the upcoming year to make the Wizards’ think hard about extending to him that qualifying offer for 2011-12. There has never been more of an incentive for Thornton to ‘put it all together.’ If he can channel his efforts into playing defense, rebounding, and running the floor for transition buckets, then Al Thornton may have a future in Washington.
Did You Know?
-by Adam McGinnis
Since in 2010 we all live in an online Twitter world, I figured the best way to approach Thornton’s “Did You Know?” section was to straight up ask him. Beforehand, I have found Al very approachable and engaging on Twitter, so I was hoping he would respond to my tweet question of what fans might not know about him. Here was his answer:
I snapped pictures of Big Al about to throw down with Gerald Wallace against the Bobcats last spring, so I am totally buying him not backing down to anyone. I followed up by inquiring about his favorite Ciara tunes, asked whether he was a PC or Mac guy and what cell phone he uses.
I then fired up the internet machine and tracked down the youtubes of his Ciara playlists.
I really dug, “I Proceed”
“Love Sex Magic” could be my favorite Ciara song.