I think we can all agree the Celtics won’t be raising banner 18 in the immediate future, and more likely than not the 2014-15 NBA season will result in another lottery pick come June, regardless of how ardently Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley & Co. argue the contrary. It’s been a year since Danny Ainge traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets, launching the process of stockpiling draft picks and cap-friendly contracts. Since the Celtics failed to cash in those commodities in exchange for fireworks this summer, this season’s preview will have a Wyc Grousbeck theme, focusing on the hodgepodge of C’s pieces in a series we’ll call Asset Management. Next up: Marcus Thornton.
The second-round pick that later became Marcus Thornton was traded for a dude named Stanko Barac when “Li’l Buckets” was still a Kilgore College sophomore, and thus his well traveled NBA road was paved before it even started.
Dealt again on draft day for a pair of future second-round picks, the LSU transfer immediately launched an assault on a list of doubters that’s weirdly evergrowing for a player whose NBA potential as a volume scorer was rather accurately assessed by DraftExpress from the start. In his only full season on the Hornets, Thornton averaged 14.5 points on 55.0 percent true shooting in 25.6 minutes a night alongside point guards Chris Paul and fellow rookie Darren Collison.
Traded in season twice — from New Orleans to Sacramento for Carl Landry in 2011 and from the Kings to the Brooklyn Nets for Jason Terry and Reggie Evans last season — Thornton has been consistently productive ever since. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound shooting guard has averaged between 17.3 and 20.3 points per 36 minutes and produced a PER between 14.0 and 18.2 each step of the way — save for a 46-game stretch in Mike Malone’s system to start last season.
Outside of his 3-point percentage (36.1), Thornton’s career through five seasons compares fairly favorably to Boston’s own Dana Barros, another oft-traded and under-appreciated scoring threat from age 22-26.
- Thornton (2009-14): 8,894 min, 13.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.5 apg, 0.9 spg, 53.8 TS%, 15.9 PER
- Barros (1989-94): 7,473 min, 9.2 ppg, 2.7 apg, 1.6 rpg, 0.8 spg, 55.3 TS%, 15.3 PER
The following winter, Barros submitted the finest season of his 14-year career, averaging 18.3 points (63.2 TS%) per 36 minutes and earning a 1995 NBA All-Star Game invitation. Now, let’s not jump to any conclusions about Thornton’s All-Star campaign this winter, especially since players on average are better now than in the mid-1990s and statistical appreciation for a player’s contributions has evolved beyond, “Hey, this guy can really fill it up.”
Of the 42 rosters that have allowed 109 points per 100 possessions since he entered the league, Thornton’s been on four of them, and those groups were slightly worse with him on the floor. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for his defensive impact. So, Thornton is who he’s always been — a scorer, plain and simple — and he believes a healthy Rondo can help him return to being the productive one he was as a rookie on Paul’s Hornets.
“Playing with Rondo, you’re going to get shots, because he’s looking to pass first,” he said. “So, with a scorer like myself, you kind of get the big eye when you have a guy like that out there. I’m looking forward to it, and I’m ready to go. … Playing with guys like CP and Rondo, you get a different feel. They’re actually looking for you first until they’re going into their own thing, so just playing with those guys as a scorer it makes you want to play every night.”
He’s not exactly hiding the fact he’ll be looking to shoot this season, and a Celtics team that ranked among the five worst offensive groups in the league last year will give him the green light. Take Monday’s preseason opener, for example, when Thornton attempted 13 shots in 14 minutes. How much playing time he ultimately earns will depend entirely upon how porous the C’s defense is with him on the floor. Still, he’ll have plenty of opportunity to prove himself in Rondo’s absence, and perhaps defensive stalwarts Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart will fuel his fire.
“Avery picks up 94 [feet],” said Thornton, “so being out there with those guys will only amp up my level.”
Regardless, Thornton’s true impact is as an $8 million expiring contract, an asset that helped Brooklyn acquire a productive veteran (Jarrett Jack) and a 20-year-old first-round pick project (Sergey Karasev) in the C’s three-team trade with the Cavaliers over the summer. His value should only increase come trade deadline time, since he’ll have the eye of both playoff teams in need of scoring and lottery clubs shedding salary cap space next summer.
Asset Rating: C
This has been another edition of Asset Management. Check out more Celtics player valuations below.
Asset Management: Jeff Green’s Celtics future
Asset Management: Tyler Zeller’s Celtics future
Asset Management: Kelly Olynyk’s Celtics future
Asset Management: Marcus Smart’s Celtics future
Asset Management: Avery Bradley’s Celtics future
Asset Management: Jared Sullinger’s Celtics future