By Nick Peruffo
Until Wednesday night’s 92-89 win over the streaking Orlando Magic, it hadn’t been the best season for New Orleans’ Marcus Thornton. After averaging 14.5 per game as one of the Hornets’ two rookie surprises last season (the other being the departed Darren Collison), the Baton Rouge native suddenly found himself out of the rotation under new head coach Monty Williams. With offseason acquisitions Marco Belinelli and Willie Green enjoying a majority of the minutes at shooting guard, Thornton has often been the odd guard out, logging 8 dreaded DNP-CD’s. Despite his recent struggles, he’s continued to work on his game, and Wednesday night it paid off.
“The last few weeks it’s been kind of rough, but I’ve been in the gym every morning before everybody, getting a couple shots up,” Thornton said. “I‘d like to give a shout out to Fred Vinson because he told me this would be one of my breakout games and it was. He worked with me the last couple days. It’s good to have coaches like that.”
Against Orlando, Belinelli sprained his ankle early in the first quarter. Thornton proved Vinson correct, outplaying Green enough to stay on the floor throughout the tightly contested fourth quarter and overtime. In 32 minutes, Thornton recorded a team high 22 points to go along with nine rebounds, hitting several clutch jumpers to secure the win for the Hornets.
“I just wanted to step up,” Thornton said after the game. “Marco [Belinelli] is a big part of our offense, so I just wanted to step up and fill the void that he left. My teammates were very supportive when I got in there. They told me just to go out there and do what I do best, which is to go out there and play hard.”
There has never been any question that he can score, but the knock on Thornton has been his defense. Though the Magic did miss their fair of open looks, Thornton did hold J.J. Reddick to only 5 points on 2-11, contesting his shots with a consistent hand in the face. His 9 rebounds were also key in keeping Orlando off the offensive boards. When asked about his improved floor game, Thornton gives an unsurprising answer.
“I’ve just been getting with the coaches one-on-one,” Thornton said. “Just watching film. Working out before practice. Watching film. They teach me all kinds of things I need to know to prolong my career, and those guys have been great to me.”
Thornton, who also attended LSU, only an hour away from New Orleans, said that its extra sweet any time he is able to play well in front of his home state fans.
“They’re the best fans ever around here and at LSU,” Thornton boated. “Those fans give me energy when I’m on the court. When I’m tired and I hear those fans cheering, that gave me an extra boost, and I appreciate them every day for that.”
The key for Thornton now will be translating his performance against Orlando into consistent production. The sharpshooting Belinelli appears entrenched in the starting lineup, but if Thornton continues to play well he could supplant Green as the Hornets primary scorer off the bench. For a team that has struggled offensively this season, a resurgent Thornton could be a huge addition to their playoff puzzle. It’s not much of a surprise that the Hornets are 7-1 this season when Thornton scores in double-figures.
For his part, Thornton is not taking anything for granted.
“I knew my time was going to come,” Thornton told the media. “With the guys out there, they’re so unselfish, I knew my time was going to come. I just had to wait. And when my time does come, just maximize.”