No one has ever questioned Thornton’s ability to score the basketball, not even the two teams that traded him. Personnel evaluators typically pointed to poor shot selection, a selfish isolation style of play, and lackluster defense. Through five games with the Nets, Thornton has passed all those tests with flying colors.
Although a streaky shooter, Thornton provides the cure for what ails the Nets. With an older starting lineup, the Nets desperately need backcourt scoring coming off the bench. Thus far, Thornton has provided just that.
He erupted for 15 points in the second quarter of the Nets’ 103-94 win over the Memphis Grizzlies Wednesday night at the Barclays Center. Thornton finished the game with 20 points, but his second-quarter burst allowed the Nets to fend off an extended Grizzlies’ run that cut a 21-point first-quarter lead to four. The Nets have won four straight game and moved to 30-29 on the season.
“He’s huge; he’s such an important piece for us,” small forward Paul Pierce said. “It feels good to be able to acquire such a piece like him, a guy who gives us energy off the bench, a scoring punch when maybe some of our guys aren’t shooting the ball well. He’s doing a great job of filling his role.”
“I think that’s what we were counting on him doing,” point guard Deron Williams said. “I think he’s enjoying this opportunity on this team playing with us, and we’re glad we have him.”
The Nets never looked back after the second quarter, and they will likely never look back from their trade for Thornton. Despite Thornton’s perceived limitations, the Nets gave up nothing in order to acquire him. In fact, the two players that they banished could almost fall into the “addition by subtraction” category.
Reggie Evans and Jason Terry never contributed as general manager Billy King intended. Evans proved efficient only at rebounding while he defended below par and gave the Nets nothing offensively. Terry came to the Nets as an aging and broken down player. During the course of his stay, he never knocked down shots consistently, and upon his arrival in Sacramento, the Kings subsequently shut down Terry for the season.
These two players prompted the Kings to relinquish Thornton. They obviously made the move for financial reasons, making the young guard an asset for a team willing to spend the money. With the Kings out of contention, they essentially waved the white flag and said they would rather take the cap relief than the potential prospect.
While King gambled on Andray Blatche, he made a no-brainer for Thornton. The Kings asked for nothing of use to the Nets except for two salaries.
Thornton has alternated his performances with the Nets, just like he did with the Kings. A down and out Sacramento actually pushed the Indiana Pacers to overtime thanks to Thornton’s career-high 42 points earlier this season. He clearly did enough to earn a ticket out of town following that performance, but Thornton finds an entirely new and functional cast in Brooklyn.
“I feel comfortable,” Thornton said. “I still don’t know all the plays yet, but that comes with time. I have great teammates, coaches on the floor, that can help.”
Thornton only scored 20-plus points with the Kings three times in a 46-game span. Through his brief Nets’ tenure, he has notched 20-plus points twice.
His scoring output might not shock many, since he has delivered this way in the past. His defense admittedly caught his new coach by surprise.
“He’s competing on the defensive end,” Kidd said. “Obviously, we know what he does offensively, but I thought the defensive end of him being able to get deflections in the help side, I thought that was big for us.”