With very little acclaim from the national media, Marcus Thornton
has quietly developed into one of the top scorers in college basketball. Thornton has not only put together a sensational senior season from an individual statistical standpoint, hes also helped LSU to a 19-4 record and a first place ranking in the SEC.
This past summer, when reviewing Thorntons film from last season, we came away with the impression that were looking at absolute scoring machine of a shooting guard, with some very noticeable flaws in his game. Under the tutelage of new head coach Trent Johnson, Thornton has made huge strides in many of the areas we were concerned about, which has made him into of the most productive players in the country.
Thornton has made a number of subtle changes to his game that has made him a far more efficient player. Hes showing much better shot-selection for one, relying less heavily on 3-pointers. Only 35% of his field goal attempts come from behind the arc this season, as opposed to nearly 50% last season. His field goal percentage is up in turn by 6% to a hair under 50% now, while hes shooting over 41% from 3-point range. Hes getting to the free throw line far more as well (6.9 per-40 compared to 4.3), although hes shooting worse once there.
Perhaps most telling is the dramatic improvement hes shown in his assist to turnover ratio, from .62 to 1.36meaning hes dishing out twice as many assists this season for every one turnover he commits. Any way you slice it, Thornton is playing much better basketball, which helps in large part explain why LSU has gone from firing their coach after a mediocre 13-18 season, to being the best team in the SEC.
Thornton is still very much a gunner, hes just a much more efficient one now. He ranks 8th in the country in field goal attempts per-40 minutes, but is spectacularly proficient, ranking second in the NCAA in Dean Oliver
s offensive rating, at 124 points produced per 100 possessions. His ability to get to the line, score inside and outside the arc, grab offensive rebounds, dish out assists and not turn the ball over makes him one of the most complete offensive players in college basketball.
The way Thornton scores looks fairly likely to be able to translate to the NBA level, at least in some capacity. LSU likes to run Thornton off a huge number of stagger screens, flex cuts and curls, utilizing his terrific ability to catch and shoot. Thornton possesses an extremely quick release, and also likes to add in a slight fade-away to his jump-shot, which helps him create separation from his defender even more effectively. He is terrific at moving off the ball on top of that, and thus is an extremely deadly weapon at the college level.
Far more than just a spot-up shooter, Thornton can also put the ball on the floor and make his way to the basket, as evidenced by the high amount of free throws he attempts each game. Thornton is a good, but not great ball-handler, but his combination of strength, quickness and aggressiveness allows him to get to the rim and finish very effectively at the college level. Hes an incredibly mistake-free player as well, ranking first amongst all shooting guards in turnover ratio, while coughing the ball up on just 9% of his possessions. Hes also one of the best offensive rebounding guards in the NCAA, becoming even more prolific in that area this season.
With that said, there are a couple of chinks in Thorntons armor, which will likely become more noticeable against NBA-level defenders, when he doesnt have an entire offense geared towards getting him shots. When forced to pull-up and shoot off the dribble, Thorntons accuracy drops dramatically. Thornton is not a great ball-handler with his left hand, and hes a little bit undersized as well. His ability to score off isolation plays is a bit limited--if forced to create his own shot on his own using advanced moves, he strugglesso its obvious that he needs teammates and plays designed to work for him.
In the NBA he will probably have to develop his mid-range game (which is not polished at all), as he wont be able to get to the basket and finish in traffic nearly as effectively. While his shot-selection has obviously improved quite a bit, he is still prone to showing some poor shot-selection from time to time, something that coaches will probably have to live with considering the type of scorer Thornton is.
Defensively is where LSU may have improved the most under Trent Johnson, and Thornton doesnt seem to be any exception. He shows good effort and activity level, getting low in a stance and doing everything he can to contain his matchup, often looking very physical and intense in the process. His fundamentals are still a bit lacking at timeshe tends to overextend himself, reach for steals or bite on pump-fakesbut for the most part he does a pretty good job. His lack of size may be a bit of concern going up against bigger NBA shooting guards, but he does seem to have a good wingspan, which shows up in his ability to get in the passing lanes.
All in all, Thornton has done an excellent job this season making a strong case for himself as an NBA draft prospect, and there is a pretty good chance that hell be rewarded for that. If LSU can find a way to continue their momentum and cause some damage come tournament time, NBA decision makers will likely become a lot more aware of the season hes having. Hes a bit under the radar now, but definitely has the makings of an intriguing prospect.