Al Thornton is a player to which those in Clipperland have attached great promise. While he certainly proved to be a capable contributor in his rookie campaign last year, it’s always a little difficult to discern true potential from hopeful delusion when the source is a fanbase as beleaguered, beaten and broken as the face of the person who has become the face of Staples Center’s JV squad: Penny Marshall. (No disrespect intended to Billy Crystal. You’re ugly too.)
So to get a better look at whether the kid’s future is more Caron Butler or more Jarvis Hayes, let’s focus on him and him alone while watching today’s 12:30 PST tip-off game between the Clipps and the Dubs.
And if Al becomes boring, we still have the dual-revenge game thing going for both Baron Davis and Corey Maggette, who somehow managed to change teams this summers without being traded for each other. Essentially, there’s no downside to this game (presuming, ya know, we ignore the fact that both of these teams are terrible).
Let’s get after it.
(Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
10:54 – Thornton misses a catch-and-shoot three after a swing pass. The Clipper announcers mention that he’s been shooting very well so far the year. After checking some stats, I learn that he’s sitting at 47% from the field while taking 13.3 shots per night (including 5/10 from three) thus far through eight games. In those eight, he also impressively has games of 30, 22, 20 and 17 points scored. Pretty good start.
10:18 – Thornton catches the ball on the wing and faces up. After a few head and ball fakes, he settles for a pull-up, no-dribble jumper. It rims out.
7:32 – After several minutes of sluggish, ineffectual play by the Clippers, coach Mike Dunleavy is forced to get a time-out after Golden State goes up 13-2. It’s tough to get much of a read on any of the Clipps right now.
7:14 – Maggette drills a three.
6:49 – After a Cuttino three, Maggette gets to the line. He’s clearly out for vengeance against the team he had played for for eight years. He has six points.
6:03 – Aside from a few times catching it and giving the ball up without doing anything, Thornton is fairly unnoticeable on offense so far. He isn’t moving much without the ball or looking like a big part of what the Clipps are trying to do. Although to be fair, I’m not sure anyone on the Clips knows what they are trying to do right now.
4:42 – The Beard is getting things going though. He hits a three and has LAC’s last 7 points.
3:38 – Thornton is guarding Corey as he gets the ball on the block. Maggette hits a very difficult fadeaway with Al all over him. Good D. Better O. Golden State leads 26-18.
3:18 – Maggette picks up his third foul and has to sit. See you in about a half-hour, Corey. Thanks for coming out.
2:44 – Al gets the ball at the high-post and after facing up and dribbling, he turns and backs down his defender with some herky-jerky, back-and-forth cork-screw action. He then turns and fires a 17-foot fadeaway that barely draws iron. Withholding my own personal comment, I’ll just let you know what the announcers had to say. “That’s about as ugly a possession as you’re going to see…dribbled away the shot-clock and took a bad shot.” Pretty much.
1:18 – Al heads to the bench. He’s 0/3 with 0 boards and 1 assist, which I must not have seen. (Swing pass on one of Baron’s jumpers, me guesses.)
0:20: Boom Dizzle drills another three. He has 10 on 4/5 shooting including 2 treys. The Clippers have cut the Warrior lead to 36-30.
0:06 – Cpt. Jack picks up a T for using mucho curse words in heated conversation with with a not-so-appreciative official to argue a horrible, horrible back-court call that went against him. (Baron clearly knocked away his dribble near half-court, but Jack was whistled for back-court violation when he ran over to pick the ball back up.) Meanwhile, Jack has 8 points and 5 assists. The way he’s been running this offense and sacrificing his own game in this early season has been as impressive as it has been improbable.
2nd Quarter: Golden State 36 – Clippers 31
8:09 – The Warriors are so bad that they can’t even keep Corey Maggette on the bench. He’s back in the game. And back at the line
8:03 – Baron picks up an off-the-ball foul and we get a highly audible, Mic’d Up sound of him yelling “What the fuck, man?!?!” Mothers nationwide change the channel.
7:15 – Al checks back in for Chris Kaman, who looks as sexy as ever this afternoon. Meanwhile, Thornton is now sans-headband — something not really appreciated by us game-bloggers, Mr. Thornton.
6:35 – Al faces up from the left wing with the ball and makes a nice move into a pull-up J, which gives him his first points of the game. Golden State is now only up by two: 42-40.
6:10 – Al picks up a foul as Maggette beats him off the dribble.
5:55 – Clipps go back to Al on the mid-left post. He kicks it out to Baron who drives, but kicks it back to a since-retreated-to-the-three-point-line Thornton. Al shot-fakes, dribbles left, crosses over right and dribbles once more before taking a nice, open pull-up jumper from the left elbow. He misses off the front iron, but it was a good shot and a good move that was deceptive with it’s erratic direction-changing
5:55 – Al gets a nice steal as he picks Cpt. Jack’s pocket. It leads to a sloppy two points in transition by Eric Gordon at the other end.
5:28 – Al gets a fairly easy defensive board.
3:46 – Some dude named “Anthony Morrow” (who has looked pretty damn good all game) takes Al off the bounce and hits a 8-foot pull up in the lane.
3:03 – Thornton is way off on an in-rhythm three.
2:33 – Al scores after he makes a great cut to two feet in front of the hoop and receives a very nice pass from Cuttino. Clippers trail 53-47.
2:06 – Thornton attacks the rim ferociously in transition and gets to the line after being violently undercut by Ronny Turiaf. Al’s athleticism isn’t overtly standout-ish, but he certainly has it in spades, as illustrated by the fact that he just leapt off two feet from outside the lane in attempt to dunk over a 6’10 guy. He knocks down 1 of 2 free throws.
1:46 – Not Al-related, but this Morrow dude just scored on another nice move. My fantasy team may have to take notice. Soon after, we learn that the Warriors have already started four guys this year who were never drafted: Morrow, Azubiuke, CJ Watson and DeMarcus Nelson. Sorry to disappoint you Dubs fans so early into this season, but I don’t believe any NBA Championship winners have done that.
1:35 – Al doesn’t do much on this possession, but generally — and on this play — it seems his role in the Clippers offense is to mainloy play the weak-side wing guy. And while he stands over there, he continually appears to be assessing the seams in the interior D while he sort of crouches as he drifts around like he’s about to pounce and start sprinting in a cut to the basket at any time. Cuttino may be the Clipper perimeter player they call “The Cat,” but it’s Al that looks like a puma stalking from the trees.
1:21- Al checks out as Tyree Ricardo Davis enters for the Clipps. (You probably know him as Ricky. But we’re really close so I call him by three names.)
This game reeks of nostalgia.
3rd Quarter: Golden State 58 – Clippers 50
12:00 – Al Thornton starts the 2nd Half in a head-band. Urgh.
11:35 – In more Thornton-unrelatedness, Andris Biedrins gets a wide-open dunk after a breakdown in Clipper D. AB has been a statistical beast this season.
10:45 – Al gets the ball after a swing pass on the wing. He fakes a swing to the corner and pulls the trigger on the three. It’s all back rim.
10:04 – Thornton gets into great position for an offensive board after Camby misses a drive/lay-in. Kaman is near the hoop too, however, and snatches the ball right above Al’s head. Kaman misses the one-foot, unguarded lay-up. Sweet work, Captain Caveman.
9:15 – Maggette stupidly fouls Baron Davis on a “clear path foul” after a TO, which not only sends Corey to the bench with his 4th foul, but gives Baron two free-throws (both makes) and the ball back. Baron scores on a nice drive, and after a GState miss on the other end, Baron again takes it to the rack and gets to the line, where he makes two free-throws and cuts the lead to two. GState up 62-60.
8:33 – After another miss by the Warriors, Baron grabs the board and takes off down-court. He makes a nice bounce pass to Al, who has beaten everybody down court. Thornton unleashes an uncontested, two hand dunk with authority. The game is tied. Nelson calls a timeout.
7:10 – After another nice cut into the lane, Al gets the ball. He knifes his way between two guys and slips across to the other side of the hoop with precision. He blows the lay-up as it rims in-and-out, but regardless, it was an impressive display of dexterity in the paint.
5:55 – Anthony Morrow drills a three in front of a slow-to-rotate-back Thornton. Morrow has 21 and will be joining the Yahoo! NBA Fantasy team “Starbury Fields 4Eva” as soon as this game is over.
4:22 – Al Thornton grabs a deflected ball on defense and takes off. He can’t get complete separation, but he gets all the way to the hoop and puts up a contested bank-lay up that doesn’t quite go down. But he was also fouled and he makes two from the line. Clipps lead 74-73.
3:37 – Thornton gets a loose-ball foul in rebounding action. Warriors retain possession and score.
3:02 – Al gets caught “ball-watching” on D and his man, Kelenna Azubuike, cuts wide open in front of him into the lane. Buike mishandles the ball, however, and the Clips grab it and sprint off in transition. As the trailer, Al gets a pass from Cuttino and looks poised for a marginally-contested, yet fairly easy lay-in — until the pass bounces directly off his hands. Nice hands on both ends of the court.
2:59 – Al heads to the bench. Each time he’s checked out has come at a time when it seems like he would be headed off for a rest anyway, but it has also always come right after he made a shitty play. Coincidence? He plays worse when tired? Mike Dunleavy is only reminded that he should be monitoring his rotation after someone does something dumb? I choose C.
1:33 – What is going on here? This dude Anthony Morrow just hit a three directly after scoring on the previous possession. He now has 26 on 10/13. Al also checks back in either right before or right after this.
4th Quarter: GState 90 – Clippers 83
10:31 – Morrow has hit two more buckets this quarter — now has 30. I’m guessing that this was not in Mike Dunleavy’s game plan.
9:41 – After Thornton is again slow to recover out to a jump-shooter, the shooter fortuitously misses anyway so no one will ever notice his poor rotation. Less fortuitously, the Dubs get the board and Jack snaps a quick pass to Corey Maggette for what appears to be a wide-open lay-in. But in a move that many people will certainly notice, Thornton flies into the picture and blocks the utter shit out of Maggette’s shot with two hands and takes the ball away. Wow. That was electric. Also, the first real display of good defense by the kid all night.
8:35 – Thornton posts hard in the high post, but doesn’t get the ball. He moves out, then reposts in the mid-post and gets it. He pivots away from the hoop, faces up and badly clangs a 14-foot jumper off the front iron. The Clips have only scored two points in the 4th Quarter.
8:10 – Morrow scores plus the foul. He, of course, makes it and now has 33 points.
7:36 – With Al now on the bench, we’re focusing on the unknown scoring wonder Anthony Morrow, who just now sticks a 18-footer. He’s 14/17 with 35 points and 8 boards. Why didn’t I think to do a “Watching…Anthony Morrow”?
6:10 – Morrow grabs a board and passes off. He gets the ball back and after passing up a three, takes two dribbles and pulls-up from 20 feet. It’s good. 37 points.
5:38 – In a return to this planet, Morrow tries to take Eric Gordon off the dribble, but can’t. And then Gordon easily blocks his pull-up J.
4:05 – Azubuike drives by an apathetic Tim Thomas for a foul and a bucket. GState is up 108-94. It’s interesting that Eric Gordon and Ricky Davis are both getting perimeter crunch-time minutes over Thornton. So too now is Cuttino, who just checked in for Thomas. Maybe this is due to Al’s poor outside shooting this game and the fact that Dunleavy is hoping for some threes to get back in t this thing, but it’s worth noting regardless.
0:00 – Nothing else notable happens and GState wins 121 – 103 in the Clippers Lakers gym.
33 minutes, 11 points (3/13 FG, 0/2 3PT, 5/6 FT), 2 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 assist
We obviously caught Al Thornton on an off-night shooting. Honestly, the entire Clippers teams looked off, something that I’m sure won’t be unfamiliar this season, but also is wont to happen when teams play at 12:30 in the afternoon.
Regardless, Al left plenty to be desired. His defense — something I expected to be a strong point — was lackluster at best and he looked lost out there and slow to rotate on many occasions. He’s only a second-year guy, so some inconsistency is to be expected, but he is 25 years old already so he will need to accelerate his court awareness in order to be the guy I was expecting to become a high-level defender. And given his athleticism, foot-speed and strength, it will be a fairly disappointing development if he can’t get there.
Offensively, he showed much more. His cutting ability is already veteran-level. He knows where to go and although it didn’t amount to much in terms of production, he seemed to know exactly where the defensive weaknesses were on the occasions when he was able to slash from the weakside. Relatedly, he flourishes in transition. He’s got the speed and size that make him a mini-freight train, so defenders are going to be watching him go by them in the open-court for years, and if they bother to try to stop him, there will be plenty of and-ones in their futures. He’s also got good handle in the off-court and an array of cross-overs, stop-and-gos and pull-up moves that put him squarely in the “too quick for bigs, too strong for littles” club that guys like Maggette have been exploiting off the dribble for years.
Despite this, his decision-making with the ball was questionable at times. Even though it was probably the result of him pressing to make up for his poor shooting, he did force some things and displayed a little “black hole” syndrome a few times when it was evident as soon as he caught the ball that it was going to go up.
While this, and other things I’ve seen out of him in the past, have lead me to believe that he might ultimately just be a player who is better offensively off the ball guy, I’ll just leave it at that and not speculate any further since I still like the kid a lot and this was clearly a bad game for Al Thornton. Bottom line is that he’s a dynamic player in every facet of the game and has the physical tools to become a borderline All-Star someday.