Chasing Down The Latest NBA News
Most teams around the league use the annual NBA trade deadline to either sure up their roster for the post-season by filling holes that could potentially exploited by veteran teams and coaches come playoff time. There are also the occasional salary dumps and the purchasing of draft picks with unwanted assets but more often than not, above average teams that make deals at the trade deadline are looking to improve their teams chances to advance in the playoffs.
The New Orleans Hornets and Atlanta Hawks both attempted to bolster their post-season rotations on deadline day back in February. The Hornets saw a lack of depth in their frontline and a big need for a reserve power forward that could score with the second unit and decided to acquire power forward Carl Landry from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for LSU product Marcus Thornton. The Hawks felt that they needed to upgrade their point guard position so they called upon the Washington Wizards in order to trade for combo guard Kirk Hinrich. They gave up veteran point guard Mike Bibby, Maurice Evans and rookie shooting guard Jordan Crawford to acquire Hinrich.
At the time, the Hawks deal seemed rather harmless for Atlanta and based on Bibby’s defensive liabilities, universally, most thought Hinrich would bring more to the ball club than Bibby did and that the price of two rarely used guards wasn’t too bad when they were getting back a player that play both guard positions like Hinrich.
In New Orleans, however, trading away hometown kid Marcus Thornton was a despised move as soon as the news broke. Landry is a nice player that works extremely hard downlow on both ends, fights on the glass and a has number of ways to score the basketball but his potential has been reached and he’s a productive back-up big man at best. Thornton, on the other hand, was a player that had showed a lot of promise as a bench scorer at the wing position at a time when scoring from the wing was the biggest hole on the Hornets roster. Defensively, Thornton struggled to meet the high standards that first year Hornets’ head coach Monty Williams set which caused him to lose more and more minutes as the season went along. Occasionally Thornton would get burn but he was never able to settle into a consistent role.
As soon as Thornton got to Sacramento, due to an injury that was sidelining Tyreke Evans, he was given a chance to play big minutes and what do you know: he’s been one of the top scoring guards in the league over the past month. Thornton came off the bench his first four games with the Kings and in those four games he did enough to earn himself the starting shooting guard spot for Sacramento. Thornton has now played in 18 games for the Kings this season (14 starts) and he’s averaging 22.1 points per game during his time in Sacramento. Over the course of a season, that would place him in the top 13 in the league in points per game.
Thornton, who had a bit of a reputation as a gunner (a Monta Ellis type if you will), has also been scoring the ball at a very efficient rate for the Kings. He’s shooting 47% from the field in his 18 games in Sacramento and he’s knocking down 42% of his three-point attempts during this stretch. And it’s not as if Thornton has just started jacking up all the shots he can for a bad team like the Kings, he’s also producing a career high 3.3 assists per game, a career high 1.7 steals per game and a career high 4.7 rebounds per contest as well. Last season, I thought Thornton may end up being the new Ben Gordon – aka a scorer that is allergic to assists or rebounds – but if his play over the past 18 games is any indication of what Thornton can actually do, there’s little to worry about with Thornton on the offensive end.
Such a jump in production for Thornton may seem surprising but it’s really just a matter of Marcus finally getting a good amount of minutes to showcase his talents. He’s playing 37.1 minutes per game with the Kings, which is a lot more time than he got with Hornets during his stint in New Orleans.
With David West going down to a season ending injury, it’s hard to say that the Hornets don’t need a player like Carl Landry right now. But if we were to pretend West was healthy at this moment, it’d be even harder to say that the Hornets shouldn’t regret letting Thornton go for a player that has seemingly already reached his peak. Thornton may not have been impressing Monty Williams on the defensive end of the floor, but it’s quite obvious that this kid can score – efficiently, too – and a team like the Hornets, who rank 19th in offensive efficiency on the season, is desperate for someone like Thornton right now.
The Kings, on the other hand, have given themselves a player capable of scoring 20 points every night while shooting the ball well from the field. Pair that with Tyreke Evans, who will hopefully come back next season fully healthy, DeMarcus Cousins, Omri Casspi and another lottery pick and you’ve got a talented group of players that will entertain fans in Anaheim for many years to come (sorry Kings’ fans).
The Hawks are probably not feeling similar regrets about letting Jordan Crawford go, but Crawford has to be happy to finally be getting a chance to play. Crawford’s production has not been as impressive as Thornton’s has – he’s scoring 15 points per game on 15 shots a contest – but he has been playing more than 30 minutes per game during his 17 games with the Wizards. During that stretch, like Thornton, Crawford has taken an injured teammate’s spot in the starting line-up. With scoring machine Nick Young out with a bruised knee, Crawford has gotten a chance to start nine games for the Wizards.
Crawford has always been a favorite of mine ever since that whole LeBron James-fiasco at his Nike summer camp. Not because he dunked on LeBron but because he followed that non-story up by playing some outstanding basketball at Xavier. His run during the NCAA Tournament was fascinating to watch and the courage he displayed in the double overtime thriller between Xavier and Kansas State showed me that he had the internal makings of someone that could produce at the NBA level – not to mention the fact that he was hitting three’s (contested or open) from all over the place.
Crawford has had a few impressive performances with the Wizards but his most impressive game came last night against the Miami Heat (it must be something about playing against Lebron James that gets his juices going). Crawford nearly led the Wizards to a shocking upset over the Heat while playing the unnatural position of point guard for most of the contest. John Wall was ejected early in this game after getting into it with Big Z, leaving the Wizards without a true point guard. Crawford assumed the duties of primary ball-handler and he did an excellent job handling the pressure that the Heat put on him.
After the skirmish between Wall, Big Z, and Juwan Howard, LeBron and Dwyane Wade started puffing their chests a bit more every time the got a bucket in an attempt to bully the Wizards around but Crawford responded every time and never backed down when James got into his face. Though the Heat ended up winning by a large margin thanks to late three’s from Eddie House and James Jones, Crawford finished with a game, season and career high 39 points. Crawford made 12 of his 24 shots (a fantastic mark), five of his eight three’s (superb) and all ten of his free throws (perfect).
Crawford is not in an enviable position in Washington with so many other guards fighting for minutes, but he’s got a lot of promise and can provide the Wizards a good amount of scoring punch off the bench once Nick Young returns. The Wizards clearly have a lot of work to do before they can become a playoff team but like the Kings, they’ve got some promising pieces. JaVale McGee still needs a summer’s worth of film watching just to smarten up but his physical tools give him fantastic potential, John Wall is quietly having a fantastic rookie season and hopefully he’ll follow the same path that Derrick Rose did by making a large second year leap, Nick Young is a quality scorer and so is Jordan Crawford. Can you imagine this core with Derrick Williams or Perry Jones running along at the forward spot? That’d be a very exciting team to watch.
Sometimes being traded early in your career after receiving minimal playing time can be demoralizing for young players but instead of feeling sorry for themselves, Marcus Thornton and Jordan Crawford are making the most of their opportunities with their new teams. The Kings and Wizards hit the jackpot with their deals at the deadline this season, acquiring two players that were mired on the bench for most of the season that ended up in their starting line-ups in less than a week. Perhaps the moves were necessary for the Hornets and Hawks to have a better chance at winning the championship this season, but with neither team presenting much of a threat to do that this season, you have to wonder why New Orleans and Atlanta would give up on such talented young players this early in their careers.