Wizards Insider: Al Thornton has been "wildly" efficient for the Wizards
Al Thornton accidentally popped Houston Rockets forward Shane Battier in the eye with an elbow on Wednesday that led Battier to joke that Thornton "upholds his reputation of being the wildest player in the league. He's just wild."
Thornton may have an unorthodox style of play, but he is trying to change another perception about his game this season: That he is not a reliable source of consistent production. It's early, but Thornton has quietly been the Wizards' most consistent player through the first six games, providing relentless play on both ends of the floor.
"I'm just trying to come out and bring that intensity every night," Thornton said at the morning shootaround on Friday.
And, if you really want to understand how well the fourth-year has been playing, you need to look deeper than his 17.9 player efficiency rating -- which is best of any Wizard not named John Wall -- or that he's the only player on the roster with at least six rebounds every game; or that his 54.1 percent field goal percentage ranks tops among Wizards who average at least six attempts a game.
Coach Flip Saunders praised Thornton on Wednesday, when he scored 20 points, including a critical fastbreak layup late in the Wizards' 98-91 win over Houston. Saunders said Thornton has been "great at both ends...Al, right now, no one's talking about him. He's kind of the silent guy. But from the beginning to the end, he's probably been our most consistent player. You know, the other day, he's in there after we had the two practices, he goes back down to the gym and shot another 35-45 minutes. So he's seeing that the hard work is paying off for him."
How about this stat: Thornton has outscored opposing starting small forwards 96-32 this season.
Thornton has helped hold two opponents scoreless this season -- Atlanta's Marvin Williams and Battier -- while limiting Philadelphia's Andres Nocioni to just two. Only one opposing starting small forward has scored in double figures against the Wizards, with the New York Knicks' Danilo Gallinari getting 16 points against Thornton on Nov. 5. That was arguably Thornton's worst game of the season, when he scored a season-low eight. It was also the only time that he failed to keep his opponent from outscoring him (When he had nine points in the season opener, Quentin Richardson had just seven).
Granted, Thornton hasn't played elite players at that position, but what coach wouldn't want a player at any position to outscore his opposing number by more than 10 points each night?
If you take out Gallinari, the other five small forwards have combined to shoot 5 of 21 (23.8 percent). "I've been highly criticized for not being a defensive player at all. So that was one of the goals," Thornton said, adding that he made defense and conditioning his primary focuses this offseason. "Just watching film, knowing the guys tendencies that you might be guarding and just knowing the sets, being competitive. I've always been known as an offensive player. The main thing is bringing it on each side."
Thornton will get a challenge on Friday against Charlotte's all-star small forward Gerald Wallace, who is a fierce competitor most known in these parts for crashing into Gilbert Arenas's knee more than three years ago -- although Wallace has no recollection of that encounter. Wallace leads the Bobcats in scoring at 17.5 points per game and is a focal point of their offense, averaging 12 shots a game. He also is a rugged defender who should present some challenges for Thornton, especially given Wallace's reputation for being pretty "wild" as well.
"With this team, they are a team that's going to play hard. I think if you match their intensity, play smart, you have a really good chance," Thornton said.