When in a pickle, the Wizards will sign anybody, and on March 9, 2016, Marcus Thornton from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, officially became a member of the playoff-chasing Washington Wizards. In an interview with Monumental's Dan Nolan, Marcus expressed how excited and relieved he was to be joining a team he felt had true post-season potential. Things were looking up for the Wizards, as they found someone who could contribute to the team right away, and could still be useful as after the roster got healthier.
He made his season debut on the road in Utah. After the All-Star break, the Wizards had become a terrible road team, losing four of their first six on the road after the break. Thornton coming off the bench, on the road, wasn't able to fix the team's road woes, to the resounding displeasure of Wizards fans everywhere. It went a little something like this: 20 minutes, 2 points, 0 threes made, and minus 19. Ouch. It wasn't the debut Marcus was hoping for, but he wasn't exactly set up to succeed in that situation.
As the team got healthier, and Thornton got more comfortable, we got to see what he could in a better situation. His best game as a Wizard was in a lost at home to the Atlanta Hawks, where he scored 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting, including 5-of-10 from deep.
Thornton finished the season strong playing big minutes in the Wizards' last three games alongside Ramon Sessions after the Wizards shut down Wall and Beal. He averaged 16.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and shot 42.5 percent from the field as the Wizards closed the season on a three-game winning streak.
Did Marcus Thornton outperform Gary Neal?
Thornton and Neal both get categorized as instant-offense types who generally only help teams when their shots are falling. But within that categorization, there are subtle things that set them apart. From the Wizards standpoint, one of the notable differences is shot selection. Thornton was better at working within the confines of the offense and even passed the ball to open teammates or back to the top of the key to run a new play if he couldn't get a good shot.
Gary Neal, on the other hand, would jack up shots as soon as he touched the ball in search of an offensive rhythm. His play cost the Wizards valuable possessions and as a result, the team got stagnant on both ends. Neal was a part of the early 2015-16 Wizards team that struggled mightily defensively, whereas Thornton came in at a time when the defense made big improvements, and Thornton did enough on that end to keep from being a total liability.
Neal had the advantage in terms of shooting efficiency, but Thornton quietly outperformed him in just about every other area during his short time as a Wizard:
Should the Wizards bring him back for a full season?
With a new coach and a new system, everything changes. There are a lot of attractive free agents on the market come July first which will garner the attention of the Wizards front office more than the prospect of resigning role players.
In Thornton's short time with the team, he did not showcase anything special or unique that would make him especially useful for next season. The fact is, lots of players in today's NBA can get hot and make several threes if you give them a chance. While researching for this article, I kept staring at Marcus Thornton's stat line. All I could see was Jarrell Eddie. As if to say, are the Washington Wizards going to keep signing short-term players to keep younger players from flourishing?
Unlike Eddie this season, Marcus Thornton was reliable when called upon and received the green light from a coach with a beat-up roster. The Wizards needed Thornton to be an able body that could come in and contribute to more wins than losses, which Eddie wasn't quite ready to do this season.
At the end of the day, Thornton didn't do much to hurt the team's cause, but he didn't do much to help it either. Washington can appreciate the fact that he stayed healthy during his stint with the team, but that alone doesn't justify him coming back and absorbing minutes that could be going to younger players like Eddie next season.
When it's all said and done, Marcus Thornton was brought to the Washington D.C. to improve the Wizards chances at making the NBA playoffs for the third consecutive season and alleviate some of the pressure off of the Wizards injury-ridden backcourt. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, though it's not all his fault.
He spent exactly one month and four days as a Wizard. He played in 14 games with 2 starts and averaged 8.4 points in 16 minutes of play. Thornton displayed an ineffable ability to knock down the three and built chemistry with the first and second unit in a short amount of time. He was good for the Wizards in a pinch, but there are better long-term options for the Wizards to pursue this summer.