Hector Amezcua / hamezcua@sacbee.com

Marcus Thornton, looking to drive against the Spurs' Manu Ginobili on Nov. 9, is averaging 11.5 points this season, down from 18.7 as a starter last season.

Kings' Smart, Thornton still seeking way to maximize role switch

Published: Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 5C
Last Modified: Monday, Jun. 17, 2013 - 4:46 pm

NEW ORLEANS – The relationship between the two Baton Rouge, La., natives on the Kings hasn't been as smooth as it could have been this season.

Coach Keith Smart asked his leading scorer last season, Marcus Thornton, to go from a starter to a reserve.

Thornton has struggled to adjust to the role, while Smart has tried to figure out the best way to work Thornton into games.

"It's still hard for him," Smart said. "I give him 100 percent credit because the young man has done everything I've wanted him to do, and I know it's hard for him. But I have to look at what can be best for our basketball team going forward."

The adjustment continues today in their return to their home state to face the New Orleans Hornets.

The last time the Kings played in New Orleans, Jan. 21, dozens of Thornton's relatives and friends saw him play only 11 minutes in the Kings' 114-105 loss.

It was another frustrating day for Thornton, who began his career with the Hornets before being traded to the Kings in 2011.

Lately, Smart and Thornton have worked to regulate when the guard enters games to make the adjustment coming off the bench easier.

After averaging 18.7 points last season, Thornton is down to 11.5 this season. He has started only seven games this season and is averaging 13.9 points as a starter.

The strategy in the last five games has been to insert Thornton with about 3:30 left in the first quarter. Since that change, he is averaging 13.2 points.

"It's cool so far," Thornton said. "I'm still getting adjusted. By the time I get out there, they're going at full speed, and it's hard sometimes. But, hey, I've got to do it."

Smart moved Thornton to the bench in an attempt to add size and more defense to the starting lineup while putting a proven scorer on the second unit.

Smart said Thornton is "doing a good a job of trying to swallow that pill."

Thornton was a backup for the Hornets but quickly became accustomed to life as a starter with the Kings.

"Being a starter these last two years I've been here, it has been tough, but it's for the good of the team, so I have to do it," Thornton said.

Smart said giving Thornton his set time to check into the game has been a positive. It's taken some of the guessing out of Thornton's game and gives him a chance to get into the flow sooner.

But it's still a work in progress.

"It looks like he's trying to get his feel back, and that's what he needs to do," Smart said. "When he's in the game, I have no problem with him shooting or doing anything he needs to do."

It was easier for Thornton to shoot last season, when he averaged 34.9 minutes. Now Thornton is trying to find his offense in 23.7 minutes per game this season.

"If the shot is there, I'm going to take it," Thornton said. "I'm not a selfish player. I'm not just going to jack shots up because I have a green light. I play off other guys, and that's probably why I get a lot of shots up because I am playing off other guys and not trying to force a lot of shots."

New arrivals – Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich and Toney Douglas arrived in New Orleans on Saturday night but not in time for practice.

All three were acquired in Wednesday's trade from Houston that sent Thomas Robinson, Francisco Garcia and Tyler Honeycutt to the Rockets.

Smart said the trio would be available to play today, but he acknowledged it would be hard to work another guard (Douglas) into the rotation. Patterson is the most likely to play today.

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