SANTA BARBARA After a season of career highs, Kings guard Marcus Thornton had plenty of lows last season.
In 2011-12, Thornton averaged a team-high 18.7 points. Last season, as a reserve with inconsistent playing time, he had career lows in minutes (24.0 per game) and scoring average (12.7).
Now he's looking forward to a fresh start under new coach Michael Malone, who was on New Orleans' staff when Thornton played there before being traded to the Kings.
"I'm so ready to get out there and prove myself again," Thornton said. "I've been doing that for five years now, and I'm ready to do it again."
Thornton knew he would be a backup before last season began. Then-coach Keith Smart moved Tyreke Evans to shooting guard, Thornton's starting spot, and expected Thornton to provide instant offense off the bench.
But it wasn't until late in the season that Thornton and Smart came to an understanding on how Thornton operated best off the bench. Rather than entering games for the first time at different stages, he consistently came in late in the first quarter.
"It was very tough, very tough," Thornton said. "Coming off the year I had, at first I didn't understand it. But I knew it was for the good of the team, and sometimes you have to make sacrifices. And that's what I did."
Thornton could return to the starting lineup this season. The Kings drafted shooting guard Ben McLemore in June, and he likely will be Thornton's main competition for the starting position.
Thornton said he doesn't know what his role will be, but he relishes the opportunity to compete for the starting job. And he's enjoying his relationship with McLemore, the seventh overall pick from Kansas.
"Ben is a sponge," Thornton said. "He's asking questions, (doing) things I didn't do my rookie year. So for him to have a heads-up, getting to know the plays and if he (doesn't know), he'll come to the side and ask me. That's a plus for Ben. The sky's the limit for him."
McLemore said Thornton has been a great mentor, even though they are competing for playing time.
"He's been showing me a lot of things throughout training camp, showing me different tips," McLemore said. "It's basketball, so you're going to fight for positions, but at the same time, we're teammates, and we're going to work each other out."
Thornton knows Malone well and what it will take to earn playing time strong defense.
"I know what (Malone's) philosophy is already, and that's defend," Thornton said. "Everything else comes after. Being there that half a year with him in New Orleans gives me an upside."
Defense hasn't been Thornton's strength. He has gambled, playing the passing lane in search of steals. And at 6-foot-4, Thornton doesn't have the size that gives McLemore (6-6) an advantage as a man-to-man defender. But Thornton has focused on his defense during camp.
"(Thornton) has bought in to the defensive end of the floor," Malone said. "It's early, but we're going to pride ourselves on getting stops."
If Thornton can help the Kings defend better they allowed a league-high 105.1 points per game last season it will give him his best opportunity to start and put the lows of last season behind him.
Follow The Bee's Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/ kings.