The forward is struggling in his role as a role player.
In his senior year at Florida State, Al Thornton led the ACC in scoring. In his rookie year with the Clippers, he demonstrated that he could score at the NBA level, oftentimes being the team's go-to-guy down the stretch.
Last year, with the additions of Baron Davis and Eric Gordon, Thornton functioned more as a role player, and though his scoring average increased (17 ppg, respectable for a second year player), he seemed to struggle. Not having the ball in his hands took him out of rhythm. We are seeing a little bit of that this year thru three games.
I'm not at practice everyday, and I don't have any coaching experience, but my Blink is telling me that Al would be much more effective as the sixth man and in a scorer's role. This is not an original idea. It has been discussed at length on this site. The irony is that it seems to fit with Dunleavy's modus operandi, based on our experience with the Ross/Maggette controversy: start the more defensive minded role player, sub in the more dynamic player for some scoring punch. Yet Thornton is the starter, and Rasul Butler is coming in off the bench. (I'm beginning to believe that the coach's MO is sheer stubbornness).
Of the two, Butler more closely resembles the small forward's from other championship teams. He plays well off the ball, can shoot it from the outside, and is committed to defense. Of the five positions, small forwards are the least often to be go-to-guys on championship teams. They are usually role players.
Thornton, on the other hand, fits the sixth man mold quite well. As a reserve, he would not have to share the ball as often with Gordon, Baron, Kaman, and, coming soon, Griffin. Were he to log most of his minutes on the floor with Telfair, Craig Smith and Camby, he would be the primary wing scorer against the opponent's second team defense. Towards the end of 2007, the Clippers were running their 4th quarter offense thru Thornton, usually on clear outs and isolation plays. And his problems on defense would be less glaring were he guarding other reserves.
I think Al is a good player with a bright future, but he needs to be used more effectively.