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Al Thornton and Thaddeus Young

As part of my exchange with Ricky from Sixers4Guidos, Ricky asked me for my thoughts on Thaddeus Young versus Al Thornton.  Unfortunately, we got a little bit of a late start, so I only just sent my email to him.  I'll be gone most of the day tomorrow, so I'm putting my response up here at ClipsNation as well.

Picking 14th in the draft, the Clippers had no way of knowing for certain who would be available.  They worked out a lot of players, and Thaddeus Young was in fact the first guy they brought in.  They liked Young a lot, and might well have drafted him had he still been on the board.  But Young went to the Sixers with the 12th pick, and Thornton was unexpectedly still available at 14 (most people had him projected in the top 10) and the Clippers eagerly snapped him up even though they'd never worked him out.  So far, I think both teams are happy with their choices.

Unlike a bunch of guys who are hitting the rookie wall, both Young and Thornton seem to be playing their best ball right now, and in both cases it's probably due to opportunity.  Young has recently cracked the starting lineup for the Sixers, while Thornton has gotten more and more touches for the Clippers, due both to injuries and for the simple reason that he's done well with the chances he's gotten.

I haven't seen Young, so I can't speak to his game at all.  One has to be incredibly impressed with a rookie shooting 51% however.  Wow.  And 60% as a starter.  Those are some great numbers for anybody - but for a rookie, playing on a team that is somewhat offensively challenged, that's pretty amazing.

Thornton meanwhile has shown the ability to take over.  He's been inconsistent as rookies are, but he's had 5 games over 20 this season, including his career high of 33 against Atlanta 10 days ago.  Almost as impressive as his game against the Hawks (which he basically won single-handedly) were games at New Jersey and last night at Toronto, where the Clippers went to him almost exclusively down the stretch of close games.  And he delivered.  Perhaps it's the fact that he's 24, but he doesn't react like a rookie in pressure situations.  He wants the ball, and he's not afraid of shooting it - even when he maybe should be, like when he went 1 for 15 in Minnesota last week.

He has an impressive offensive arsenal.  He's got a silky smooth jump shot with NBA three point range (he's 20 for 58 on the season); he's got a great first step; and he can finish with authority around the rim, as he's shown with highlight reel dunks over Vince Carter, Josh Smith and Chris Bosh this season.  Most importantly, he can create his own shot on the perimeter, an important ability in the NBA, and something that is in short supply on the Clippers.  His defense, rebounding and passing all need a lot of work, but his offensive game looks like it's going to be just fine.  He's only shooting a little over 40% on the season - but that number is much higher since the new year, so it's definitely trending in the right direction.

The big knock on Thornton going into the draft was his age - as a 5th year senior at Florida State, he is an unusually old rookie (he turned 24 early in the season).  So for a rebuilding team like the Sixers, Young has the advantage of being... well... young.  Of course sometimes scouts fall in love with potential, and that potential is not always realized.  Thornton is a freak of an athlete with big time basketball skills and a motor that never seems to quit.  Who cares about potential when you've got reality?  And so what if he's 24?

In the end, these may turn out to be the right picks for both teams.  The Sixers likely need Young to be peaking in a few seasons if the rebuilding plan goes well.  But the Clippers thought they were ready to win this season when they drafted Thornton in June (Elton Brand's Achilles injury in August altered the plan a little).  But even with this season being lost, the Clippers would love to think that Al can be a major contributor to a playoff run next season when Brand and Livingston return, and indeed he may be.  He's a pretty special player.