Flying Under the Radar: Al Thornton

This summer, when Al Thornton was drafted 14th overall by the L.A Clippers, many didn't expect him to be a key contributor right away, but after Elton Brand's injury, Thornton was forced to step up. While he has had some growing pains along the way, Thornton has started to come on as of late, and now looks like he can be a serious player in the NBA for some time to come.

At 6'8, 220 lbs, Thornton doesn't quite have the offensive finesse of a small forward, nor the size of a prototypical power forward, and while some thought this lack of a defined position would be detrimental, Thornton has embraced his unique blend of skills and now uses it to his advantage.

On the season, Thornton is averaging 11.8 points, 4 rebounds and half a block per game, which is impressive for a rookie. His game revolves around solid athleticism and absurd jumping ability, which give Thornton the ability to attain his fair share dunks.

Thornton isn't a fully developed offensive player yet, but he shows the signs of getting there. He has a respectable intermediate jump-shot, and is making 35% of his three-pointers. He has the ability to post up opponents, but he is also comfortable taking them off the dribble.

There are some aspects of his game that he struggles at, and might never improve on because of his body type. Although he is quick, Thornton doesn't have great lateral movement and can get beaten off the dribble at times. He also lacks solid ball-handling skills, which does restrict him on offense some.

Another knock of Thornton is that he lacks killer instinct on defense. While he is a solid man-to-man defender in the post, he needs to work on his week side skills, as his .4 blocks per game are sub par for a player with his athleticism and height.

Thornton struggled early in the season, but has come on as of late. In the month of February, he had a game where he scored 33 points, and also averaged 17 points on the month. He also become more consistent, logging seven games in which he scored 18 points or more. In March, he has had one poor game (two points), but has been stellar other wise. He's averaging 16 points on the month, scoring 18 or more points in four out of six games.

The last time Orlando faced the Clippers, Thornton was still learning the subtle nuances of the game, and scored 11 points, but was thrashed by Hedo Turkolgu and Rashard Lewis, who put up a combined 48 points. Thornton will have to matchup with either one again, and this time he will have a little more experience which will help. However Thornton's weakness is man-to-man defense on the perimeter, and both Lewis and Turkolgu are very effective when driving to the basket. While Thornton has improved over the past two months, and has quietly become a force in the NBA game, he still has some work to do and will likely struggle against the Magic, but for a rookie, the Clippers have to like what the see.