By all accounts, it's been a successful year for Clippers forward Al Thornton. After starting 31 games, averaging 12.7 points and 4.5 rebounds and making the All-Rookie team last year, he's averaged 17 points and 5.1 rebounds while emerging as a bright spot on a dark Clippers season.
Throw in participating in the 2009 T-Mobile Rookie-Sophomore challenge All-Star weekend in Phoenix and a career-high 34 points on Jan. 24 against Oklahoma City, he has shown the potential to become an All-Star player in the years to come.
"I think I'm improving on all categories of my game" said Thornton. "Making the sophomore team most definitely shows I'm getting better".
The only thing that has slowed down Thornton's year has been a nagging ankle injury suffered on Feb. 18.Missing only three games, he returned to the line-up on Feb 27th, with his ankle not being at 100 percent. The last two games, Thornton has been showing progress scoring over 20 points. With the Clippers already depleted by injury, being without Thornton could only get more difficult for the organization.
He seeks treatment before every game and plays through the pain, grimacing every time he makes a hustle play. Despite the fact the Xlippers are out of a playoff spot, Thornton wants to finish the season strong and refuses to let the ankle bench him.
"My ankle is hurting but it's something I can manage to play on," said Thornton. "Right now I would say it's about sixty-percent."
It's that work ethic that has defined his career. As a junior at Florida State, he could have easily declared to enter the NBA draft after averaging 16.1 points and 6.9 rebounds. But he wanted to improve as a player, so he made the decision to return for his senior year.
"I felt like I was that type of guy that needed to complete my four years in college" said Thornton. "My body needed to develop more."
It paid off as Thornton averaged 19.7 points and 7.2 rebounds, was named to the All-American Third Team and became the Clippers' No. 1 pick (14th overall) in 2007. In October, the Clippers exercised the third-year contract option on Thornton, who has been with the Clippers for two seasons.
He was fortunate that the number he wore in college (12) was available with the Clippers. It's a number that holds special meaning to him
"Three of my sisters played basketball and wore the number 12 so I just wanted to keep the tradition going," he said.
With the Clippers extending their third-year option on him, he's carrying on tradition in a way that would definitely honor their careers. He's emerged as the Clippers' forward of the future and with a young core that includes rookies Eric Gordon and Mike Taylor, Thorton will be a player to watch in the West.
It's hard not to look toward next year with less than a month remaining in the season. But with the hard-work and aggressiveness Thornton is showing, it's easier knowing they have someone they can point to a cornerstone of a franchise.