Articles by Ben Zani

A listing of all the articles written by Ben Zani for the RotoWire Blog.

You Know, I Learned Something Today…

Long after Kenny dies and Cartman has done something deplorable, nearly every South Park episode ends with Stan Marsh saying “you know, I really learned something today,” while reflecting on the moral lesson of that episode. Granted, those moral lessons often have to do with Tom Cruise a stuck in a closet, or something about a Christmas poo, but still, the concept of figuring out what, exactly, we just learned is a sound one. So, in the spirit of closing the 2009-2010 regular season, I present three things that we really learned today. Or, uh, this season:

Kevin Durant is filthy good – A Google search for “LeBron James” yields 7.4 million hits. A similar search for “Kevin Durant” gives only 1.35 million mentions. Yet which player won the scoring title this year? Yes, Durant, the guy with spaghetti arms playing in the Dust Bowl, defeated the mighty LeBron and his 7.4 million hits. In fact Durant increased his scoring average by five points over last year, which was an improvement of five points over his rookie year. At this pace, Durant will be averaging a Wilt-like 50 points per game by 2014. Looking aside his 29-game streak of scoring 25 points or more, what really impressed me is Durant’s performances over the last few weeks, with his team’s playoff life on the line. In April, Durant has averaged 35.1 points and eight rebounds, while shooting 41|PERCENT| from three. That’s a guy you do not want to see in the first round of the playoffs.

This was a great rookie class, but not necessarily from those that you’d expect – If you’d have told me that the No.1 pick would be hurt all season, the No. 2 pick would end up in the D-League and the No. 5 pick would spend the season tanning in Barcelona, I’d have assumed that 2009-2010 would have been a terrible rookie class. Not so fast my friend. Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans immediately proved himself unguardable and will be on All-Star teams for years to come. Same with Stephen Curry, whose shooting prowess from college proved to carry over to the pros. But the real backbone of this year’s rookie class was the unheralded guys. Reggie Williams came out of the D-League to average a 15-5 every night. Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton gave Hornets fans hope that their team could compete without Chris Paul. DeJuan Blair, Tyreke Evans, Omri Casspi, Taj Gibson – none of them were high picks, and yet all were major contributors. Wesley Matthews wasn’t even drafted, and now he’s starting every night in Utah. And who would’ve thought that the Pistons’ brightest hope this year would have been a Swedish guy that was picked in the second round? Aside from the Swedish Chef of course.

The old guys are still kickin’ – Most of us do it. When a player reaches their mid-30s, we tend to write them off, especially from a fantasy basketball perspective. My grandmother would call it “ageist” and then hit me with a newspaper. Though in basketball, where running, jumping and quickness are involved, one is just more likely to trust 25-year-old legs than 35-year-old ones. In some cases, |STAR|coughShaqcough|STAR| those assumptions are completely right. But in many other cases, this year was the year of “that old dude’s still got it.” 36-year-old Steve Nash had his best season in years, leading the league in assists and having another 50-40-90 shooting season. 36-year old Marcus Camby finished second in the league in rebounding. Chauncey Billups and Tim Duncan, both 33, looked downright spry for most of the year, despite having logged heavy miles over their careers. Even 37-year-old Jason Kidd popped a triple-double last week, and led his team to a high seed in the playoffs. He even shot 42|PERCENT| from three, despite being older than Mario “A.C. Slater” Lopez.

It’s been a great season and should be an even better playoffs. Can LeBron win a title before he starts his own franchise in Sheboygan? How many newspapers will check the spelling of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute while writing up their playoff capsules? Will Adam Morrison lead the Lakers to another title? Enjoy the playoffs folks, and try not to be the one who killed Kenny.

The Celtics’ Funeral March

The Celtics are done.

You have no idea how much it pained me to write that sentence. You have to understand – I was literally born with a Bird jersey in my crib. My first word was “b-ball.” My mother said that the only person she’d leave my father for is Danny Ainge. So writing that sentence felt like ripping off a band-aid that covered my entire chest. Akin to getting a paper cut on your tongue. Almost as bad as being stuck in an elevator that had Nickelback songs on a loop. Painful. Excruciating. Troublesome. The admission that my beloved C’s are done, cooked, kaput…well, let’s just be glad I pay a therapist to help me deal with these issues.

Now, I know that the C’s are currently ranked 4th in the East, and very well could end up at 3rd by the end of the next week. And yes, most of the team’s core owns a championship ring, and nearly all of them have significant playoff experience. They even have all the ingredients for playoff success – strong guard play, a take-it-to-the-rim scorer, sound team defense – but it doesn’t matter. The very short-lived dynasty will go out with a whimper this year. And it absolutely kills me to say that.

The C’s started their season like championship contenders. After 28 games, the Celtics sat at 23-5, with wins over Cleveland, Utah and San Antonio. Rondo was playing like a top 5 point guard, Pierce was on, and Kendrick Perkins was grabbing rebounds at a strong rate. Still, you could see signs of an impeding fall, even then. Ray Allen shot 25|PERCENT| from three in the month of November. Garnett clearly looked broken down, even at the start of the season. 15 of those 23 wins came against teams that would not be in the playoffs as of today.

Since then? 26-24. Boston has lost 12 losses in games that they’ve led by at least five at halftime. ” Allen has his worst three-point shooting, and consequently scoring, year since his rookie year. In fact, the C’s Big Three of Allen, Pierce and Garnett are all averaging their worst scoring numbers since their respective rookie years. If that’s not a giant red flag to fantasy owners, I don’t know what is. And don’t even get me started on Rasheed Wallace.

This day of reckoning may not come in the first round, especially with Andrew Bogut gruesomely dislocating his elbow and Miami serving as a decently favorable matchup. The second round, however, is an entirely different matter. Boston is 0-4 against Atlanta and 1-3 against Orlando. Even when they beat a top team, like the Celtics did Sunday against Cleveland, they do things like “blow 22-point leads in the fourth quarter, causing Celtics fans like myself to take up drinking combatively as a hobby. The team looks tired, old and listless more often than not, and especially last night against the hopeless Knicks. I sadly expect things to get absolutely ugly in the second round for the Celtics, and to look even worse next year.

Ah, next year. Frankly, there is very little in the way of encouraging signs for Celtics fans or fantasy owners. Garnett may have been fantasy’s biggest bust this year, especially given his ESPN Average Draft Position of 21. Fantasy owners won’t make that mistake next year. Unfortunately, the Celtics will, as he’s on the hook for $40 million over the next two years. Ugh. Allen’s contract is up at the end of this year however, and if he does return to Boston, it will almost assuredly be in a reduced role. Pierce averaged 11.7 points per game in February, and is looking as beaten down as he has his whole career. Fantasy owners have hope in Rondo, but are still maddened by his wildly inconsistent scoring numbers. Rasheed? Perkins? Bueller? This could get ugly.

I know, I know, I should be happy with my 17 championships and shut up. And don’t get me wrong, I am. I wouldn’t trade anything for that 2008 championship. But to watch players who so very recently brought me such joy go out with such a whimper…well…I’m glad I have that therapist on speed dial.

The Importance of Being Manu

Manu Ginobili may be the most difficult player in the league to statistically quantify. The fact that he comes off the bench and plays in the Spurs’ system makes him a fantasy outlier anyways, and the nature of his game, which I can only describe as “controlled chaos” doesn’t help matters. But one thing has always been certain for Argentina’s most famous basketball export: he wins games.

My impetus to write about Manu stemmed from an interesting piece on the blog My Expiring Contract. Its author looked at the career Win Share percentage throughout NBA history, trying to find the game’s most productive players. Some of his findings were predictable – Jordan, Wilt, Kareem and Magic all scored high. Some of his findings were very interesting – David Robinson having the highest Win Share percentage of any big man in history being one. But what stuck out to me the most was the career Win Share percentage calculation for wing players. Jordan, as expected, ranked first, and LeBron, not surprisingly, was second. Third? Manu Ginobili. Yes, sixth man Manu, ahead of such players as Kobe Bryant, Jerry West and Larry Bird.

Now am I arguing that Manu is a better overall player than Kobe or Bird? No. But I will say that Manu certainly seems to use his on-court time more efficiently, both offensively and defensively. In fact he’s the only active player to rank in the top 10 in Offensive and Defensive Rating. He’s sixth among active players in True Shooting percentage as well. Ginobili plays smart and effectively, making his shots on the offensive end and picking up steals and stops on the defensive end. He’s the type of player that advanced statistics seem to be made for.

Of course, advanced stats don’t always translate as well to fantasy, where Manu has long been viewed as a good-but-not-great player. Fantasy players have long pointed at his lack of minutes (more than 30MPG only once in his career) as a reason for staying away from him. Even in limited minutes though, Ginobili has consistently put up solid across-the-board numbers. I’d personally rather have Manu’s 17-4-4 with 2 steals and 85|PERCENT| free throw shooting every game than, say, Mo Williams, who went an average of 45 spots ahead of Ginobili in ESPN drafts. In fact, Manu, at age 33, entered the season at an average draft position of 87. As of now, he’s ranked 27th in ESPN’s Player Rater system, and with Tony Parker out, Manu’s value should only go up.

Parker’s injury, in fact, has made it abundantly clear how valuable Ginobili actually is this season. The Spurs, without Parker, won games over Oklahoma City, Cleveland and Boston, all in the same week. In the win over Cleveland, the league’s best team, Ginobili had a 30-6-6 night with a 3-5 performance behind the three point line. More telling however was the fact that the Spurs, just off the heels of beating the Cavs and Celtics, lost to the lowly Nets on Monday night. Monday’s game of course happened to be the one that Manu missed with a sore back. So far this month Ginobili is putting up 22.4 points and 5.5 assists per game, while shooting 44|PERCENT| from three. On the year, his three-point percentage is still at 38|PERCENT|, and he’s at 87|PERCENT| from the free-throw line. He’s averaging 1.4 steals and 16 points. Manu is doing this year what he’s been doing his entire career – playing smart.

Ginobili’s contract is up at the end of the season, and while most expect the Spurs to re-sign him, he has stated publicly that he doesn’t foresee San Antonio offering him an extension. The Spurs, of course, have remained silent, and for good reason. With Manu, they can beat the Cavs. Without him? They lose to the Nets. Maybe Win Share percentage does matter after all.

Is it Time to Give Up on Andrew Bynum?

It has become an annual rite of spring, like the azaleas at Augusta or the Undertaker winning a Wrestlemania match. Yes, for the third straight year, Lakers center Andrew Bynum is missing late-season time with an injury. These injuries, combined with the nagging aches and strains that have plagued Bynum throughout his career bring to mind the question: is it time to give up on Andrew Bynum?

Bynum has been labeled as the “next great center” since his high school prom. At 7-0 and 285 pounds, Bynum has the size and athleticism to be at least a reasonable facsimile of Dwight Howard. And Bynum has shown flashes, starting with an 18-9 against Phoenix just days after his 19th birthday, and regular double-doubles before he was old enough to drink. While the Lakers have dangled everyone and anyone, Kobe included, in trades over the past few years, Bynum has always been the team’s untouchable player in trade rumors. He is potential personified.

That potential, however, has been dwarfed by Bynum’s propensity to suffer major injuries over the last few years. His injury problems started in January of 2008 with a left patella subluxation, followed that up with a torn right MCL in 2009, and now he’s out with an Achilles’ issue. On top of those, Bynum has missed time this year with elbow, ankle and hip problems. Over the last three years, Bynum has missed a total of 84 regular season games, with more expected through the rest of this season. That’s not even including the playoffs, which have been affected the last two years by Bynum injuries, and figure to do so this year as well. He simply can’t stay on the court.

But has Bynum even been that good when he has been healthy? This year has possibly been his best year, with only the injury-shortened 2007-2008 year comparing. Bynum’s numbers this year: 15 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 57|PERCENT| field goal shooting. Good, but not “late-90s Shaq” by any means. Bynum had nine double-doubles in his last 30 games, again good, but not blow-away great. Bynum has a career 69|PERCENT| free throw average, and only gets to the line three times per game. Stats-wise among centers he’s slightly behind Brook Lopez, and about even with Marc Gasol. Emeka Okafor is beating him in blocks and rebounds, Kendrick Perkins shoots better from the field and has more blocks. Lopez-Gasol-Okafor-Perkins. No All-Stars among them, and certainly not the company that most expected Bynum to keep. More importantly, all of these centers make significantly less than Bynum, and could have been had much later in fantasy drafts.

Granted, Bynum is the second low-post option for the Lakers, but with Pau Gasol’s recent contract extension, that situation doesn’t look to change any time soon. Lamar Odom was recently extended as well, so the idea of Bynum as a growth stock or as someone who will suddenly see an influx of offensive touches seems to be wishful thinking for his fantasy owners. 15-8 seems to be Bynum’s healthy ceiling, at least for the next two or three years. Of course the operative word in that sentence is “healthy,” as knee, ankle and Achilles’ problems on a 285 pound man are never exactly a good sign for future success. So make this latest Bynum injury be a sign for next year’s draft, and let someone else in your league take a risk on Bynum. Let that guy worry about him while you’re watching the Undertaker.

Kansas, Kentucky and Frosted Mini Wheats

Ahh March Madness. Or as it’s known around my house, “Basketball Christmas.” Don’t get me wrong, I love the NBA, but the NCAA Tournament (and really the entire month of March in college basketball) hold a greater sense of urgency, importance and permanence than the NBA Playoffs. Yeah I said it. I like the NCAA Tournament more than the NBA Playoffs. Maybe it’s because of Gus Johnson’s screaming, or the phrase “Bracketology,” or the fact that, as the commercial with the kid balancing a soccer ball on his foot while playing violin, most of these people will be going pro in something other than basketball. Also, in a related story, if I saw a college in a New York City subway station balancing a soccer ball on his foot while playing violin, I’d totally give him money. But I digress.

Part of the reason I like the NCAA Tournament so much is because I’ve always been fascinated with potential. I spent all of last year drooling over Ricky Rubio Youtube clips. I still think Tyrus Thomas can become an All-Star big man. I thought Harold Miner was awesome, and I don’t fault the Celtics for drafting Kedrick Brown. Does this make me an idiot? Probably. But there’s just something about players with unlimited athletic potential that leaves me speechless.

Which is why I am not picking Kansas this year. Every talking head you see is telling you why Kansas’ experience and fundamentals and intangibles and (insert vague adjective here) will win them the tournament in the name of PROPER BASKETBALL. To me? They’re bland, and not just because I saw them get smoked in person by a Tennessee team with only six scholarship players. Sherron Collins? Blah. He’s Kyle Lowry at best and Mateen Cleaves at worst. Cole Aldrich? Hate him. Why a team would waste a top-5 pick on Joel Pryzbilla 2.0 is beyond me. Xavier Henry? A bit better, though it’s telling that’s closest comparison to him is Jimmy Jackson. I never had any Jimmy Jackson posters on my wall.

Contrast them with my pick for the championship, Kentucky. Kentucky is the Stones to Kansas’ Beatles. Actually, no, strike that – they’re the Jimi Hendrix to KU’s Nickelback. The Vegas to Kansas’ Branson. The 1990s Ice Cube to Kansas’ 200s Ice Cube. Kentucky is athletic, temperamental, streaky, young and a wee bit insane, and I simply could not love their team more (and that’s speaking as a Gator fan too). I love Kentucky because their top four players could either become huge NBA stars or cautionary tales. Here’s a glimpse at each of their top four players and why you, as a lover of basketball, should love them too:

John Wall, PG: Simply put, John Wall is the best athlete heading into the NBA since LeBron James. He reportedly has a 40″ vertical leap. He runs the break quicker than Rajon Rondo. His wingspan is ridiculous for a 6’4″ guard. He plays defense. He shoots (kinda). Every time John Wall steps on the court, there’s a chance of something you’ve never seen before happening. How many players can you say that about? Yes, he’s inconsistent and isn’t wonderful in the clutch, but nobody in this tournament (and very few players in the NBA, if any) possesses the tools that Wall has. I’d be absolutely terrified to bet against someone like that. In fact, I should probably stop writing about Wall, for fear of bringing on a restraining order.

Eric Bledsoe, PG: On an unpredictable team, Bledsoe may be the biggest wild card of all. Sure, he’s not as temperamental as Cousins or as brazen as Wall, but Bledsoe defines the old basketball archetype of the bombs-away shooter. Granted, teams will try to make him a point guard due to his 6’1″ size and the lack of quality point guards in this year’s draft (should he declare), but make no mistake: Bledsoe is a shooter first, second and third. And the man is streaky, shooting 4-22 from three in the seven games before Sunday’s 5-8 long-distance day. He hasn’t had more than three assists in his last eight games, and will need to temper his shoot-first mentality to become a true point guard. He does have speed and defensive skill in his favor however, which should attract NBA scouts.

DeMarcus Cousins, C: Cousins is insanely talented. Cousins is also insanely insane. He was #1 in PER for all of college basketball this season, and generally looked like a man among boys in the low post all season. His size and frame translate immediately to NBA production, and nobody would be shocked if he averaged a double-double from Day 1 in the League. He blocks shots and has a strong low-post offensive game. Talent-wise, he’s everything you could ask for in an NBA center. Off the court? That’s another story entirely. The fact that most compare Cousins’ character to Derrick Coleman is a giant, massive, blaring, humongous red flag. Google “demarcus cousins crazy” and you get 123,000 hits. If you look up “demarcus cousins sane” there’s only 8,700. The masses have spoken. But he’s also crazy good.

Patrick Patterson, PF: Unlike his teammates, Patterson has been wildly consistent on a team where he often doesn’t see as many touches as a player of his talent should. Patterson is the definition of a solid post player – like a slightly shorter Al Jefferson. He’s also shown an ability to improve, as evidenced by his development of a jump shot and even a perimeter game over the last year. Patterson’s overshadowing in Kentucky may actually also bode well for him in the NBA, as he’s now used to playing with immensely talented players and can still adapt accordingly.

I’m reminded of those commercials for Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal from when I was a kid. In the ads, adults talked about how they loved the wheat side of the cereal, while kids proclaimed their joy for the frosted side. In this analogy, Kansas is the wholesome shredded wheat side, where Kentucky is the sugar and frosting side. Whole grains are all well and good, but which side was more fun to eat?

Allen Iverson’s Fantasy Legacy

Allen Iverson is a Hall of Famer. This much is certain, both due to the on-and-off court impact that Iverson had in his 14-year career, and the Basketball Hall of Fame’s comparatively low standards of induction. He won an MVP, led the league in scoring four times, he carried the 2000-2001 Sixers on his back to the Finals, and more importantly, he may have been the league’s most culturally relevant player in the post-Jordan, pre-LeBron era. Iverson played the game with the reckless abandon of a special teams gunner, and his efforts will be rewarded with enshrinement in the Hall, probably on the first ballot.

But was Iverson one of the greatest fantasy players to ever live? Obviously the man could score, but did he provide the all-around production that is necessary from an elite fantasy player? When looking at his career body of work, there are a few glaring aspects that prove that AI was not as elite in the fantasy realm as one would originally consider him to be.

Shooting: Iverson led the league in shots attempted four times during his career. His shooting percentages during those years? 41, 42, 41 and 42 percent. Yes, I know he wasn’t exactly taking layups all the time. But Kobe Bryant has also led the league in shots attempted four times in his career, and averaged 45, 46, 46 and 46 percent from the field in those years. Iverson’s been even worse from three – in only six of his 14 years has he averaged more than 30|PERCENT| from long range. And it’s not like he hesitated from shooting downtown either. Iverson ranks 31st in career three-point attempts, but only 49th in made three-pointers. Iverson’s career shooting (42.5|PERCENT|) and three-point (31.3|PERCENT|) numbers leave a significant amount to be desired from a fantasy perspective.

Durability: Iverson was long lauded for his toughness and durability, and given how he played the game, he certainly deserves much of those accolades. For a guy who was generally listed at 6’0,” Iverson sacrificed his body more ECW’s Sabu. But his efforts may have done more harm than good. Iverson played in 60 or more games in only eight of his 14 seasons, and only once in the last four. And this isn’t even taking into account the fact that Iverson was a constant risk for suspensions due to his off-court behavior, which certainly had his fantasy owners on edge every time they heard his name on the news.

Scoring: This was obviously Iverson’s greatest strength, as he led the league in scoring four times, behind only guys named “Jordan” and “Chamberlain” in total number of scoring titles. His 24, 368 points rank him third among active (well, sorta active) players and 17th alltime. Great numbers obviously, and his scoring should be the thing above all else that gets him into the Hall. But at what expense? When looking at Usage Percentage, or the percentage of a team’s plays used by one player, we see why he was able to score so much. A staggering 31.8|PERCENT| of all the plays in Iverson’s career were used by him. That’s fourth alltime, and ahead of such players as Kobe Bryant, Julius Erving and Larry Bird. So yes, Iverson scored a ton, but he took up a hugely disproportionate number of his teams’ plays while doing so, negatively affecting the fantasy numbers for his teammates.

Turnovers: Fantasy players always know that they’re taking a risk when they pick a player who carries the ball up the court every play, but Iverson was a much bigger risk than most. He led the league in turnovers twice, and averaged 3.6 per game for his career. He was among the league’s top ten in coughing the ball up in seven different seasons. Among active players, he ranks second in career turnovers, ahead of even Shaquille O’Neal. If AI was your fantasy team’s starting point guard, you were probably towards the bottom of your league in turnover ranking.

Now obviously Iverson was a great player, and I don’t mean this column as a hit piece. His assist and steal numbers were exemplary, and we may never see a player of Iverson’s size again able to put up the type of scoring numbers that Iverson provided throughout his career. But from a fantasy perspective, Iverson was always a huge risk, contributing greatly in one category while hurting your team in many others.

The Chris Paul Vacuum

When Chris Paul tore his left meniscus at the end of January, most people figured that the Hornets were doomed, especially when it was revealed that CP3 would miss up to two months after surgery. And it was with good reason; for the last five seasons, Paul has been the heart, soul and engine of the Hornets. This year was even turning out to be Paul’s best shooting season, as he made 50|PERCENT| of his shots from the field and 42|PERCENT| of his threes. On top of that, Paul leads the league with 11.2 assists per game and is second in the league in steals. Fantasy owners and Hornets fans alike had to wonder the same thing: who would step up in Paul’s absence?

The answer, interestingly enough, has come in the form of two rookies: Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton, neither of whom went in the top 20 of last year’s draft. In fact Thornton’s drafting was more seen as a “Hornets grab local boy” public relations move than anything, as he hails from Baton Rouge and went to LSU. But it’s been these two rookies, more than anyone else on the New Orleans roster, who have stepped up in Paul’s absence. Collison won the Rookie of the Month award for February by posting 21.6 points and 8.3 assists per game. The only other rookie over the last 25 years to post scoring and assist numbers that high in the same month was Allen Iverson. Thornton was no slouch, averaging 18.8 points and shooting 43|PERCENT| from three, even while missing a few games with a back injury. Thornton even broke the team record for points in a quarter in last week’s loss to Cleveland.

Both players have also put up secondary numbers that make each of them strong fantasy pickups. Collison averaged 1.8 steals per game in February, and shot 82|PERCENT| from the free throw line. Thornton shot 83|PERCENT| from the stripe, and is at 40|PERCENT| from three on the year. Both players certainly have their flaws – Collison’s 4.8 turnovers per game in February and Thornton’s low assist and rebound numbers – but for two late-drafted rookies seeing some of the first significant minutes of their careers, it’s certainly an encouraging start.

The looming question, of course, is whether this strong play will end when Paul returns. Paul’s return should affect Collison the most. Collision has a similar skill set as Paul, plays the same position, and his size (6’0″) doesn’t translate well to anywhere but the point guard spot. Still, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Collison still get 20-25 minutes per game once Paul returns, if only as a reward for his strong February and to help ease Paul back into the lineup. Moreover, Collison’s excellent play last month could open the door for New Orleans to shop Paul before he becomes a free agent in the summer of 2011, allowing the Hornets to get something for Paul before he leaves town.

Thornton however may end up being the backcourt complement that Paul has always wanted. Thornton’s predecessors – Desmond Mason, Bobby Jackson, Jannero Pargo, Morris Peterson – haven’t exactly been massive offensive threats that draw defensive attention away from Paul. Thornton however, with his ability to score in bursts, is just what the Hornets, and Paul, have long needed. Even in his role off the bench, Thornton has put up two 30-point games in the last week, and against Cleveland and San Antonio no less. It only seems a matter of time until he wrests the starting role away from Peterson and is allowed to really let his talents fly while playing next to Paul.

Given these circumstances, I’d say that Thornton may actually be the better fantasy investment for the long run. He shoots well, will have more open looks when Paul returns, and his rebound (and possibly assist) numbers should increase with a starting role. Collison had a great February, and I don’t doubt that he’ll continue to play well when Paul returns. But Thornton has the talent and plays just the right position to become even more of a breakout star when Paul returns. Not too bad for a local kid.