Thornton trying to learn on the job

Times Staff Writer

The biggest difference between college basketball and the NBA, according to Clippers rookie Al Thornton?

The increased homework.

“The different strategies of different teams,” Thornton said. “You have to prepare for something different every night. That’s one of the toughest things.”

So, Thornton studies teams, coverages and tendencies in his effort to learn and exploit defenses.


“I think sometimes he is caught in between,” said Fred Vinson, the team’s player development consultant who works with Thornton. “Sometimes, he is not really sure when to shoot, when not to shoot. When to attack, when not to attack. A lot of that has to do with his understanding of the guy who is guarding him.

“He doesn’t seem like a guy who, in the past, has watched a lot of NBA basketball. With him, as he goes around the league and learns guys’ tendencies, that will help him out a lot. But right now . . . there’s a little bit of indecision. I think he bails guys out who can’t defend him, because he has a tremendous first step.”

Thornton is averaging 12.8 points in nearly 30 minutes a game since power forward Tim Thomas injured his knee, crippling the Clippers’ front-court depth and shifting Thornton to Thomas’ position.

It has been good news and bad news for Thornton, a natural small forward. With Thomas sidelined, he has been receiving more minutes. But Thornton is also still learning defensive coverages and, at 6 feet 8, is an undersized power forward.

So far this season, he is averaging 7.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 0.4 assists while adjusting to the NBA game.

“You have to pick and choose when to attack and be more cautious on the calls,” Thornton said. “There is a lot of flopping in this league -- more than college -- so you have to be careful with that.”

But he is now seeing opponents for a second time.

“It’s definitely giving me a better feel,” Thornton said. “With experience, you are going to get better anyway. I think it’s just repetition -- doing the same thing every time and every game is helping me out a lot.”

Forward Paul Davis underwent successful surgery Friday to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Davis, in the last season of his rookie contract, has an expected timetable for return of six to eight months.

He is scheduled to remain in Birmingham, Ala., where the surgery was performed, to receive physical therapy until he returns to Los Angeles next Friday.

Thomas (sore knee) and forward Aaron Williams (bruised wrist) participated in limited drills Friday.

Thomas has sat out four games. Williams has not played in eight games. Both will be evaluated today to see if they can play Sunday against the San Antonio Spurs.