Coach Mike Dunleavy had just finished touting Al Thornton’s resume at Wednesday’s shoot-around, explaining why he should be named to the All-Star Rookie Challenge.
“He’s done a lot,” Dunleavy said. “For instance, in our situation, he had a great preseason, started off the season OK -- he got injured twice. He sprained his ankle early on, so he was a little slow with all of that. But not too many rookies have had three or four 20-plus games against good teams.”
Rob Raichlen, the team’s director of communications, then pulled Dunleavy away and informed him that word had just filtered in. Thornton, who played through a stomach virus Wednesday, did not make the cut.
Five frontcourt players made the team: Seattle SuperSonics forward Jeff Green, Atlanta Hawks forward Al Horford, Houston Rockets forward Luis Scola, Milwaukee Bucks forward Yi Jianlian and New Jersey Nets center Sean Williams.
They were selected by the league’s assistants for the Feb. 15 game in New Orleans.
One of the team’s preseason goals for the rookie was for him to earn a spot in the game. It was not to be, but the Clippers are still content with his growth.
“To be honest with you, I thought I’ve been playing pretty good enough to make it, but it is what it is,” Thornton said.
He was averaging 8.6 points and 3.3 rebounds before Wednesday’s game and more than 11 points this month.
His veteran teammates were incredulous at the non-selection.
“That must be a conspiracy,” Sam Cassell said. “We must be in the state of Florida because that was a given.”
Thornton’s defense has improved as the season has progressed, but he does find himself in foul trouble often.
“He’s a got a chance to be a terrific defender,” Dunleavy said.
“He’s got quick feet, a quick vertical and he’s got the tenacity to do it. And he’s studying hard as far as trying to learn to read stuff better, and that’s the biggest things for a lot of the young guys coming in.
“They take a snapshot -- a picture of the half-court -- and can say, ‘This is what’s coming.’ ”
Dunleavy said that most rookies have fully adjusted to the league’s play by the last quarter of the season.
“I remember when I had Vin Baker with Milwaukee, it was kind of the same thing,” Dunleavy said.
“He did not make the rookie All-Star game and by the end of the year, he was first-team All-Rookie. So what happened was, you bring him along, you bring him along and then by January, he’s starting and building his minutes up and then down the stretch, he’s playing great.”
The Clippers shot at least 50% or better in four of their last nine games before Wednesday after not reaching that mark through their first 32 games.
The are 26th in the league with a 43.8% shooting percentage and 24th in scoring at 94.6 points per game.