The constant evolution of the 2016-17 Wizards' bench has Marcus Thornton currently on the outside looking in. For much of this season he was a mainstay in their second unit, but lately coach Scott Brooks has turned to rookie Sheldon McClellan as their primary backup shooting guard instead.
After not playing in 16 of 17 games from Nov. 17 to Dec. 19, McClellan has since appeared in nine of the Wizards' last 11 games. In four of his last six outings, he's received double-digit minutes.
Thornton, meanwhile, has not played in each of the Wizards' last four games. That's after playing in all but one of their previous 34 and averaging 17.4 minutes in those contests.
So, what gives, why is Thornton all of a sudden taking a seat for McClellan? Brooks explained why on Friday.
"I want to see what we have in Sheldon. He's a rookie, he's new. He's been working hard. He went down to the D-League and played well. He's been practicing well and when I've given him some minutes, I think he's performed well. I just want to see can he do it consistently," Brooks said.
"It has nothing to do with Marcus' play. Actually, Marcus for the month of December shot the ball very well. He's made a bunch of big shots for us. I know what I have in Marcus. He definitely will get more opportunities in the future. Right now, Sheldon's getting those opportunities but who knows, we could play a smaller lineup with both Marcus and Sheldon in at the same time."
Thornton appeared to have Brooks' trust enough to earn consistent minutes while the rest of the Wizards' bench changed continously this season. Now, he has fallen out of favor, at least for the time being. Thornton will have to wait until his turn comes again.
"It's a game-in, game-out process, just learning his philosophies. I'm learning what he wants offensively and defensively. I think it's getting better," Thornton said of gaining Brooks' trust. "I've been a vet for eight years, so it's not too hard to figure out what's going on. It's a daily process and I'm just trying to get better at."
Thornton feels like he knows where he needs to improve. One of those areas is on offense.
"When he first brought me in, he told me to just go out there and play. 'Do what you do.' And that's score the ball. For me, I'm just trying to get my teammates involved, too. Scoring for me is easy. Having my teammates feeling comfortable, that's going to make it better," Thornton said.
"I've been doing it my whole life, attacking the rim and scoring the ball. Some nights you might not have it, but you still want your teammates to have confidence in you to make the right play. Maybe it's not scoring. Maybe it's getting somebody else an open shot. When your teammates have confidence in you, it makes it much easier to go out there and do it."
One area where Thornton was struggling before he was removed from the rotation was turnovers. In his last five games, Thornton has seven turnovers. That matches what he had in his previous 16 games combined.
It's unclear if that is the specific reason why Brooks is opting for McClellan. But Thornton respects whatever Brooks decides.
"I mean, unfortunately that's not my decision, the minutes I play. So, when I'm out there I just try to make the most of it. Just go out there, the time that I'm out there, just be effective on both ends," he said.