Last week, the Clippers made a couple of moves to get into the draft—they purchased picks 39 and 48 from the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks, selecting Jawun Evans from Oklahoma State and Sindarius Thornwell from South Carolina.
Lucas Hann: First of all, Sindarius Thornwell means a lot to the South Carolina basketball program. He led the team to the first Final Four in school history and while I am not well-versed in the program's legacy, I've heard some suggestions that he could be the best player in program history. Clippers executive Lawrence Frank praised Thornwell as a "winner"--what did he mean to South Carolina basketball and what does he bring to an NBA locker room/culture?
Chris Stanley: Sindarius Thornwell is to South Carolina basketball as Michaelangelo was to the Italian Renaissance. Thornwell had offers to go to Louisville or Syracuse coming out of high school but spurned both to stay in-state and believe in what Frank Martin was trying to build. So for four years, he became the emotional engine for a program which quite frankly hasn't been nationally relevant since the seventies. It all came to a point this year when he willed the team to the Final Four, which undoubtedly cemented him as the best player in program history or second best behind Alex English. The Clippers are getting someone who knows how to grind, has taken a losing team to be a Final Four team and has overcome some personal demons was well. I'm certainly biased on the issue, but Y'all got a steal from the Bucks on this pick.
LH: One notable thing about Sindarius is that in college, he played a lot of different positions, sometimes ending up at power forward for the Gamecocks. He's just 6'4", but I noted on draft night that if he was 6'6" he would have been a first rounder, and if he was 6'8" he would have gone in the lottery. How do you think he will adjust to being a full-time shooting guard, particularly considering how it will limit interior scoring and rebounding, which are two of his strengths?
CS: Thornwell didn't start playing small ball three and four until PJ Dozier came onto the team, so I can assure Clipper fans he'll be fine slotting back into the two guard spot. His elite perimeter defense is going to be the reason he stays on the court, but I think it comes down to whether or not he can develop a consistent outside shot as to whether or not he'll develop into a 20-25 minute a game player.
LH: Thornwell shot the ball well from deep during his senior season (39.2% on 4.8 attempts per game), but he wasn't a great shooter for his career and there are some question marks as to his NBA range. In the Clippers' system, the wings tend to get a lot of open threes around Chris Paul's drives, Blake Griffin's post-ups, and DeAndre Jordan's rim dives. Do you think Sindarius will be comfortable and efficient as a spot-up shooter from the NBA three-point line?
CS: As I said earlier, I think it will take time. Thornwell was compared to Wesley Matthews of the Dallas Mavericks a lot during the draft process and much like Thornwell, Matthews was somewhat inconsistent from three at Marquette. Now, he's developed into one of the better three-and-D shooting guards in the NBA. The same can be said for Danny Granger or PJ Tucker. If Thornwell can hit the gym -- which I have no doubts he will -- and the Clippers staff work to extend his range just a few feet they could turn him into a reliable three-and-D wing. If not, he could look a lot like Marcus Smart or a less-crazy Tony Allen.
LH: We all know that Thornwell, coming from Frank Martin's coaching, has a strong defensive reputation. I anticipate that his toughness, length, and smarts will make him immediately playable defensively in the NBA, which is not exactly common in the second round. Beyond that, however, I'm not sure what his upside is as a defender. Do you think he's going to be a good NBA defender or do you see a special upside as a stopper in the mold of players like Tony Allen? How does he project against bigger wings and quicker guards?
CS: Thornwell is certainly stronger than your typical guard prospect. He's built like a tree stump and routinely used that frame to bully over guards at the college level. Thornwell has the potential to become a lockdown defender in the NBA, just look at what he did to Luke Kennard in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. I actually have a very vivid memory of his first game ever at SC when he shut down Longwood's leading scorer for a 5-of-20 shooting night. Again, by my estimation defense will never be an issue for Thornwell at the next level.
LH: One of the Clippers' publicly stated priorities this summer was to add players at shooting guard who can help Chris Paul with ball-handling duties. Too often, with J.J. Redick and Luc Mbah a Moute on the wings, the Clippers were left with just one capable offensive creator on the floor. Thornwell is obviously more of a wing than a combo guard, but what does he have as far as creating offense off of the dribble in isolation or as a pick-and-roll ball-handler?
CS: Yes! As Thornwell grew in age he became a more reliable ball handler -- to the point where he was routinely bringing the ball up the court his junior and senior year. He's excellent in the pick-and-roll, though since he doesn't have the quickest first step I wouldn't rely on him as an iso scorer. But Thornwell has shown to be a crafty playmaker off the P&R and has the ability to throw a nice lob pass, something I'm sure Clipper fans have become very used to.
LH: Sindarius wasn't really seen as an NBA Draft prospect until March of this year, and he took a giant leap between his junior and senior seasons at South Carolina. Do you think that he's mostly developed as a player, or do you see him as a late bloomer who could continue to take big steps forward in the next couple of years? I think that with some minor work, especially on his shot, he could be a capable NBA role player as-is, but I wonder if his unusual development curve leaves him with some upside that most 23-year-old rookies don't have.
CS: I still think Thornwell has room to develop as a shooter because he took a huge leap from his junior to his senior year as a three-point shooter. He'll have a lot to learn about the NBA's style of basketball considering Frank Martin runs a medieval offense at South Carolina, but I think that shouldn't be a problem either. As I mentioned earlier, if Thornwell stays in the gym and works on extending his range as a shooter I have no doubts he could be a valuable role player on an NBA team in a couple of years.
Thanks a ton to Chris for answering my questions! Be sure to check out Garnet and Black Attack for their coverage of Thornwell and South Carolina sports.