Weight: 212 lbs.
NBA Experience: 0 years (rookie)
Key Stats: 21.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 2.1 steals in 33.9 minutes per game on 44.5% FG, 39.5% 3PT FG, and 83% FT during his final season at South Carolina
Contract Status: 3-year/$3.8 million
Sindarius Thornwell might be the most NBA-ready player the LA Clippers have drafted in quite some time. While he doesn’t possess the tremendous offensive upside often seen in lottery territory, he could eventually become a very important part of the Clippers’ retooling efforts. His combination of youth, athleticism, and defensive savvy make him a commodity for a team that has lacked those attributes at depth in recent years.
Selected 48th overall in the second round of the 2017 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, and immediately acquired thereafter by the Clippers in exchange for cash considerations, Thornwell was a bargain for LA. Thornwell might even be an outright steal. (In fact, Clips Nation’s Robert Flom wrote an article earlier this summer explaining why Thornwell might be a steal for the Clippers.)
Thornwell was a solid contibutor during his first three years at the University of South Carolina, but it was in his fourth and final year that he garnered the attention of the NCAA and NBA scouts alike. The attention was well-deserved, as were the accolades of First-Team All-SEC and SEC Player of the Year. During his junior year, he averaged 13.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. Despite averaging just a minute more of playing time during his senior year, his production ballooned. In his senior year, he averaged 21.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 2.2 steals, and 1 block per game. To top it all off, he had the most efficient season of his collegiate career in every shooting category. Using NBA Math’s Total Points Added metric, Thornwell was actually the most effective player in all of college basketball last season (you can find a further breakdown here from Clips Nation’s Lucas Hann). It also didn’t hurt that he led South Carolina to their first-ever Final Four appearance, defeating Marquette, Duke, Baylor, and Florida in the process (all top-10 ranked teams).
As with most other prospects, Thornwell’s college production is unlikely to translate to NBA production. There are some facets that are worth noting, however. His production during each of his first three years was nearly identical in most regards, illustrating his ability to maintain consistency. That he improved so immensely and led South Carolina so far into the postseason during his senior year demonstrates his commitment to his own development as well as his strong desire to win. That he finished all four years and earned his degree demonstrates his maturity and strong work ethic. But what does this all mean for his role on the Clippers?
It’s hard to know exactly how Thornwell might be utilized on the Clippers’ roster. We can expect his role to be fairly limited, at least for now. And history would tell us that a team with Doc Rivers at the helm is unlikely to give solid minutes to rookie talent, warranted or not. The Clippers of the 2017-18 season are vastly different, though. Following the departures of Chris Paul, JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford, Luc Mbah a Moute, Paul Pierce, Marreese Speights, Raymond Felton, and Brandon Bass, the Clippers have gotten younger and longer. Sporting a new identity and without the same urgent playoff expectations of recent years, the Clippers have given themselves room to grant rookies meaningful playing time. They now also have their own dedicated development team, the Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario, part of the NBA’s G-League; this may serve as a a valuable resource in developing young players like Thornwell.
Thornwell is likely to begin the season third on the depth chart at shooting guard, possibly at small forward as well. While his 6’5” height may leave him vulnerable against other forwards offensively, his 6’10” wingspan gives him a significant advantage at the defensive end for either position. Thornwell, at least early on, is likely to be used primarily for his defensive abilities against lower-tier reserves. His high motor and defensive savvy are likely to earn him extra minutes during the course of this season only if one of the following occurs: the Clippers move one of their guards at the trade deadline in February, or one of their guards suffers an injury during the course of the season. Austin Rivers, Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic, and Lou Williams are basically a lock for the Clippers’ first and second guard units, at least through February. The small forward minutes are also likely to be shared between Danilo Gallinari, Sam Dekker, and Wesley Johnson. This leaves Thornwell, barring a miraculously transcendent training camp/preseason, with very few opportunities for significant playing time.
Thornwell, along with fellow rookie Jawun Evans, inked a three-year deal with the Clippers. So he appears to be a part of the Clippers’ future, though they will focus on his development above plugging him into lineups to win immediately. For this reason, he’s likely to split his time between playing for the AC Clippers and learning the NBA game by watching from the bench.
When he does get playing time, expect him to operate in a 3-and-D mould. Thornwell, excellent ball-handler and downhill guard in college, will probably be used more for his ability to space the floor and pass from the perimeter. On the defensive end, he may be used to guard positions 1 through 4, the same way Austin Rivers has the last two years. Two NBA players who come to mind when thinking about his trajectory are Iman Shumpert and Jared Dudley; Thornwell’s ceiling may be higher than either one given his transition game, his overall efficiency, and the league’s movement towards small-ball basketball. For now though, Thornwell fans must remain patient.
Thornwell is one of the most exciting young players the Clippers have had in a long time, but it will probably be at least a year or so before we even begin to see him become a consistent part of the rotation. That said, his strong work ethic, his basketball intellect, and his high motor should make him a fan favorite in due time.
Here are some of Thornwell’s best plays with South Carolina:
And here are some of his best plays from NBA Summer League this year: