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Clippers 2018-19 Exit Interview: Sindarius Thornwell

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The second-year wing didn’t see as much playing time as last year due to a healthier season for LA.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Los Angeles Clippers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Key Information:

Name: Sindarius Thornwell

Age: 24

Years in the NBA: 2 years

Key stats: In 64 games (1 start against Indiana in the trade-deadline game), Thornwell averaged 1.0 points, 0.7 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.2 steals, and 0.1 blocks in 4.9 minutes per game. He shot 41.2 percent on twos, 20.0 percent on threes, and 73.5 percent on free throws.

Thornwell appeared in four playoff games for a total of 12 minutes, pretty much exclusively in garbage time.

2018-19 salary: $1,378,242

Future contract status: He is entering the final year of a three-year contract he signed with the Clippers after the 2017 NBA Draft. His salary of $1,618,520 will become fully guaranteed on June 20, 2019.

Summary:

Sindarius Thornwell is the very best guy to talk to in the Clippers locker room. He has an outgoing personality, he is tremendously fun, and he has very little filter when it comes to revealing his opinions about both this team and others around the league. From waxing poetic preseason about how playing 2K was the best way to learn scouting reports about opposing players to clowning on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for getting hazed as a rookie when he never did, because in his words, “I did everything I was supposed to do”, the team chemistry was better for having Thornwell around.

Thornwell’s impact on the basketball court was less pronounced. He only played 313 minutes in total, about a quarter of what he played during his rookie season. After trying him out in various second-unit configurations at the start of the year, Doc Rivers eventually relegated Thornwell to spot duty for end-of-period defensive possessions. It’s a challenging role for anyone to come on cold and only play for 30 seconds or so, but Thornwell was willing and able.

Strengths:

In a word, defense. Thornwell came out of college as a small-ball power forward (who completely stifled Jayson Tatum in the final game of his collegiate career), but only has the size to play wing in the NBA at 6’5”, and he has made the transition to defending on the perimeter pretty effectively. Thornwell had the best defensive rating on the Clippers of any player who appeared in at least three games at 96.8 points allowed per 100 possessions. This is in part because Thornwell was able to keep his opponent out of the paint with his length and quick feet. Opposing teams also shot significantly worse from three-point range with Thornwell on the floor, including 16 percent worse on corner threes, a testament to the amount of ground he could cover.

LA also forced more turnovers with him on the floor, as Thornwell has always had a good steal rate. The Clippers also conceded fewer offensive rebounds, leading to fewer points off of putbacks, while also preventing teams from getting out in transition as frequently. In short, Thornwell did about as well as could have been asked of him defensively.

On offense, Thornwell’s main skill is running the floor in transition, as he had the highest pace of any Clipper, and the team was more efficient on the break while he was playing. That also correlated to LA getting more shots at the rim when Thornwell was on the court.

Weaknesses:

Thornwell doesn’t really provide anything on offense in the halfcourt. He lacks the handle or burst to create his own shot, and even when he can bully his way to the basket, he doesn’t have the touch to finish effectively. He was a capable outside shooter on very small volume last season, but that completely evaporated this year. With his dreadful shooting percentages and high turnover rate, Thornwell was one of the least effective offensive players in the league. He can draw fouls getting to the basket, but if the Clippers’ offense has devolved in a Thornwell drive, then something has gone wrong.

Future with the Clippers:

Thornwell is on a very inexpensive deal for next season, and given his willingness to be in a deep bench role this past year, LA has to feel comfortable having him around and not upsetting the locker room balance. His contract guarantees before free agency starts, so there is a chance that the Clippers cut him to get a tiny bit of extra cap space but then bring him back on a minimum deal regardless. I’d guess that he’ll be back in Los Angeles, if only because if the Clippers hit in free agency, they will have to renounce the cap holds to a lot of their existing players, and Thornwell is a cheap option to fill out the roster.

Overall grade: C-

Thornwell didn’t really improve on anything from his rookie season. It’s hard to say that he took a step back because the Clippers had more healthy players and fewer minutes available for him. However, his game didn’t demand more time on the floor, either, since he didn’t develop his offensive game enough to earn a more prominent role. Ultimately, his defense was quite good, and it’s hard to hate on Sin too much, which is why he’s barely below average.