This year’s NCAA Tournament wasn’t exactly chock full of breakout stars.
De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk of Kentucky? Already top-level picks, didn’t move their stock much one way or the other.
Justin Jackson of UNC? He is who we thought he was.
Josh Jackson, Zach Collins, Lauri Markkanen, TJ Leaf, Lonzo Ball? Yawn.
But Sindarius Thornwell… Even with a name like that, somehow this dude managed to go largely unnoticed until he led South Carolina to the Final Four, and stirred the loins of every NBA fan whose team has a pick in the late-first or second rounds.
So what’s up with this guy? Why should the Knicks want to take him with one of their two second round picks?
Let’s take a look at some things. First, a blind comparison:
21.4 PPG / 7.2 RPG / 2.8 APG / 2.1 SPG / 1.0 BPG
.445 FG% / .471 2P% / .395 3P%
18.2 PPG / 4.1 RPG / 3.1 APG / 0.9 SPG / 0.2 BPG
.457 FG% / .498 2P% / .391 3P%
122.3 ORTG / 99.9 DRTG / 11.1 BPM
Both players were seniors. Both won their conference’s Player of the Year honors in their senior seasons. Both led their teams on deep NCAA tourney runs. Both stand at 6’5”, weigh about 215 lbs and have wingspans in the neighborhood of 6’10”.
Player A is the reason this article exists, Sindarius Thornwell. Player B is Malcolm Brogdon, current Milwaukee Buck, 2015 second-round draftee, and dark horse candidate for the 2017 Rookie of the Year award.
Now, these two are definitely not the same player, despite similar stats. Brogdon played SG in college, and plays a little PG in the pros. Thornwell, meanwhile, played more of a SG/SF/PF role with South Carolina, and probably profiles as a SG or a small-ish SF in the pros, since he doesn’t quite have the handles to be a combo guard.
But the reason I draw the comparison is this: guys like Sindarius and Brogdon are the guys that can step right in at the NBA level, are mature enough to know and accept their role from the jump, and while not spectacular at any one given thing, can give you quality bench production right away.
But don’t take my word for it, let’s dive into some stuff.
It’s always weird to think about with the four-year college players vs. the one-and-dones, but Thornwell was in the high school class of 2013 with Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid, among others. But while those guys were ranked in the top 10 of their class, Sin was at No. 41 in ESPN’s recruiting rankings, No. 22 in 247sports’ ranks and No. 43 in Rivals’ rankings. He was a four-star recruit coming out of high school.
Thornwell went to Oak Hill Academy, which has notably produced another current Knick and a bunch of other prominent NBA players. In high school, he stood at 6’5” and weighed 185 pounds, meaning that since that time he hasn’t grown an inch, but has put on 30 pounds. And if you look at Thornwell, it’s pretty clear that most of that weight is pure muscle.
Here’s a brief snippet from an article covering Thornwell’s performance at the Hoopfest tournament in 2012, his senior year of high school:
Oak Hill Academy wing Sindarius Thornwell, a four-star prospect who is committed to South Carolina, was possibly the most impressive player in the gym on Saturday. Thornwell came out aggressive and maintained that intensity throughout as he finished with a game-high 31 points on efficient 10-of-17 shooting.
Thornwell has always been a strong and athletic wing who can slash through traffic and finish at the rim. But on Saturday, the 6-foot-5 scorer showed he can be prolific from the 3-point line as well, knocking down three out of four shots from deep.
Also one of the more versatile players in the field, Thornwell was effective on the defensive end, guarding the post as he mostly matched up with Memphis Southwind's Jonathan Williams III.On a team with four Rivals150 prospects, Thornwell is the glue that holds Oak Hill Academy together and gives the team its competitive edge.
Some Sin-ful stats
So I already mentioned Sindarius’ main counting stats, which are impressive on their own. His 21.4 points per game was good enough for 15th in Division I, yet his career-high usage rate of 29.5% was only good for 96th in the nation. So what does that tell us, kids? Right, that he was efficient. And in all likelihood, efficiency will be something that could be the difference between Thornwell staying in the league for a cup of tea, or having a long, productive career.
His efficiency numbers certainly make it seem as if the latter could be a reasonable expectation. Many efficiency and value metrics had Thornwell as one of the best players in the country in 2016-17. His .274 win shares/40 minutes ranked him second in the nation, his Player Efficiency Rating of 30.3 was good for 10th and he led the nation in box plus/minus at 16.2 (which is very, very good).
Another impressive stat was his free throws attempted for the year, a robust 259 attempts, good for sixth in the nation. Thornwell shot 83% from the free throw line this past season, surely a byproduct of playing the full four years in college — free throw shooting is one of those skills that is usually a struggle for one-and-dones, at least at first.
The main thing that really stands out in Thornwell’s stats is the improvement he made year-over-year in college, particularly the leap that he took in his senior year. His .395 mark from three represented almost a six percent improvement over his junior year, and his .445 shooting percentage was seven percent higher than his junior season. Thornwell also managed to score eight more points per game while only taking three more shots. What that says to me is that four years in college was just right for Sindarius — he just needed that long to truly figure himself out.
Let’s wrap this up with some tape
A good place to start with highlights would be to look at one of the shining moments of Thornwell’s memorable senior season: a dominant 44-point, 21-rebound demolishing of Alabama, which was a more than respectable team this past season:
We learn a few things about Thornwell from this. First, he excels at getting into the lane and relishes contact. That’s those extra 30 pounds coming into play. He’s not the most elegant with his dribble, but he uses his strength to slash towards the hoop and draw contact, at the very least getting himself two free throws.
Secondly, he has a heck of a nose for getting his own rebound, in almost a Carmelo Anthony-like way. His body is definitely NBA-ready at this point, as he’s able to get off decent looks and draw fouls despite a lot of contact. Look at this sequence:
Thornwell gets the ball at the top of the key, uses a quick fake, and drives right to the hoop into contact. Then, after a miss and a no-call, he uses his size and positioning to get the ball back for a lay-up and the and-one. This type of stuff doesn’t always translate perfectly to the NBA, but I could see Thornwell having an impact on the glass. Remember how good Landry Fields was on the boards for the Knicks his rookie year? That’s the sort of impact I could see Thornwell having.
Another thing that I’ve noticed is that Sin doesn’t get too high off of the ground for his jumper, which could be a problem at the next level. However, he has already made marked improvement since earlier in his career. Here’s Thornwell earlier in his career:
And here he is in 2017:
Notice what’s changed? First, he’s much more straight up and down with his shot, rather than taking that little hop forward. He still hasn’t totally erased it from his shot, but the progress that he made from his junior to senior seasons definitely gives hope that he can fix his jumper to the point where that hop becomes nearly non-existent. That will be important, because that extra motion could mean the difference between getting a shot off or getting blocked in the NBA.
Secondly, his release seems to be a lot quicker, which is also key to being a good spot-up shooter in the big leagues. In the first clip, he had to take time to set up the jumper. Now, he gets it off almost seamlessly once he gets to his spot.
The changes to his shot also had a clear effect on his efficiency, as the above stats showed — his percentages from three went up over six percent his senior year.
Lastly — and this runs similar to Brogdon again — Thornwell has some athleticism that rarely showed in college, but might rear its head in the pros. Brogdon stayed relatively grounded during his college career, and his bread and butter was cuts to the hoop and layups. Then he came to the NBA and started doing stuff like this:
Similarly, Thornwell didn’t flash his athleticism much in college, sticking mostly to absorbing contact near the rim to try to draw fouls. But then every once in a while, he did something like this:
Defensively, it was hard to find a lot of tape on Thornwell. There’s some looks in videos like this:
My general impression of his defense is that he’s not going to be the fastest, but he has good hands and tends to keep his man in front of him. If he were to be drafted by the Knicks, I think his ideal pairing on defense would be with someone like Justin Holiday, that way Thornwell could play the “2” on offense, but cover the opponent’s SF on defense. His height differential could be negated by his strength in covering bigger players.
Can the Knicks get him?
It’s difficult to say whether the Knicks will be able to draft Thornwell. Some mocks now have Thornwell creeping into the first round after his spectacular NCAA Tournament, with some listing him as high as a top 20 pick. However, many reputable sites like DraftExpress still have him in the second round, where he very well could be on the board when the Knicks draft at No. 44.
At any rate, Thornwell seems like a player that could come right into the NBA and contribute, which is certainly something the Knicks can use. If they find themselves in a position to take him, I think they would be wise to do so.