Fans of the South Carolina Gamecocks will remember the 2017 NCAA Tournament run for a number of reasons — perhaps the most memorable one of them all was the performance of Sindarius Thornwell.
Thornwell averaged 23.6 points per game during the tournament at a 47.2 percent shooting clip en route to leading South Carolina to their first Final Four in school history. To go along with that, he was the 2016-17 SEC Player of the Year and now a two-time All-SEC Defensive Team member. It goes without saying he is the most decorated player in the history of Gamecock basketball.
However, despite all of those accolades it took Thornwell’s tournament run for him to finally get noticed by the internet draft boards. So what’s the deal with Thronwell’s widespread snubbery? We sat down with a man who made a name for himself by dissecting college basketball and the draft, Sam Vecenie.
An SB Nation alum, Vecenie evaluates NBA prospects year round and has had his eye on Thornwell for quite some time now. Here’s my conversation with him just before the Gonzaga game last week:
Why has Thornwell struggled to get respect on these internet draft boards? It really took this tournament run for a lot of the draft heads to finally start giving him some respect.
I can only speak to my sensibilities, but he’s been in my top-60 since the end of January. If you look at the big board I published before the tournament I had Thornwell 48. Once people start declaring for the draft or staying in school he could wind up falling into the end-of-the-first round range.
I do think part of the problem is public perception. I’m willing to guess a lot of internet NBA draft experts don’t watch South Carolina during the regular season.
So South Carolina fans aren’t just paranoid? Playing for a team that hasn’t been nationally relevant could really be working against Sindarius?
Sure, for the internet heads at least. For the NBA guys he’s always been on their boards. I’ve talked to scouts throughout the year on Thornwell and they all seem to think he’s a solid second round pick. I personally am a little bit higher on them than they are but throughout the year and really since January the rap on him has been a second round pick.
He’s six-foot-five with a six-nine wingspan, he’s hitting a higher clip of shots this season, he’s more efficient and hits more free throws. I think he needs to extend his range to the NBA three-point line and the slow shot release worries scouts a bit.
Before we get into why he would be a good NBA player, give me the worries you have for why he would struggle in the association.
The things I’ve been told and the things that match up with what I’ve seen when I wrote about him for Vice start with where he plays in the lineup. They moved him around a bit this year, he was playing a lot of two/three at the beginning of the year and he slowly moved towards playing the three/four while playing a lot of small ball four.
Half of their minutes towards the end of the year he played a small ball four, and because of that scouts are worried he’s taking advantage of smaller defenders off the dribble because he doesn’t have a crazy elite first step. It’s a fair question mark to have.
Another concern is that he takes a majority of his threes from right in front of the basket, so he’s going to have to extend that range a couple feet back in order to keep that solid three-pointer above the break.
Another concern is general ball handling because he’s more of a straight line driver. He doesn’t have a great first step, so the question would be if he has the wiggle to get by defenders to get off shots. The shot release is a little slow as well, so he’ll have to quicken that up because it takes him so long to get his shot up.
Okay, so now we know what the issues are. Give me the reasons an NBA team would take a chance on him.
First and foremost he is an elite defender. He totally shut down Luke Kennard who by my money was the best offensive weapon in college basketball this year as far as a pure scorer goes. Thornwell not only denied Kennard the right to score he denied him the ball completely. Duke couldn’t get Kennard the ball at all in that game, and I think that says a lot about Thornwell.
He sells out for the team, he does what he can for the team and I’m not afraid to say he was the best two-way player in college basketball this season. I felt that way all season and I feel like he’s proven over the course of the tournament as the best player in the entire thing.
So if you’re looking at players in the NBA right now, who most resembles Thornwell when they were in college? I have a name off the top of my head and I’m wondering if agreed.
That’s a tricky one for me because I’m not a big fan of comps, but if I had to give a name I’d have to say Danny Green when he was at North Carolina. He wasn’t a very good shooter his first couple of years in college and now he’s developed into one of the elite three-point shooters in the league.
I think it’s fair to say Thornwell can develop into that. Green is an elite defensive player, but keep in mind Green developed from an okay shooter to a top-15 shooter, which is unrealistic in terms of expectation. What’s the name you were thinking of?
Tony Allen. Tony Allen was that kind of defender but never really had the elite offensive shops which has come back to bite him in the NBA.
Tony Allen was the Big-12 player of the year averaging about 18 points a game, but I don’t think that’s a bad comparison. The reason I go out of my way not to compare people to Tony Allen is because Tony Allen’s mentality is in the top .0001 percent in terms of motor and competitiveness.
Thornwell can be in the top three percent and still not be Tony Allen. One name I’ve heard come up NBA scouts is KJ McDaniels. They have similar dimensions, positions and both developed as shooters late in their career. It worked out relatively well for KJ early but not so much recently, but all of that said is one of the reasons Thornwell is so hard to peg down.
A lot of his game is based on the drive, and it would appear he’s not quick enough off the first step for depend on that at the NBA. So it all comes down to him developing as a shooter.
He needs to become an elite level shooter and if he does, he’s got a long career ahead of him. If ha can’t, he’ll be stuck in the KJ zone where he looks great in spurts or will struggle in-and-out of the D-league.