The South Carolina Gamecocks had a magical Final Four run in March, and Sindarius Thornwell was the catalyst for it all.

In a matter of days, the senior went from a no-name to one that borders on household. Thornwell played as well as anybody during the tournament, and he improved on a spectacular regular season. At the time of this writing, DraftExpress has Thornwell going to the Brooklyn Nets at 57th overall, and I believe that would be a great selection for Sean Marks’ organization. His numbers from this year alone catapulted him onto the radar of some NBA teams, and being the SEC’s best all-around player was paramount in him bringing home the Player of the Year award.

Thornwell went to the combine to increase his stock, but the measurables aren’t as eye-catching as his box scores. What he has going for him is his size. At 6-4.75, Thornwell is taller than his position’s average, and that height is more than serviceable to play shooting guard. Additionally, he’s got excellent length at 6-10, and that might be his most endearing quality. Where Thornwell hurts himself is with explosiveness, and that’s tough to get around in today’s NBA where so many wing players are supreme athletes. Of the 13 shooting guards who got their max verticals recorded, Thornwell came in last at 30.5 inches. It doesn’t get much better. He posted the sixth-slowest lane agility drill with 11.48 seconds (position average was 11.3) and was 14th with a three-quarter court sprint of 3.36 seconds (average was 3.1). There’s no getting around the fact he’s a subpar athlete, but the numbers contradict. Thornwell ironically stands out from his peers because of his incredible defense.

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“I love to play defense,” said Thornwell after a pre-draft workout with the Indiana Pacers. “I try my best to compete on the defensive end, and I’m ready to play right away.”

Frank Martin, South Carolina’s head coach, breathes defense. He drills it so hard into his players that they have no choice but to go out and give maximum effort. And Thornwell is a gritty, blue-collar guy who doesn’t back down from any challenge. This, above anything else, is why I think he’d be ideal for the Brooklyn Nets. According to CBS Sports, the SEC had the fifth-highest conference RPI, so Thornwell is going up against the NCAA’s best more times than not. His 66 steals led the conference, and his 2.1 per game were also number one. Thornwell’s length is ideal for irritating ball handlers, and having such strong help means he can play at 110 miles per hour every time down. He finished second with a defensive rating of 88.8 points allowed per 100 possessions — remember, this is a shooting guard. He also finished second in defensive box plus/minus with a plus-6.7. (Thornwell’s also averaged one block a game, just for good measure.)

Those are tantalizing numbers for anyone, let alone a guard who’s bordering on going undrafted. Unfortunately, defensive metrics don’t have the same weight as offensive ones. If Thornwell didn’t make the offensive jump that he did, I don’t believe he’d be on any mock drafts.

After his first three seasons, Thornwell was averaging 12.7 points a game while shooting a piddling 37.1 percent from the field. Comparing that to what he did as a senior would make one think South Carolina put an entirely different player on the floor. His 12.7 points ballooned to 21.4, which led the SEC, and he diversified his offense and shot 44.5 percent overall, which was due to his newfound range. Thornwell had been a poor three-point shooter, 31.8 percent, and his development in that area is going to intrigue a bunch of NBA teams. His final collegiate season saw him shoot 39.5 percent from downtown, and that only helped other parts of his offense. Thornwell is a north and south player. He doesn’t bother dancing. Once he puts his head down and attacks, one of two things happen — he either converts or gets fouled.

Opponents, try as they might, could not keep Thornwell off of the free throw line. He attempted 259 foul shots in 31 games and made 215 of them. Both led the conference, and an 83 percent clip is excellent for someone who shoots the volume that he does. Those numbers will change once he gets to the league because NBA defenders are much more disciplined, and Thornwell’s lack of explosiveness is going to create a lot of issues finishing over taller defenders. There’s always the chance he becomes more athletic after a couple of seasons, but the immediate remedy is going to be his jump shot, and there isn’t much work that he needs to do. Thornwell’s motion is fluid; there are no jerky movements or hitches.

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A three-and-D guy is a role the Nets need to fill because neither were their strong suits. We all know how atrocious the defense was, but the accuracy from downtown was just as questionable. Someone like Thornwell would give the Nets a reliable option on the perimeter and bulldog defensively, which would be great while he figures out how to expand his role. Additionally, he’s a force on the glass despite being undersized. With an average of 7.2 boards per game as a senior, Thornwell was sixth in the conference and was one of 11 players (the only guard) to average at least 20 points and seven rebounds.

With a second-round selection comes lowered expectations, and Thornwell, if the Nets are lucky enough to grab him, is going to go to a team that won’t be afraid to give him the time to develop. Kenny Atkinson experimented with a myriad of young players last season, and Thornwell would likely see the same treatment.

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