76ers

The case for South Carolina's Sindarius Thornwell as a Sixers' 2nd-round pick

The case for South Carolina's Sindarius Thornwell as a Sixers' 2nd-round pick

Over the weeks leading up to the 2017 NBA draft, we'll be making cases for the Sixers to draft several prospects. Our series will kick off with options at No. 3 (or trade ups/downs) followed by second-round possibilities. The 2017 NBA draft will take place on June 22 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Sindarius Thornwell
Position: SG
School: South Carolina
Height: 6-5
Weight: 214
Wingspan: 6-10

It was a March (and April) to remember for Thornwell. After South Carolina's perfect 8-0 start came to an end in mid-December, Thornwell spent much of his senior season in relative obscurity — playing in a weak Southeastern Conference, the Gamecocks faced top-25 opposition just three times between December and the start of the NCAA Tournament.

Off the radar, however, Thornwell set career highs in nearly every category. He averaged 21.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.1 steals and shot 44.4 percent from the field en route to SEC Player of the Year honors, and when March Madness came around, the South Carolina star was a big reason why the Gamecocks made their first trip in program history to the Final Four.

With consistent offense and the skill set of a tenacious defender — he was named to the conference's all-defensive team each of his last two seasons — Thornwell could fill a pair of roles the Sixers desperately need. But will they take him with one of their four second-round selections?

The case for Thornwell
Although the offensive numbers are certainly gaudy, the first thing you notice when watching Thornwell is his incredible ferocity on the defensive end. The guy might not be the fastest on the floor — Thornwell ranked fifth-to-last in the three-quarter spring and in the middle of the pack in the shuttle run among guards at the NBA Scouting Combine, respectively — but he can stick with pretty much any guard in the country.

I watched him absolutely smother Duke guard Luke Kennard as South Carolina's zone forced 18 turnovers in the second-round upset of the Blue Devils. And for the season, Thornwell led the Gamecocks in steals and finished second in blocks, despite his smaller stature. Last season, the Sixers had just two players among the NBA's top 145 in defensive win shares.

All the while, Thornwell scored and scored and then scored some more. He improved as a shooter in each of his four seasons, both from the field and at the charity stripe, and set a career high with 44 points in a four-overtime thriller vs. Alabama in February. Excluding Jerryd Bayless, the Sixers didn't have a single guard last season average double-figure points and your team leader? Nik Stauskas, with a meager 9.5 points per night.

And although most second-rounders are still developmental prospects, Thornwell is experienced. He was a four-year starter at South Carolina and at 22 years old and seven months, the Lancaster, South Carolina, native is one of the oldest players in this year's draft class. For teams looking to fill the end of their bench with a battle-tested player, Thornwell could be a strong choice.

The case against Thornwell
Despite what we've seen from him defensively, it's fair to question whether Thornwell's defensive skills will translate to the NBA. He wasn't all that quick in college and at the pro level, opponents are going to only get bigger, faster and stronger. And that same lack of speed could impact him on the offensive end — Thornwell loves to drive right at the rim.

His game also doesn't totally align with the NBA style. Thornwell does well in transition (especially when he steals the ball right out of your hands) but struggles going one-on-one from beyond the three-point arc. Although he could very well excel as a defensive stopper, the Sixers really need to find consistent offense from the guard spot.

To that point, his ball-handling skills still need improvement and with an awkward shot that features a lot of side spin, defenders will have a bit of advantage on Thornwell. Certainly, these can all be improved but there are also plenty of second-round options that would provide Brett Brown's team with a higher upside.

Analysis
The Sixers will have plenty of options at pick No. 3 and ultimately, that could impact the direction in which they go when they go back on the clock, starting at 36. If it's Josh Jackson or Jayson Tatum in the first round, expect them to choose at least two true backcourt players in the second round. If it's De'Aaron Fox, Malik Monk or Lonzo Ball, it could be fewer.

Either way, Bryan Colangelo needs to give his coach some new weapons at the guard spot. Thornwell could clearly fill at least two roles — one offensive, the other defensive — but with plenty of versatile guards available in the second round, the Sixers could look in the direction of someone younger such as Duke's Frank Jackson or Thornwell's former Gamecock teammate P.J. Dozier, as projected in DraftExpress' most recent mock draft. 

It's possible we've seen Thornwell at his peak, but there also might be more to see here.

Best of NBA: Suns put distractions to the side, beat Kings for 1st win

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Best of NBA: Suns put distractions to the side, beat Kings for 1st win

PHOENIX -- Devin Booker scored 22 points, including two free throws with 9.8 seconds to play, and the Phoenix Suns beat the Sacramento Kings 117-115 on Monday night for their first win of the season in their first game under interim coach Jay Triano.

Phoenix fired coach Earl Watson on Sunday and guard Eric Bledsoe was sent home Monday morning after he sent out a tweet over the weekend that left the impression he no longer wanted to play for the Suns.

Despite the tumultuous stretch for the franchise, Phoenix shot 54.5 percent from the field and held on after Sacramento rallied in the final period. Marquese Chriss scored 19 points, and Mike James finished with 18.

The Kings have dropped three of four to begin the season. Garrett Temple scored 23 points for Sacramento, and rookie De'Aaron Fox had 19 (see full recap).

Grizzlies hold Harden, Rockets in check for victory
HOUSTON -- Marc Gasol scored 26 points to lead the Memphis Grizzles to a 98-90 win over the Houston Rockets on Monday night.

Memphis has won its first three games for the first time since the 2014-15 season when the team won its opening six contests.

With the game tied at 88 with less than three minutes remaining, tempers flared after Memphis guard Mario Chalmers fell to the ground and tripped James Harden, who then shoved Chalmers as he tried to get off the ground. After a lengthy review, both players received technical and Harden was called with an offensive foul.

On the following play, James Ennis III made a shot where he was fouled and converted the free throw to put Memphis up three. After Clint Capela's dunk, Mike Conley hit a 3 to push the lead to 94-90.

Conley struggled for most of the game, shooting 3-for-10 from the field and scoring nine of his 17 points at the free throw line, where he was perfect. But he came on huge for Memphis down the stretch, making key shots and getting pivotal assists (see full recap).

Shorthanded Spurs hand Raptors 1st loss
SAN ANTONIO -- LaMarcus Aldridge had 20 points and Dejounte Murray had 16 points and 15 rebounds and the San Antonio Spurs held on to beat the Toronto Raptors 101-97 on Monday night.

San Antonio was without Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker and Toronto was without Jonas Valanciunas and their absences were noticeable in the flow of each team's offense.

The Spurs had a season-high 20 turnovers. They were averaging 11 turnovers in their first two games, but had four in the opening four minutes.

Toronto took advantage, keeping the game close despite being outrebounded 56-33.

DeMar DeRozan had 28 points and Serge Ibaka had 13 as the Raptors lost their first game of the season (see full recap).

Ben Simmons joins elite company with triple-double in Sixers' 1st win

Ben Simmons joins elite company with triple-double in Sixers' 1st win

BOX SCORE

DETROIT — Sixers coach Brett Brown was well aware of the risk when he asked Ben Simmons, who played forward in high school and college, to run his team’s offense.

It was a gutsy call, at the time, that many critics scoffed and questioned.

Not anymore.

In just his fourth career NBA game, Simmons pieced together a memorable triple-double Monday night to become just the third player in history to accomplish the feat in such a time span, and more importantly, help lead the Sixers (1-3) to their first regular-season win.

“It’s awesome to have a triple-double, but at the same time, it’s even better to have that win,” Simmons said. “Especially with these guys and a young team like this.” cbdz

It wasn’t a do-or-die game for the Sixers by any stretch, but Monday night’s 97-86 win in Detroit certainly rejuvenated a fan base that may have started casting doubt as to whether the Sixers are a legit playoff-caliber team (see observations)

Moreover, it served as much-needed validation for Brown and his young, talent-packed squad, following three straight losses, including Saturday’s 34-point blowout loss in Toronto.

“I’m happy for our guys,” Brown said. “They really came into the building knowing that we needed to get a win. To get rewarded with the win, it just validates some of the work that everybody has put in.”

Particularly Simmons, who entered this season with the eyes of Philadelphia watching his every move during his first tour around the NBA after missing all of last season nursing a fractured foot. 

“We won, and, honestly, that means so much than stats for me,” said Simmons, who finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. 

Simmons doesn’t fit the mold of a prototypical point guard, but — then again — the NBA has evolved into a position-less league. Players of all shapes and sizes do everything nowadays. And Simmons — just four games into his NBA career — is among those leading the charge.

“I mean, we all see how gifted he is physically,” Brown said. “Him, with the ball, able to do the things he does, produces a lot of these mismatches and numbers. 

“We’re able to post him. He’s able to seal the pick-and-rolls. You see how gifted he is in open court. He’s got that breakaway speed that is jaw-dropping. And he’s 6-foot-10.”

Simmons, to his credit, was extremely humble when asked about his triple-double accomplishment after the game. But it’s possible the 21-year-old phenom was unaware of the elite company he joined and how rare a feat it was to put up a triple-double just four games into his career. 

When Simmons notched his 10th assist on Joel Embiid’s layup with slightly more than minute to play, he became the first player with a triple-double in his first four career games since Hambone Williams in 1967. The only other player in NBA history to do so? Oscar Robertson, in 1960. 

“I feel like this stat line, we’ve kind of seen a snapshot of it the first three games,” Brown said. “It just seems a bit more special when it’s associated with a win.”

Win or not, Simmons has made it abundantly clear Monday night that — even with Markelle Fultz in the mix — he’s the Sixers’ point guard. No ands or buts about it.

When it was made clear in April that Brown wanted the versatile rookie to play point guard, the controversial decision was met with raised eyebrows. But Brown, to his credit, hasn’t wavered. And today, by all accounts, that gamble is paying off. 

“You know, the decision to make him our point guard is challenged in some some way,” he said. “But as an organization, we stayed strong that that’s where we want to play him.”

It was a gutsy call by Brown at the time, and while the Sixers may only be four games into the season, it’s proving to be the right call.