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Getting to know Sindarius Thornwell

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What does the former Clipper offer Cleveland?

Chicago Bulls v LA Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

On Saturday the Cavs signed Sindarius Thornwell to a one-year contract. Here’s your primer on Cleveland’s latest signee.

Who is Sindarius Thornwell?

Thornwell is a 24-year-old, 6’4”, 215-pound guard with a 6’10” wingspan who played for the Clippers in the last two seasons. Prior to the NBA, he spent three years at Lancaster High School in Lancaster, South Carolina before spending his senior season at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. After graduation, he played four years at the University of South Carolina and made a name for himself by scoring 24 points in a win over Duke and getting his team to the Sweet 16. For his career, he averaged 14.7 points and 5.2 rebounds while shooting 39.2% from the field.

In the 2017 NBA Draft, he was picked 48th overall by the Bucks, but had his draft rights traded to the Clippers when Los Angeles bought the pick. As a rookie, he played in 73 games (including 17 starts), averaging 15.8 minutes while averaging 3.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game. DRPM rated him as one of the best defensive shooting guards in the league for that season. Take that as more of an indicator of potential than actual skill level considering the sample size.

Last season, however, he only appeared in 64 games and averaged 4.9 minutes per game. His offense regressed and he ended up as a situational defensive player for Doc Rivers’ squad. Thornwell was ultimately waived on July 7 by Los Angeles.

What are his best skills?

At 6’5”, and with his elite wingspan, Thornwell has the ability to defend ones and twos and some smaller threes. So while he doesn’t have the ability of David Nwaba to defend twos, threes and fours, he’s a little quicker. Last season, per Cleaning The Glass, he was in the 86th percentile in steals. That’s not likely to hold up over the full season, but a sign that he has some ability to make plays.

More than anything, he’s an engaged defender who is going to stay aware and active off-ball. The Cavs have maybe two of those on the wing at the moment. In the clip below, he gets a steal by staying aware of where the ball is and lunging when he sees a chance:

He’s also solid on-ball. Here’s him locking down Nik Stauskas, where he really uses his wingspan to his advantage:

Offensively, he runs the floor well and finishes on the break. But that’s really all he offers on that end. He has some success driving from the wing, but it’s not a reliable source of offense. He can only do this when the defense is way off kilter and gives him a clear lane:

What are his weaknesses?

Thornwell’s shot chart for last season says it all:

According to Cleaning The Glass, he shot 43% at the rim last year (putting him in the fifth percentile) and 20% from three on 0.2 attempts per game. Basically, he’s got the body of a three-and-d player without having the shooting required to actually be a three-and-d type. To compare him to Nwaba, who has his own offensive limitations, he’s a much worse offense player. He’s 24, and his rookie season saw him shoot 37.7% from three on 0.8 attempts per game, so maybe there’s still hope. But he’s nowhere close to being useful on offense right now.

Does he have upside as a prospect?

Thornwell’s entire NBA future seems to rest on him finding an offensive niche. He’s already a good defender, but with the way the league is going right now. That doesn’t appear to be enough. The contracts he and Nwaba received this summer — a minimum deal for him if he makes the Cavs, and a minimum deal with a team option in year two for Nwaba with the Nets — say a lot about what the NBA thinks of good defenders who aren’t good shooters. And if he’s going to develop a three-point shot, it better happen sooner rather than later.

How could he factor into the Cavs’ plans?

According to cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor, Thornwell is going to compete for one of the Cavs’ open roster spots. Currently, the Cavs have two open spots, but are expected to only keep 14 players next year to have an easier time staying under the luxury tax and/or facilitate trades as the season goes on.

To date, the players expected to compete against Thornwell are Exhibit 10 signee J.P. Macura and Summer League standout Marques Bolden. It’s possible Jaron Blossomgame (who shares an agent with Thornwell) could be in camp as well.

For now, let’s say Thornwell competes for a roster spot against Macura and Bolden. He has a better NBA track record than either player and his defensive skill level differentiates himself from everyone on Cleveland’s roster. That gives him an advantage to not just make the roster, but maybe factor into the rotation. He also would give Cedi Osman some cover as far as defending opposing wings.

Beyond that, Thornwell’s future depends on how he plays in the 2019-20 season. If he has a strong year, maybe he settles in with the Cavs into 2020-21 and beyond. If he doesn’t, this might be a one year and out scenario.

Correction: 3:30 p.m. A previous version of this article indicated that the Cavs could sign Nik Stauskas still, as he was a free agent. Last week, he signed a contract with Baskonia in Spain. We regret this error.