**Story by Kyle Heck/photos by Jenny Dilworth
The 2017 NBA Draft is just over a day away, and it will finally hold a lot of intrigue for South Carolina fans. More than likey, for the first time in 11 years the Gamecocks will have a player selected in the draft.
PJ Dozier and Sindarius Thornwell are the two players hoping to break that streak, and both are coming off outstanding seasons that helped lead South Carolina to its first-ever Final Four. Both players have been busy this spring, working out for around a dozen NBA teams each.
We took a look at mock drafts from five websites to get a consensus on where Dozier and Thornwell will be selected. Three sites (CBSSports, DraftExpress and NBA.com) have both players being selected in the second round. If that comes to fruition, it would be the first time in 41 years that South Carolina had two players taken in the NBA Draft. Surprisingly, ESPN and SportsIllustrated don't have either player being taken at all. Nevertheless, here is our breakdown of each player and where he could go.
Thornwell is one of the most intriguing players in the entire NBA Draft. Nearly every mock draft you read speaks of the potential that the Lancaster native has. Some people go as far as to compare him to Golden State's Draymond Green, pointing to his do-it-all game and physicality. Thornwell was a highly-recruited player out of high school and started more games for the Gamecocks than any other player in program history.
Thornwell was the catalyst for South Carolina during its Final Four run, and the senior became a household name across the nation. He finished his career third on the program charts with 1,941 career points. The SEC's MVP averaged 21.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game this past year, and the postseason recognition allowed Thornwell to burst into NBA Draft projections.
CBSSports.com has Thornwell being taken by the Denver Nuggets with the 51st pick in the second round. DraftExpress believes Thornwell will be taken with the 58th overall pick by the New York Knicks. NBA.com is the only site we looked at that has Thornwell being taken before Dozier. They have Thornwell being tagged by the Nuggets with the 49th pick.
Dozier was a McDonald's All-American coming out of high school and unlike Thornwell, most people have figured that Dozier would one day wind up playing in the NBA. So far, it's been hard to get a gauge on where Dozier will end up. Earlier in the process, some sites had Dozier as a late first-rounder, but the consensus now appears to be second round.
It will have Dozier on the edge of his seat during draft night, as a first round selection will mean Dozier will have a guaranteed contract. That is not the case with second round draft picks. It would be disappointing for Dozier, who chose to leave school early to enter the draft.
Dozier struggled during his freshman year at South Carolina, but took a major leap forward his sophomore season. Dozier was the go-to player behind Thornwell this past season, and averaged 13.9 points and 2.8 assists per game. It was a big improvement from the freshman year where Dozier averaged just 6.7 points and 2.1 assists per game.
CBSSports.com projects Dozier as a second round pick of the Bucks (No. 48 overall). DraftExpress has Dozier being selected 50th overall by the 76ers (In its latest edition just before the draft started, DraftExpress left Dozier out of the draft). NBA.com has the Boston Celtics taking Dozier with the 53rd pick.
Dozier's athleticism and length are the main reasons he was thought so highly of coming out of high school, and that's what is keeping Dozier on draft boards despite an inconsistent shot. He shot under 41 percent from the field this past year, including 29.8 percent from three-point land. With the three-point shot growing more and more important in today's NBA game, those percentages are concerning for Dozier. However, his ability to drive the basketball and finish around the rim is above-average and he's shown he can be a disruptive defender, particularly on the perimeter.
It will be interesting to see what team believes Dozier can improve his outside shot and become an effective offensive player in the NBA. He certainly has all the physical tools necessary to succeed.
With Thornwell, it's hard to find anyone who says something bad about the senior. He did absolutely everything for the Gamecocks, scoring from inside and outside, rebounding, great defense, and as icing on the cake, he was also a great leader for his team.
Thornwell was by far the most important player on a team that made the Final Four, and that says a lot about the impact he has on a team. Because of that, it wouldn't be necessarily surprising to see a team toward the end of the first round take a chance on the powerful guard.
Still, Thornwell will likely be a second-round pick, and can immediately help an NBA team on the defensive end. He also became a legitimate three-point threat this past year, shooting 39.2 percent from distance. Add that to the fact that Thornwell already has the body of an NBA guard, and he is intriguing indeed.
Thornwell is an extremely physical player who has an innate ability to draw fouls. He took a whopping 259 free throws for the Gamecocks in 31 games. The one drawback that is likely keeping Thornwell out of the first round is he doesn't have the pure athleticism that lottery picks have (and NBA teams love).
The NBA Draft will be televised on Thursday by ESPN and is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. There will be two rounds and 60 selections.