Although the last few games of the regular season might not have much meaning for teams preparing for the NBA playoffs or draft lottery, they have a distinct impact on players working for future jobs.
Sindarius Thornwell, a rookie guard for the LA Clippers, is one such player who has used the last week of the season to improve his standing with the club. Due to injuries, Thornwell has received more minutes than anticipated in 2017-18. With the Clippers missing the playoffs, he has seen his role increase dramatically over the last few contests.
In a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, the Clippers went without Austin Rivers, Lou Williams, and Milos Teodosic–all due to injury. Thornwell received an opportunity to be a featured part of the offense, instead of deferring to more heralded players.
The Pelicans needed the game, too, so they were trying to win. The victory allowed them to clinch a playoff berth.
For the Clippers, Thornwell proved that he can be a reliable rotation piece in 2018-19. Thornwell scored 20 points on 9-for-14 shooting, all in 32 minutes. In a game that became lopsided, he actually sported a plus-1 rating, as well.
Thornwell has received praise for his defensive abilities this season, but a more well-rounded game should lead to more minutes in the future.
"One thing I love about him is [even though] he makes mistakes, he's young, but he plays hard,” head coach Doc Rivers told reporters following the game. “He covers up for some of them with his hard play. He's a tough kid. When you project out, you look at him as a very, very, very good NBA defender."
Thornwell realizes that these late season games are an opportunity for him.
"Since we're not making the playoffs, I think this is an opportunity for us young guys to just come in and show what we can do and gain some confidence," Thornwell said. "Use these games to get better and continue to grow."
The Clippers will finish up their season Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Lakers.
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