Derryck Thornton: Junior Primer

The top echelon of point guards in the 2016 class can be debated as to who should stand at the apex, but Derryck Thornton Jr. unquestionably belongs somewhere on that list.

How he got here

Derryck Thornton surfaced early as one of the most talented Western prospects in his class. The slender point guard’s skill and wisdom extended far beyond his years, and from the day he launched there’s been no backward drift.

Thornton’s early stops included USA Basketball activities, and by the time the 2013 travel season rolled around he had placed himself among the most promising individuals in high school hoops.

At least in our view. He didn’t always scintillate upon first blush and opinions varied, but our West expert Josh Gershon watched him sufficiently to understand what a gem the class had at the lead guard spot.

Thornton distributes passes to teammates and pain to opponents

That summer, he toured with Dreamvision and impressed tremendously at events such as the Adidas Invitational. In the fall, back in Colorado Springs for work with USAB, Thornton combined elite offense with elite defense and proved he could shine even in an environment where only potential studs roamed the court.

At that point, early in his sophomore season, he cited Arizona, USC, Michigan, Kentucky and UNLV as those recruiting him hardest.

He advanced into the 2014 travel season regarded as a national top-15 talent. He was up and down at both the Pangos All-American Camp and NBPA Top 100 Camp in the early summer, but he certainly held his own. He seemed to gain confidence during the week at NBPA, and by the end he looked like one of the best prospects at the event, regardless of class.

He pared his list to 10 programs last fall: Duke, Kentucky, Michigan, Louisville, Arizona, California, USC, Miami, UNLV and NC State.

To 2015. …

Thornton’s primary asset is his ability to determine a course of action. Because he’s very quick and shifty in traffic, it’s he — not his defender — who gets to pick where the ball gets advanced. It’s also he, and not anyone else, who’s best equipped to make the decisions.

Any young player occasionally will make an over-excited play, but Thornton’s ability to recognize defenses and defenders makes him a lethal scorer and playmaker. He possesses the handle and passing skills to be a traditional, distribution-based floor general, yet he also can light up the scoreboard himself.

Thornton thus applies tremendous physical and mental pressure to a defense. What’s true now also will hold true in college: The first assignment for the opposition is to predict whether any given foray to the basket is likely to end with a pass or a shot. They won’t be able to box him in either way, and that’s a quality that can catapult a 6-2 point guard all the way to the NBA.

He’s also a prime defender. Thornton ballhawks 25 feet from the basket and uses quick hands to reap steals. He can be overaggressive and land himself in foul trouble, but coaches don’t mind dialing down a player who exerts too much defensive energy.

His jump shot comes and goes. His setup and release concerned me last summer, and to truly become complete he’ll need to knock down perimeter jump shots regularly. Thornton also must gain strength, but he carries a solid frame and that’s no concern for a high school athlete.

Thornton’s junior season mostly has been strong, as he runs the show for powerful Findlay Prep in the Las Vegas area. Although his recruitment has appeared to be a linear, gradual process, the scenario has taken on greater complexity in the past couple months.

There obviously aren’t too many unsigned senior point guards worthy of elite offers, and during the course of this season both Louisville and Duke have expressed interest in Thornton reclassifying forward and suiting up for their squad in 2015-16.

For his part Thornton has taken visits and appears to be weighing the possibilities, but it likely will be several more weeks before he decides whether he wants to change class.

Irrespective of that result, Thornton should make an immediate impact at the school of his choice, whenever he arrives. He has sufficient size, quickness and skill to become a one and done player, too, although certainly he could enhance his stock even more if he shoots the ball more consistently.

Thornton ranks No. 5 overall in the Class of 2016 and registers as our No. 1 point guard.

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