Tyler Thornton is not a stat-stuffer, by any means. Will he win any of the player of the year awards? I do not think so. Will he score 20 or more points in a single game? Possibly. Will he lead the Duke Blue Devils to a national championship? I do not know.
One thing I do know is that this guy is an important player on Duke’s current roster. His statistics do not illustrate how significant he is as a player. Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee are the primary scorers on this team. Thornton is merely a role player, who has happened to become a clutch player in several games.
Let’s rewind back to the game against the North Carolina Tar Heels last Wednesday night. Thornton only scored nine points. He made three out of his four field goals. However, the significant thing about his points is that they were all threes. Carolina left him open and he made them pay for it. They did not respect his outside shot, which ended up being a double-edged sword. Duke won the game 73-68. If you take away his nine points, then this would have been a loss for Duke. He also had four key rebounds in this game. In the game against North Carolina last season where Austin Rivers hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer, Thornton was the player who started the run that won the game for Duke. Thornton hit an open three-pointer in the corner.
In the game prior to this one against the Boston College Eagles, Thornton scored only five points, but also contributed two assists, one steal and one rebound. When you look at these statistics, you may say to yourself, “That is not a lot.” This is the irony with Thornton. He does not have to do a lot to be effective. In his case, statistics are deceiving. You cannot measure his importance to Duke the same way that you can with Curry or Plumlee. Duke ended up beating Boston College, 62-61. Again, if you take away Thornton’s contributions, then Duke loses this game.
As a junior guard, Thornton provides some sort of leadership and stability in the backcourt. Curry is not a ball-handler or distributor, which is one reason why Quinn Cook has recently emerged. Thornton relieves both players and manages the game while they get breathers. Every team needs a player like Thornton. Hate him or love him, but do not deny him his due respect.