Back in early 2015, a high school player by the name of Thon Maker was making the rounds as the next big thing heading for the NBA. By the next year, his name was mired in the usual shallow questioning of his actual age, as so many who hail from the African continent often endure at some point in their careers.
The question of his age, often coming with a discriminatory bent, wasn’t the only thing that had scouts worried, however. By the time he graduated high school, Thon Maker was listed at around 200 pounds, which is good if you’re 6’5”, but Maker was exactly 7’1”, making his weight a serious issue heading into the most competitive league in the world.
In early June of 2016, Maker was placed on mock drafts anywhere between the 20th pick and mid-second round. The attributes that made him the most hyped high school prospect of his class were overshadowed by his inexperience, the question of age, and his rail thin frame. Which is why when Milwaukee selected him 10th overall, many were left wondering: “what did we miss?”
Maker possesses a variety of natural skills including quickness, ball handling, and a top-notch shooting stroke. A number of times during his rookie season, Maker was able to display, for a short period, the skills that helped him become the hype machine he was two years prior. He has an innate ability for setting screens and setting up outside the three-point line for an open jumper and can just as easily roll to the basket with the handler for an opportunity at the rim.
His offense is his forte after a full year in the league, but it’s his potential on defense that has many calling him a future All-Star. The Sudanese-born Australian’s combination of length and foot speed put him greatly ahead of the curve for players his size, yet his awareness on defense is currently a work in progress. Having a head coach like Jason Kidd is certainly one way to hash out mistakes and learn quickly, but the most effective method of advancing will be through playing time and experience.
It seemed like the right move to limit Maker’s minutes to start his rookie season and to bring the teenager along slowly In the minutes he did play, he proved highly effective at times, leaving many Bucks fans wondering why he didn’t get more burn on the floor – especially given the ways in which his skills matched up with the new style of the NBA.
Potential with Milwaukee
The month of April is a clear indicator of where the team intends to take Maker this upcoming season. He played an average of 19 minutes per game, albeit over just six total games, where he averaged 6.0 points per game and 4.8 rebounds. The numbers do prove he is a very raw player who has shown glimpses of incredible potential.
In order to be a consistent rotational player for a team who figures to be claiming home court in the playoffs next season, he must be exactly that: consistent. When Milwaukee began rolling last spring, three things happened around that time: veteran guard Khris Middleton returned, Jabari Parker went down with his second ACL injury in as many years and the 20-year-old was inserted into the starting lineup for good.
Many would say Middleton’s return was the main catalyst to playing a high-octane, defense-intensive brand of basketball. Others would also give credit to Maker’s ability to play team ball. Of the two most effective five-man lineups Milwaukee began using heavily late in the season, Maker was a part of both, and they both included offensive ratings over 108.0 and defensive ratings under 100.0 – well above the league average for each.
Kevin Garnett was, now infamously, quoted as calling Maker a future MVP. Whether he reaches that level of success depends greatly on how quickly the starlet develops. Kidd was right in bringing Maker along slowly during the regular season. In turn, many thought the rookie would be exposed during the playoffs, as so many inexperienced players are. However, that was hardly the case.
He showed great promise during the Bucks’ first round matchup with the Toronto Raptors and proved to be a position-less defensive asset, highly effective against iso-heavy offenses with his length and ability to provide help-side shot blocking. In addition to that, he showed even more promise as a glass cleaner and spot up three-point shooter.
But, those are simple skills that will carry him through his first couple of seasons in the league. Where Maker needs to improve most is his ball-handling and strength in order to become the player Garnett envisioned.
If he does so, we might see another prime-Garnett bouncing around the courts of the NBA soon.
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