Milwaukee Bucks: Realistic Expectations For Thon Maker

Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Thon Maker puts on a team cap after being selected as the number ten overall pick to the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Thon Maker puts on a team cap after being selected as the number ten overall pick to the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports /

Projections and opinions regarding Thon Maker have run rampant, but what can we really expect out of the Milwaukee Bucks rookie?

If you’re an ardent follower of the NBA, over the past few months you’ll have seen a veritable smorgasbord of perception surrounding Milwaukee Bucks rookie Thon Maker.

Having never played at a level above high school, Maker is one of the most controversial and polarizing draft prospects in recent memory, and questions surrounding his age have only added fuel to the fire.

In the eyes of the general public, Maker has gone from being a promising YouTube sensation to a high-upside draft prospect to an egregious reach and potential bust to now, a potential Rookie Of The Year recipient?

ESPN’s Jalen Rose made headlines Tuesday when he made his pick for next season’s awards on the Jalen and Jacoby podcast, citing Maker’s upside as a “triple-double threat” and claiming the young Buck would see ample court time.

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This came as an understandable shock to even the most optimistic Bucks fans, as although Maker impressed in his time at the Las Vegas Summer League, it was clear that experience and training would be needed before he could really make his presence felt at the NBA level.

Other projections have been a bit more cautious, such as Bleacher Report, who anticipate much more modest numbers, but bring up an interesting parallel.

Three seasons into what has been a very promising career, it may be hard to envision Giannis Antetokounmpo as the extremely raw draft prospect that the Bucks took with the 15th overall pick in 2013, but the truth is there are a lot of similarities between the young Greek and Maker.

Both are extremely long and lanky, lacking in bulk, and both players came to the Bucks under atypical circumstances; Antetokounmpo the Greek unknown with Nigerian parents and Maker the Australian by way of South Sudan.

Any comparison to Antetokounmpo has to be taken as good news, as the Greek Freak surpassed virtually all expectations regarding his developmental timeline, filling a significant role his rookie year when most experts suggested he would need at least a year of seasoning in the D-League.

However, it may not be wise to expect the same level of production out of Maker next season, for reasons that go beyond talent.

With the continued growth of a young core and the addition of several free agents at positions of need, the Bucks are certainly expecting to improve upon a rather disappointing 33-49 season and challenge for a playoff berth next season.

Assuming Maker is as raw and unpolished as his summer league play suggests, extended court time would seem to be counter-productive to the Bucks’ hopes of winning.

Maker also has to contend with a significant frontcourt logjam, competing for minutes with the established (and for the most part, well-paid)  squadron of Jabari Parker, Mirza Teletovic, Greg Monroe, Miles Plumlee, and John Henson.

In Antetokounmpo’s rookie year, the Bucks finished a league-worst 15-67, and a rebuilding coaching staff surely had no problem with a young prospect like Giannis taking minutes away from veterans such as Caron Butler and Gary Neal.

So what to expect from Maker? Down the road, a potential trio of Antetokounmpo, Parker, and Maker could be a formidable one, which is clearly the vision that led general manager John Hammond to select the divisive prospect, but even though his full potential is surely years away, we can still forecast even a minimal role for the Buck’s rookie.

As is old news to Bucks fans, the front office is presumably still trying to find a buyer for Greg Monroe, the absence of whom would set up a clear hierarchy amid a center position that now is more crowded and confusing then ever.

Maker also has the ability to play power forward, which may in fact be his best position as he continues to add bulk, and he should see minutes there should one of Jabari Parker or Mirza Teletovic miss time (though we certainly wish for health, particularly in Parker’s case). Backup center John Henson has also been routinely plagued by injuries, missing 27 games last season, so Maker could potentially see time in his slot.

If none of the above scenarios play out, it’s probably best to assume that Maker may spend at least a little amount of time in the D-League, although without a franchise to their name, this option may be less attractive to the Bucks than other teams.

Therefore, in any opportunity Maker should see, it would behoove him to work on fostering his game beyond simple skills. His raw offensive game, strength and footwork in the low post, and understanding of the flow of an NBA game were all areas where his need for improvement was very apparent at Summer League.

Should Maker spend the majority of his season with the Bucks, fans should expect him to take on a role similar to what Rashad Vaughn filled last year, appearing mostly in garbage time and in the absence of those who are injured.

Look for Maker’s jumper to be his first NBA-ready option as he builds strength, specifically in pick-and-pop or face-up touches.

Still, while it’s intriguing to imagine the unique skills he could showcase, it’s important to remember this year is less about production and more about development for Maker, and fans should be happy to see even marginal production at this stage in his career.

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So even though Rookie Of The Year trophy may not be on its way to Milwaukee any time soon, fans have every reason to be excited about the prospects of Thon Maker’s future with the Bucks.