Milwaukee Bucks: Should Thon Maker Start Off In The D-League?

Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Thon Maker walks to the stage 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: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Thon Maker walks to the stage 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: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

Although Milwaukee Bucks fans certainly want to see their first-round pick from 2016 play in the NBA, it might be better for Thon Maker to start off in the D-League.

Thon Maker might be ready for the NBA. He might not be ready for the NBA. Either way, he probably won’t get much chance to prove either of those sentences right early on with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Although positions are becoming more and more outdated, it’s obvious Thon fits in as either a power forward or a center in the NBA. There just aren’t many minutes to go around at those positions right now with the Bucks.

The lack of playing time at center almost goes without saying at the moment. The Bucks plan on starting Miles Plumlee, meaning he’ll probably get at least 20 minutes per game.

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After Plumlee the Bucks have, in some order, Greg Monroe and John Henson fighting for the remaining minutes at center. Even if Plumlee does only get 20 minutes per game, that would leave just 28 to split between those two players.

For reference, last season Henson played nearly 17 minutes per game and Monroe played over 29. Something’s got to give there–maybe the Bucks run more two-center lineups.

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Last season the Bucks used a Plumlee/Henson group when Milwaukee wanted to go very big. The Bucks could run sort of the same thing with Monroe and Henson when Plumlee is out, although clearly that lineup would need some knockdown shooters on the floor to ensure the spacing isn’t completely dead.

The problem there is now you’ve got those three players taking up some minutes at power forward as well, where there honesty aren’t many to go around. Jabari Parker is going to get his fair share of playing time–probably at least 30 minutes per game.

Parker averaged over 36 minutes per game after the All-Star break. Even if that’s toned down to 30–less than he averaged over the entirety of last season–that leaves just 18 minutes at power forward.

Mirza Teletovic just got paid $30 million by the Bucks to play backup power forward, and he played over 21 minutes per game last season. He likely won’t see that many in Milwaukee, especially if the Bucks go to some two-center lineups.

And let’s not forget Michael Beasley. He was brought in as small forward depth, but Beasley spent 88 percent of his time on the floor as a power forward last season and 72 percent of his minutes there the year before that.

Across his career, just 32 percent of Beasley’s minutes have come at small forward. He can play there, but historically that’s not really been his position.

The Milwaukee Bucks have six guys that will mainly play the two positions that Thon plays: Miles Plumlee, Greg Monroe, John Henson, Jabari Parker, Mirza Teletovic and Michael Beasley. Steve Novak will also be a nominal stretch four, although he shouldn’t be seeing much time on the floor.

The Bucks could try to play a huge lineup and combine three of those players together, but considering out of that group only Teletovic can shoot and Milwaukee just lost their best shooter in Khris Middleton it’s unclear if a lineup like that could survive on offense.

Honestly, playing Parker or Teletovic much at the three might produce a lineup that can’t survive on defense either. The Bucks got killed by open looks at the three-point line last year–assigning Parker, Plumlee and/or Henson to guard shooters isn’t going to help matters much.

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While it’s good for the team that the Bucks are stacked at power forward and center, it’s not great for Thon Maker’s chance at getting any minutes. Milwaukee goes three deep at both positions without factoring in Thon, and typically fourth options on the depth chart don’t see much run at all.

He probably wouldn’t even be active for most games–those six players all will be, plus Giannis Antetokounmpo, Michael Carter-Williams, Rashad Vaughn, Matthew Dellavedova, Jason Terry and Malcolm Brogdon.

NBA teams only get 12 active players at a time–the six big men ahead of Thon plus the six players listed above adds up to 12. It’s likely in his best interest to play–being around an NBA team is good, but Thon won’t learn too much sitting on the bench every single night.

It’d be nice if Milwaukee had gotten their own D-League affiliate, but fortunately the Bucks can still toss Thon down to a D-League team. This post from Chris Reichert over at Upside & Motor explains the system well:

"Upon receipt of an assignment from an independent NBA team, the NBA D-League will identify any NBA D-League team willing to accept the assigned player.  The assigning independent NBA team will then choose the destination for assignment between those teams."

There’s another section on what happens if no team is willing to accept the player, but it seems unlikely none of the 22 current D-League teams would have interest in a player like Thon Maker, especially considering flex assignments like those don’t count towards the three-assignee limit placed on affiliated teams.

Thon would always be available to be called up again in case of injury or a roster move that opened up time, and he would be getting valuable minutes instead of simply sitting around on the bench each game.

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Everybody wants to see Thon tear it up on the NBA level, but he just won’t have the opportunity to do that in his rookie season, at least not right away. The D-League is a different story, though–Thon could probably wreck havoc down there.