Milwaukee Bucks: How the new coaching staff can help Thon Maker

Milwaukee, WI - APRIL 9: (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)
Milwaukee, WI - APRIL 9: (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Entering his third year after two disappointing seasons, we take a look at how Mike Budenholzer and his Milwaukee Bucks staff could improve Thon Maker‘s game.

From the moment Adam Silver called Thon Maker’s name, there were somewhat lofty expectations placed on the Milwaukee Bucks’ 10th overall pick. As a well-recognized name but controversial and extremely raw prospect, he was viewed as a high-potential player that would take time and patience to develop.

As a seven-footer with impressive measurables, Maker’s ideal version was an obvious fit with the Bucks: a center who could space the floor, switch on defense, and protect the rim. His presumed guard-like abilities were supposed to give him a ceiling much higher than that of a role player.

However, the Australian’s first two seasons in the NBA were disappointing, save for playing well in the Bucks’ last two playoff series. Although Maker undeniably changed those series, a top-10 pick should be expected to make more of a consistent impact.

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The most disheartening part of Maker’s career thus far is that he has yet to show he is an actual NBA player. The skills that should have been his baseline for a useful player, shooting and energy on defense, have not translated through his first two years. Maker often looks lost on both ends of the ball and routinely plays himself out of position.

Part of this falls on Thon for not developing his game or adjusting to the higher level of play, but it is impossible to ignore that he has never been put in a position to succeed by his coaching staff.

The center position is an exceptionally difficult position to play defensively, especially in the (well-documented) over-aggressive trapping scheme employed by Jason Kidd and his staff. The responsibilities and instincts required in this scheme not only overloaded Maker, but also did not take advantage of what he could feasibly do well, which was use his quick feet to stay in front of players on switches.

On offense, Maker has proven to be even less capable than on the defensive side of the ball. His jump shot is inconsistent (Maker shot 29.8 percent from three last year after shooting a promising 37.8 percent in his rookie campaign), and his finishing around the rim is non-existent. This combination placed him last in true shooting percentage among NBA players seven feet and over who played at least 1,200 minutes in the 2017-2018 season.

Again, Thon was not entirely to blame for his lack of impact on offense. He was asked to try things he clearly could not do, seemingly at random.

Rather than having Maker spot up around the three-point line to space the floor (which was desperately needed for the Bucks), the coaching staff would experiment with him rolling to the rim, which resulted in numerous dropped passes and awkward lobs to the rim. He was also quite literally told to take less valuable shots.

That being said, Mike Budenholzer and his staff have an impressive track record when it comes to developing young players and putting role players in the best places to succeed. They should be able to use Thon’s successful playoff performances as a blueprint for him to have an impact.

The most basic idea to helping Maker would be to simplify his role as much as possible. This would allow Maker to focus on a few things that he can do well, rather than throwing too many responsibilities at him and hoping he could adapt, which seemed to be the philosophy of the previous staff.

On defense, the easiest route to taking advantage of the Australian’s abilities would be to employ a switching scheme, similar to how Milwaukee played games three through six in the playoff series against the Celtics last season.

Given that Budenholzer has been seemingly reluctant to switch, along with the addition of Brook Lopez this summer, it is unlikely that that Bucks will use a primarily switching scheme (or change schemes based on the personnel on the floor).

This does not mean that Maker’s defensive responsibilities would be extensive. Even a simpler zone-dropping scheme would be a massive improvement from what was expected of him in his first two years on defense.

Offensively, it would be wise of Bud’s staff to ask Thon to live at the three-point line, specifically in the corners. Although his 34.0 corner three-point percentage is not great, (for comparison, Brook Lopez shot 46.5 percent on corner threes last year) he hit just 27.3 percent of his above the break threes last year.

With the improved focus on his jump shot, it’s not implausible that Maker could increase his three-point percentage closer to what he showed in his rookie year.

Entering a season with real expectations for the first time in years, there are plenty of minutes available at the backup center position for the Bucks.

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There is deserved talk of a potential 50-win season that could end with at least one playoff series victory. Everyone associated with the Bucks is surely hoping the new coaching staff can help Thon Maker be a big part of this season, but they are running out of time to wait for his development.