While he’s produced flashes here and there in his third season with the Milwaukee Bucks, Thon Maker‘s opportunities for playing time have dwindled as teammates have recently emerged and embedded themselves within the team’s rotation.
As their successful season has worn on, the greatest strength of the Milwaukee Bucks, that being their depth, has prominently entered the spotlight in recent weeks.
Superstar and now three-time All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo may be the mover and shaker for which everything is possible for the Bucks, which includes contending in the East and potentially logging a trip to the NBA Finals, but the contributions they have fielded beyond their leading MVP candidate have been plenty and run deep within their bench unit.
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Whether it’s been the development of second-year players Sterling Brown and D.J. Wilson or a sage veteran such as Brook Lopez, the cohesion that’s blossomed up and down the Bucks’ roster is an obvious testament to the job head coach Mike Budenholzer and his coaching staff have done in their first year in Milwaukee.
While the Bucks continue to yield results with how things are currently set under Budenholzer, it’s also resulted in having to make tough decisions regarding the players who currently find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to the team’s rotation.
For example, Bucks combo guard Donte DiVincenzo has seen his playing time precipitously fall off in his rookie campaign after initially being one of the first players off the bench to start the year. The same goes for Pat Connaughton, who initially shined off the bench after being taken on as a nice low-risk flier from the offseason last summer.
Now third-year big man Thon Maker appears to be inching towards that group, that is if he isn’t already included in it.
Following his sophomore slump last year, it was hard to forecast the kind of opportunity the Australian international would get under his third head coach in as many seasons. A crowded frontcourt only added to that dilemma, though the dealing of long-time Bucks big man John Henson in early December eventually cleared up room on the team’s depth chart.
But the possibility of seeing how Maker’s raw potential could be realized under a coaching staff with a high development pedigree such as Budenholzer and co. gave hope to a Bucks fanbase eager to see if the 21-year old would be able to curb his nagging inconsistencies once and for all.
Maker’s had a fair share of bright spots during his limited role over the course of the season so far, thanks to him tapping into his playoff-like intensity most notably during the Bucks’ Christmas Day victory over the New York Knicks and a resilient home win over the Utah Jazz earlier this month.
Just as the story was for him all throughout last year, however, the jolt of electricity Maker can supply on one night hasn’t given way to a consistent spark off the bench when given an extended stretch of playing time. What’s more is that even with his limited skill set, Maker has yet to polish the areas of his game where he’s been tasked with making the biggest impact whenever he hits the floor.
Case in point, Maker has hit on just 33.3 percent of his 78 tries from long distance on the year (though, it should be noted that Maker is sporting 35.1 three-point percentage on his 74 catch and shoot three-point attempts, per NBA.com/stats).
To his credit, Maker’s fared far better on the defensive end, considering he’s sporting a 97.8 defensive rating and has overcome his early issues with having to adjust to Budenholzer’s more reined in defensive scheme to start the season.
But logging a combined 30 minutes and 35 seconds as well as two DNP-CD’s over the Bucks’ last eight games hasn’t gone unnoticed, especially as the team has continued to gather steam. retaking the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings, and holding the title of having the best defense in all of the NBA.
Neither has the fact that the combination of veteran Ersan Ilyasova and Wilson have given the Bucks the requisite shooting, defensive flexibility and overall stability they need in those spot minutes off the bench compared to Maker.
It’s certainly a product of circumstance and the Bucks are hitting on all cylinders at the moment. But the longer Maker continues to be phased out of the team’s rotation, should that persist, the story will remain the same regarding whether we’ll ever see him become fully optimized.