For a month and a half, the Milwaukee Bucks have been conducting draft workouts.
They’ve meticulously measured and tested players from all over the world. Guys like Jakob Poeltl, Denzel Valentine, Wade Baldwin and Deyonta Davis were hot topics of discussion throughout the city over the past few weeks. The team must have watched hours and hours and hours of footage of each one of these players, met with them, dined with them and got some feel for what they were like as competitors and men.
Then the Bucks took the guy that a 12-year-old who only watched Youtube mixtapes would have selected. I love it.
I’m almost legally obligated to embed the video above. Maker is a Youtube Mixtape Legend – but if you run into him, don’t talk to him about it. I remember first hearing about him when I went to check my Yahoo e-mail account two years ago. I saw a headline that was something like, “7-foot 16-year-old is already better than Kevin Durant.” I clicked on that link. I watched the Youtube video, and I immediately ruled him out as a future member of the Milwaukee Bucks. Guys like him have always been a fantasy in Milwaukee. He’d eventually be a top five pick and the Bucks never pick that high.
His stock slipped over the past couple years, though. In April 2015 – a year after Maker’s mixtape went viral – while Ben Simmons was getting everyone excited about his future, Maker had people questioning how long it was going to be before he could make an impact. He scored two points and grabbed ten rebounds at the Nike Hoops Summit. The backlash to his mixtape success began. Being mentioned in the company of one of the NBA’s unique players and failing to deliver immediately is fuel for internet skeptics and scouts looking to even out highlight films.
At this point, Maker is very over the mixtape:
“People gotta stop with the mixtape stuff,” Maker said. “That’s not me. I bet you those people who put out those mixtapes have never sat through a whole game of mine and watched it. And so you don’t see my defensive rotation, or the way I communicate with my teammates, the way I pass the ball. They probably go the bad passes, the one-hand passes, but not the fundamental two-hand, jump-stop passes or the skip passes. Some people use that to identify me, the mixtapes.”
There’s a reason people gravitate towards the highlights, though. His natural abilities are evident, and it’s rare to see a guy his size. Most 7-foot-1 humans on Earth weigh a great deal more than 220 pounds. He’s rail thin, but on the tape, he’s handling the ball and shooting threes with the fluidity of a much smaller man. It’s hard to look away, especially when you watch the videos understanding that he’s only now 19-years-old (probably – the Bucks at least seem comfortable with the idea that he’s 19, despite some rumors spreading on draft day that he’s older).
If nothing else, the mixtape makes you want to dig in further. After declaring for this year’s draft, Maker had an extensive interview with DraftExpress.com, a site that’s been at the forefront of draft coverage for years and Maker coverage for the past year. The interview is unlike most prospect interviews. He addresses many topics with very specific answers and extensively discusses how hard he works.
When DraftExpress asks how important it is for him to get drafted early, he responds back with a standard answer about fit with a team being more important and then tells them wherever he goes, he’s going to get an apartment within walking distance of the practice facility so he can be in the gym more often. Maker will certainly be the newest resident of St. Francis, Wisconsin. My favorite answer came when they asked him how good of a shooter he is:
If you put me in a wide pin down, Iverson cut, stagger double, horns action, or any pinch post action I can score or help my team score. I can hit the trailing three or pick and pop off the ball reversal. I shot a little over 90% from the line over the past two seasons. That’s with going to the line about 8 times per game. Making shots consistently in the future won’t be a problem. If you consistently work at something with a purpose, you can perfect it.
I don’t remember ever seeing a prospect mention the specific actions that most often led to his success in a pre-draft interview before telling the world that making shots wouldn’t be a problem for them, much less a 19-year-old Australian-Sudanese prospect who only started playing basketball on January 28, 2011. I know the date because Maker knows the date and specifically references it in the interview. He comes off very confident and humble, which brings to mind Giannis Antetokounmpo.
I brought up Giannis partly because the knee-jerk reaction is to compare Maker to Giannis, a Bucks draft pick that blossomed into one of the NBA’s most fun players whose draft stock rose based on the back of his impressive Youtube videos and unusual physical traits. I caution against holding Maker to such a high standard.
The Maker write up on DraftExpress notes his lack of feel for the game. Giannis isn’t playing point guard because the Bucks thought it would be fun to have a tall point guard, he’s playing point guard because he’s unusually aware of what’s going on around him on the basketball court. His feel is off the charts. If Maker doesn’t have that, it’s unlikely his rise will be as meteoric as Giannis’s.
That doesn’t mean his development won’t be fun to track. DraftExpress more or less pegs him as a role player, almost like a Perry Jones III, the physically gifted forward who wowed the league in early November 2014 for the Thunder and quickly leveled back off before fading into obscurity. Like Jones, Maker could be something special, or he could be something average, or he could never even play a minute outside of the D-League.
More than the average draft pick, Thon Maker is a mystery. Some people don’t enjoy the idea of a mystery man being selected with the 10th pick in the NBA draft, but I’m on board with embracing the chaos. Brandon Jennings, John Henson – those guys are your typical number ten picks. They aren’t bad. They aren’t great. They fill roles and they can provide a lot. But they aren’t fun.
Long live fun. Long live swinging for the fences. Long live Thon Maker.