Thon Maker has left Las Vegas for the humble confines of Milwaukee.
After enduring a brief and largely inauspicious stint at Summer League, Maker has departed the desert with larger aspirations in mind. Australia’s 15th NBA player has escaped Sin City and an immense learning experience awaits.
“I’m flying back to Milwaukee tonight,” Maker said after the Bucks victory over Brooklyn. “Me and Giannis are going to be working out for the next two weeks straight. Just the two of us back in Milwaukee.”
Maker is avoiding the gluttony of Las Vegas with one goal in mind: getting better. A two-week boot camp with Giannis Antetokounmpo awaits; the Milwaukee Bucks franchise cornerstone presents the challenge Maker seeks to accelerate his development.
When quizzed on who initiated the two man training camp, Maker reinforced the synchronicity present in the Bucks franchise.
“Everybody had a hand in it, including the coaching staff,” Maker noted. “We felt like it was going to be good for me and for him also.
“My length and footwork on defence is going to help him out. He’s also going to help me out with his strength and length.”
As the NBA community continues to enjoy the extravagant underbelly of Las Vegas, Maker and his fellow unicorn will roll up their sleeves and get to work. Personal development is the immediate aim, but franchise advancement will be the ultimate end game for these Bucks.
“We are in no rush as we try to push it to a whole new level,” Maker said. “We take our time to develop every single person and everybody is doing their part by working hard.
“It all comes together once the season starts.”
Milwaukee surged into the playoffs during Maker’s rookie season, winning 42 games before oozing promise in a six game series defeat against the Toronto Raptors.
While a new campaign remains three months over the horizon, Maker speaks like someone who fantasises about the possibilities a fresh season could bring.
“We had the injuries and now we can only go up from here,” Maker noted. “The guys are going to come back healthy. Khris [Middleton] is going to be healthier and everybody is going to be better. It’s just about putting it together.”
In the face of an arms race developing out west, Maker remains focused on his squad and appreciates the rudimentary moves made by the Bucks front office this offseason.
“For us, as long as we kept our core together everybody is good. We did a great job of keeping Tony [Snell] and Greg [Monroe] opted in. We did our part as an organisation so we’re good.
“We just need to continue getting better internally. That’s what we are doing right now.”
The foremost benefit of Summer League
Maker’s actual output at Summer League will never be confused with the very best his talents permit. Friday’s performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers was a struggle and an encore against Brooklyn on Sunday was equally arduous.
“I started off a little slow,” Maker admitted. “I haven’t been playing much, I’ve just been lifting and in the gym a lot.”
Two games in Las Vegas were necessary to erode the rust of an NBA off-season and Maker admitted the benefits of Summer League extend beyond the X’s and O’s of basketball.
“I came in trying to work on my leadership skills,” Maker said.
“We have a lot of guys who are going to be on the roster. Our whole starting five is going to be on the team at some point next year. For me, it’s about helping them out and getting them up to speed.”
Despite playing in 57 games as rookie, Maker was solely a bit part player for the Bucks. His focus was personal development and leadership was something he was told to seek, not something required.
“This is the league and I’ve quietened down because the guys on my team have that under control,” Maker admitted.
The juxtaposition to Maker’s basketball upbringing is striking, certainly a far cry from his time playing high school basketball, while holding up to the pressure of being a potential NBA prospect.
“Yeah it was different.” Maker said, when discussing the change in leadership responsibilities in the NBA. “Back in AAU that was me, but it’s something I have to get re-used to. I had more of a louder voice back in high school.”
The ‘Aussie Connect’
When it came to leadership and role models, Maker was lavish with praise for a fellow Australian. Namely, Matthew Dellavedova.
“Delly’s done a great job," Maker proclaimed. “Especially off the court, always telling me to stay in it.”
“Early on in the pre-season when I wasn’t playing, he would send me a text saying ‘continue to do this’ or ‘continue to do that’ and when I started playing he was doing that more.
“Then we would work on certain things in practice. He would show me what he’s thinking when he’s coming off a pick and roll or something like that. Or what he would like me to do in that position. He’s done a great job.”
Maker admitted the two have discussed the possibilities that await the Boomers in China and Tokyo later this decade, although a larrikin persona underlies the promise of Australian basketball.
“Yeah [the Boomers] have definitely come up,” Maker said. “But we also joke about it in practice, we do certain drills and are like ‘it’s the Aussie Connect’ and things like that.”
The Aussie Connect, could this become Milwaukee’s version of Lob City? What about the Boomers' equivalent of the Winged Keel?
Maker appreciates the potential that lies within this generation of Boomers, but understands patience remains a necessary ingredient. With an Australian basketball legend providing guidance, the national team can wait, for now.
“I met Luc Longley a few months ago,” Maker said. “He just told me take my time. He told me not to rush.
“He knows and understands that I am mostly here [in Milwaukee] full time with the team in terms of developing my body and working on my game. Because it would have been the same thing even if I was with [the Boomers].
“He said, 'just take your time, and you don’t need to rush'. As we get closer to it, then I can be more active in being involved.”
Thon Maker will spend the remainder of this American summer focusing on himself, his talents and his game. The Milwaukee Bucks will provide the facilities, the sparring partner and the opportunity Maker craves. The dedicated work ethic of an NBA neophyte will be severely challenged by an All-Star companion.
Those Milwaukee Bucks will reap the immediate benefits, maybe as early as October this year. Australian basketball must wait but it shouldn’t fear. Its basketball unicorn is in good hands and the possibilities remain endless.