Aussies in NBA: Thon Maker’s hunt for minutes continues

Thon Maker is reaching cult hero status in Milwaukee.

Catch the end of a Bucks’ blowout, and there’s a good chance you’ll see Maker on the court, with the Milwaukee fan base going crazy whenever the Aussie contributes. With the Bucks cruising to a 123-96 win over the Washington Wizards, Maker connected on a meaningless three, but judging by the fans’ reaction, you’d think it was closer to a game-winner.

These glimpses of what Maker could become have been fun to follow throughout the first half of the season. However, that’s all we have at the moment – glimpses.

This of course, isn’t a horrible thing. Maker is a raw prospect and was never going to be a Rookie of the Year contender. The 19-year-old has limitless potential, but to expect him to fulfill it in a short amount of time is unfair.

Maker has shown an ability to stretch the floor beyond the three-point line, versatility and activeness on the defensive end and hasn’t looked lost against NBA talent. Again, this is an extremely small sample size against bench units. It’s all we’ve got, though, and not recognising it would be discrediting Maker’s progression.

In the Bucks’ 109-107 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on January 11, Maker was the beneficiary of extra minutes, due to Giannis Antetokounmpo battling an illness. Just like he has done in garbage time, Maker played with poise well beyond his years, and contributed to the win.

Playing 13 minutes, Maker scored five points and hit a three-pointer against the Spurs. Not a huge stat line, but for coach Jason Kidd to throw his Australian rookie into the fire against one of the league’s best, shows the trust between the two is growing.

Kidd, in fact, believes it’s on him to find more opportunities for Maker.

“He works extremely hard and we felt he could be rewarded by giving him some playing time,” Kidd said after the Spurs game, via Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“He responded in a positive way and now we’ve got to find him a little more playing time through the games we have coming up here.

“He’s going to be a rookie; he’s going to make mistakes, but he means well. He wants to win and he wants to help the team.

“In practice, he does a really good job. In San Antonio, he did a good job on both sides of the ball. His heart, his intent is right.”

Via the report, Maker has been engaged on the bench during games, calling out plays as they happen. Furthermore, the number-10 draft pick has stayed back after practice for extra sessions with coaches and one-on-one drills with teammate, Miles Plumlee.

While Maker is taking all the right steps towards earning more minutes, he is playing on a team with a logjam in the frontcourt, meaning he may stay starved of opportunities. The Bucks, who sit fifth in the Eastern Conference, have the likes of Antetokounmpo, Plumlee, Jabari Parker, Greg Monroe and Michael Beasley all ahead of Maker, something Kidd has made public.

“I think it’s patience, we have quite a few guys at Thon’s position,” Kidd said, when asked about Maker’s minutes compared to those of second-round pick, Malcolm Brogdon.

“We’re a little thin in the backcourt and Malcolm has taken full advantage of that and has done quite well with his time on the floor.

“Things change in this league, as we all know. And when you are prepared, good things happen.”

For Maker’s part, he is doing all he can, and that’s continue to be a professional.

“It was just me getting an opportunity,” Maker said about his game against the Spurs.

“I had to step in and show what I’ve been working on in practices. Show what I’ve learned while I was waiting.

“Against Toronto and Washington [the coaches] did the same thing. They just told me, ‘Be ready to go. Watch some film.’

“We go through it step by step and the night before the game we walk through it and see the personnel.”

Gaining exposure to the NBA game is another benefit Maker can take from playing minutes, no matter how small they are. While staying after practice to get in extra work is great and a testament to Maker’s work ethic, nothing replicates playing in an actual match.

The nuances that Maker learns on the court aren’t lost on the Aussie.

“It just zooms things in,” Maker said.

“You see them much clearer because you know you’re going to be a part of it. You’ve still got to keep your mind sharp.

“Physically, do what you’ve got to do to be ready, also.”

Maker is ticking a lot of boxes halfway through his rookie season. He is developing at a rate that would please the Bucks, while showing strong off-court qualities at the same time. Additionally, becoming a fan favourite doesn’t hurt.

If Maker continues down this path, and there is no reason why he won’t, his rookie season will undoubtedly be deemed a success, even if the minutes don’t increase in the immediate future.