Drummond's departure finally opens door for Thon Maker to shine

Thon Maker hasn't quite lived up to the lofty expectations bestowed upon him in high school. The 7-footer burst onto the scene as a teenage internet sensation, courtesy of jaw-dropping mixtapes portraying him as a big man with guard skills.

Ever since Milwaukee selected him with the 10th overall pick in 2016, Maker has struggled for playing time. He hasn't helped his case with career averages of 4.6 points and 2.7 rebounds in 14 minutes per game, on 43.6% shooting from the field. Milwaukee eventually traded Maker to Detroit in 2019, where the big man sought a fresh start.

Now, after biding his time on the bench for years, the South Sudanese-Australian may have finally caught a break. The Detroit Pistons sent Andre Drummond to Cleveland at the trade deadline, opening the door for Maker. He logged 34 minutes in his first Pistons game following the Drummond trade, adding 19 points and 7 rebounds against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SXkM9DjI4U

Before that 34-minute effort in Oklahoma City, Maker's previous season high for minutes was just 25. He backed up this performance with a 29-minute effort the following day against the New York Knicks. The 22 year old only managed seven points and three rebounds, but the playing time was an encouraging sign.

In the Pistons' following game against Charlotte however, there appeared to be a spanner in the works. Markieff Morris returned from injury, keeping Maker to 24 minutes. This didn't stop the 7-footer from recording a double double, but we saw a similar trend in the following game against Orlando, where he logged 27 minutes including overtime.

Although Maker's 34-minute game might have generated some premature optimism, the signs are nonetheless positive. The former lottery pick was averaging a touch over 10 minutes per game prior to the Drummond trade. Now, in spite of a small four-game sample size, Maker's floor appears to be just under 25 minutes each night.

Drummond's departure also creates opportunities for Maker inside the paint. He is now starting alongside Christian Wood, who is capable of stepping out to the three point line, relieving some of the spacing pressures faced by the Perth native. Maker is at a pivotal moment in his career, which could be defined by the remainder of this season.

If Maker capitalises on his new-found starting role, he could be in line for a Boomers jersey at the Tokyo Olympics. The 7-footer previously skipped the 2019 FIBA World Cup to focus on his own personal development with the Pistons. These next few months will reveal whether his decision was vindicated.