The ever-changing role that Thon Maker plays with the Milwaukee Bucks has taken its latest turn, as the second-year big man has seen his minutes dramatically reduced in recent games.
As a rookie, Milwaukee head coach Jason Kidd thrust Maker into a starting role 52 games into the season. It was a role that he would maintain for the last 36 games, including playoffs. Maker flashed potential in front of national TV audiences with eye-opening defensive plays, and an ability to knock down shots from the perimeter.
As a result, the expectations suddenly rocketed, and Maker was seen as a lock to start at center for the Bucks moving forward. That thought was promptly thrown out the window, as he was relegated to the bench just six games into the 2017/18 season. Veteran center John Henson, in his 6th season in the NBA, became the Milwaukee starter, and has retained the role ever since.
Jason Kidd was subsequently fired on January 22nd, with assistant coach Joe Prunty taking the reins in a caretaker role for the remainder of this season. Maker began showing signs of last season's form, averaging 7.1 points per game over the first 14 contests of Prunty's reign. Four times in that span, Maker scored in double digits, a feat he'd only achieved four times over the seasons first 45 games. Kidd was rumoured to have frayed relationships with many of Bucks players, and Maker's exceptional play straight after the firing, was certainly a peculiar twist in the tale.
Just before the trade deadline however, the Bucks traded for Brooklyn center Tyler Zeller. Somewhat of a journeyman, Milwaukee became Zeller's fourth NBA team in his six seasons in the league. With the Bucks ranking dead last in rebounding league-wide all season, Zeller's addition plugged the gaps Milwaukee had with Henson and Maker. Unfortunately, the writing was on the wall. In the last five games, Maker has seen his minutes reduced to 10.2 per game, down from the 17.5 he has averaged over the season. His recent uptick in scoring has also ceased, only mustering two points per game during that stretch.
Matt Velazquez from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, spoke to Maker and Prunty about the team's recent struggles. Maker's response was typically positive as he looked back on that personally stellar playoff series against Toronto:
"Right now, we’ve got to get back to that playoff mentality we had last year," Maker said. "I’ve got to come in aggressive, attack each game. That’s what we need."
Still extremely slight of frame, Maker has struggled to compete with the bigger bodies in the paint. Averaging just 2.7 rebounds per game over his career, it's simply not good enough for the seven-foot bean pole. When asked what he expects from his big men, Prunty was clear in his response: "For all of us, we need rebounding, running, run the floor, help get stops, be a presence in the paint in terms of making shots difficult, pick-and-roll coverages."
While Maker still struggles with rebounding the ball, one pleasing aspect of his sophomore play has been his continued ability to block shots at the rim. With 50 blocks on the season (0.8 blocks per game), Maker is tied for 8th in the league amongst players averaging under 20 minutes per contest.
Thon knows he needs to continue to grow and above all else, stay ready. He's proven he can be a impact player at this level, so for now, it's all about taking opportunities. With a reported work ethic as strong as anyone's, you can rest assured the 21 year-old will be working his tail off outside of game day in order to do just that.
With the playoffs just around the corner, Maker's continued growth and readiness is what the Bucks will need.