Heading into year three, the intrigue surrounding Thon Maker remains as powerful as ever. For the second consecutive season, the towering Aussie produced significantly mixed results. He set alight the NBA playoffs, with breakout primetime performances reigniting hopes of an improved 2018-19 season.
In all truthfulness, the playoff explosion was desperately needed. It proved to be a shining light in a season that unquestionably fell below the potentially unfair expectations laid out in the preseason. Tipping the season off as the starting center in Milwaukee, that title was ripped away as quickly as it was given to him midway through his rookie year.
Maker never truly seemed to find his comfort zone last season, with sporadic minutes and opportunities hindering any real chance to get in rhythm. It would be remiss to suggest the struggles were totally out of his –at times clumsy– hands, with his lack of strength often hindering his ability to have an impact against opposition big men.
Offensively, his 3-point shot dropped off. He could only muster a 29.8 percent mark from deep, compared with 37.8 in his rookie campaign. Often times he would appear hesitant to let fly, which is uncharacteristic for a guy that carries an enormous level of self-belief.
Head coach at the time, Jason Kidd, was supposedly encouraging multiple Bucks players to step inside the arc, a theory that flies in the face of modern day basketball trends. Via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Kidd had this to say after an impressive Maker performance against the Phoenix Suns.
“I thought he did a great job of finding his sweet spot tonight, inside the three-pointer,” Kidd said.
Optimistic projections suggest Maker has the potential to be the textbook modern-day center. He could be an athletic force with an ability to space the floor and drill long range bombs over desperately outstretched defenders. With Mike Budenholzer’s new regime in place, Maker appears likely to be put in the best possible position to succeed. Furthermore, and in what will be potentially the biggest shot in the arm, he will be encouraged to play to his strengths.
Unlocking Maker’s potential could see the Bucks experience exponential growth in the upcoming season, with his game-wrecking skills surging to national prominence in Game 3 of Milwaukee’s first round playoff series with Boston this past April. After playing a grand total of one minute in the first two games of the series, Maker presented a confident figure when The Pick and Roll caught up with him at practice.
“Practice is my chance to get shots up with the guys and show I’m ready, I’m just waiting for my chance,” Maker said.
Ten emphatic blocked shots over the next two series changing victories that incredibly tilted the scales of momentum back in the Bucks’ favour. It’s those types of moments and the infectious energy it creates that leaves you craving more, wondering if that type of influence is attainable on a regular basis.
A complicating factor when assessing Maker’s year ahead, is a legitimate logjam at the five spot right now.
Milwaukee acquired veteran big man Brook Lopez on a bargain one-year free agent deal worth just over $3 million in June. Lopez is the undisputed lock to start as it stands, leaving Maker and the longest tenured Buck on the roster, John Henson, to fight for back up minutes.
Christian Wood and Tyler Zeller are locked in a battle to secure the last roster spot, with the latter not being guaranteed until an early January deadline. With this in mind, the Bucks will have four legitimate options to play the five, and that’s before taking into account small ball lineups that could pit Giannis Antetokounmpo or Ersan Ilyasova at centre. Simply put, Maker is going to have to earn his floor time in 2018-19.
The Bucks took a flier on Maker with a top-ten pick two years ago, and did so understanding he was without doubt going to be a project. But with expectations rapidly rising in Milwaukee, the opportunities to allow underperforming players on the floor are shrinking by the minute. The burning question that remains is whether or not Thon is capable of translating mesmerising flashes into extended bursts of consistency.
If he does so, the Bucks will very much likely take the next step. You can say this with confidence, because at his best, he’s already proven to be a game changer.