Thon Maker was supposed to be a reach.
Selected at pick 10 in the 2016 NBA Draft was a shock. This unknown Australian, who didn’t play a second of college basketball or professional basketball to that point, wasn’t meant to be picked in the lottery.
Heck, most didn’t even know how old he was, let alone the kind of NBA talent he would become.
Despite the mystery surrounding Maker, the Milwaukee Bucks rolled the dice – and are now reaping the benefits.
The raw statistics of 4.0 points and 9.9 minutes per game don’t do Maker’s rookie season justice. He was never going to come in and stuff the stat sheet; he is still very much a project player, and not a finished product.
However, the glimpses excited everyone. The infectious energy 20-year-old Maker brought to the court, be it flashing his athleticism on the defensive end or draining a three-pointer, showed exactly why he was deserving of that high selection.
His Australian teammate, Matthew Dellavedova, been an observer throughout the season. The point guard started talking about Maker’s personality –one that reverberates throughout the club– long before Maker’s on-court attributes were even brought up.
“[Thon] is a fun person to be around in general,” Dellavedova told The Pick and Roll last week at the Olympic Park.
“He always has a smile on his face and is very caring, friendly and just has a lot of excitement.
“He is such a nice person and a great teammate; everyone wants to help him out because of who he is as a person. It is exciting to see how good he could be, and he is another guy who wants to be the best.”
As for his pure basketball talent, Dellavedova believes Maker’s potential lies in his flexible nature.
“His on court stuff… he is super competitive, an extremely hard worker on the court and in the weight room,” he said.
“He is a guy who is so versatile because of his athleticism and length, but also his skill set and the way he shoots the ball, he can play multiple potions as well.
“When he can play the five spot and defend the rim like he can, but also space the floor on the other end and shoot threes, it is an exciting combination.”
Maker isn’t the only teammate that has gotten Dellavedova’s attention.
Antetokounmpo does it all
Giannis Antetokounmpo took the NBA world by storm last season. His list of achievements last season read: NBA All-Star, NBA Most Improved Player, All-NBA Second Team and NBA All-Defensive Second Team.
The Greek point guard –if we can call him that– did things nobody else had even imagined doing on a basketball court. Transitioning from one side of the court to the other in a matter of two dribbles, dunking from impossible lengths and making defensive plays that defied any kind of physics or logic you’d learn in a classroom, Antetokounmpo showcased the elements that could make him the best player in the league in the future.
Dellavedova sees it firsthand, but that doesn’t discount the amazement of watching Antetokounmpo perform his craft.
“He does things once or twice a week, where you look and think, how did he do that, because it will be something we have never seen before,” Dellavedova said.
“His hands are that big, he will be running and just be able to pick up the ball like that. He is a great guy and works extremely hard. He wants to be the best.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if he won the Most Improved Player award again, which would be crazy because he is already an All-Star.”
Delly on his first season as a Buck, and looking ahead
As for his own individual effort, a candid Dellavedova admitted he didn’t think he performed up to standards last season.
After switching from championship glory in Cleveland to unknown pastures in Milwaukee, Dellavedova took a while to adjust. As any player experiences, the change in structures, frameworks, principles and application from one team to another takes time to occur. Acclimatisation doesn’t happen overnight and Dellavedova experienced that.
“I didn’t play as well as I wanted to,” he confessed.
“I think going to a new team, there is always an adjustment period and just building that on court chemistry takes time, more reputation and watching more game tape.
“With Cleveland, I didn’t really get the pick and rolls with LeBron [James] going until the second year, so I’m exciting for the upcoming year.”
The Maryborough native started 54 matches last season, after he started just 31 times in his three previous campaigns with the Cavaliers. It was a change in role and an uptick in responsibility, one that Dellavedova took on positively at times, negatively at others.
When he was on the court, the Bucks scored 106.0 points per 100 possessions, an above average rate. However, they also conceded 107.0 points per 100 possessions, deeming Dellavedova’s impact as pedestrian at best.
Despite this, there is no doubt the championship pedigree and stable nature the Australian provided paid dividends for Milwaukee, who made a shock playoff run last season.
Expectations weren’t high for Jason Kidd’s men entering the season, but sparked by youthful exuberance, they managed to get to the postseason and almost knocked the Toronto Raptors off in the first round.
Incredibly, the Bucks achieved this with two of their main linchpins, Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker, limited by injuries. While Middleton was back at the tail end of the campaign, Parker will miss the opening part of the 2017/18 season, after tearing his ACL in February.
Once all of these pieces come together again, Dellavedova sees no reason why his side can’t take what they did last year and expand on it.
“I think internally the expectations that we have for ourselves are really high, and they were high last season and they are high again this season,” he said.
“We have a great young core of players that got some playoff experience last year and are hungry to do better next year. I think that’s a great combination. Not only the talent, but also the versatility we have where a lot of guys can play multiple positions and they can switch onto multiple positions, which is the way the NBA is going, as you saw in the playoffs.
“It is a lot of small ball, but if you have small ball and a rim protector like we have in Giannis, who can play one through five, because he is so unique, I think that’s part of the reason why we have an exciting future in Milwaukee.”