MILWAUKEE – It’s been a week, since news leaked that Thon Maker would like to be traded – ideally, to a situation that would provide greater playing opportunities.
Maker has publicly offered his support and commitment to the Milwaukee Bucks. Outside of some routine answers to enquiring reporters, it’s been radio silence from all parties involved. This of course should not be a surprise, as the Bucks continue their march at the top of the Eastern conference, winners in 19 of their past 23 games.
In speaking with Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Maker made sure to separate his desire to play, from actual dissatisfaction with the franchise itself.
“I love Milwaukee. I really want you guys to get this down. I love Milwaukee, I love the fans, the city – it works hard, I work hard and I’ve always done that since the first day I decided to play basketball.”
It’s important to note that the Bucks are in no way obligated to trade Maker, a player that they have invested time in developing and emphatically professed their belief in what he can become with the franchise.
Milwaukee picked up Thon’s fourth-year option earlier in the season, meaning they have control over the Australian through the end of the 2019-20 season. With all Milwaukee starters not named Giannis Antetokounmpo up for contract at the end of the season, having a cheap asset that has proven himself to be a positive player at the level is important for the Bucks moving forward.
With that in mind, you can almost certainly draw a line through the Bucks trading Maker for a minor asset or non-needle moving player at this point. It just simply doesn’t make sense.
Maker’s frustration at the inconsistency of his opportunities is easily understood, given the rollercoaster ride in-and-out of the Bucks rotation through the first two and a half seasons of his professional career.
By his own admission, communication lines have remained open all season with coach Mike Budenholzer.
“I’ve always had conversations with Coach (Mike Budenholzer). He would let me know these guys are playing really well. When we had John (Henson), he was playing really well early in the season. Ersan (Ilyasova), before he got hurt. And we just have our regular day-to-day conversations as well.”
For all intents and purposes, Maker has played his role to an extremely high level this season, and the Bucks have unquestionably prospered with his presence on the court.
Built to be a defensive difference maker, the Bucks possess a 97.8 defensive rating with Maker on the floor, an elite number over a substantial 409 minute sample size. Per Cleaning the Glass, Milwaukee are holding their opponents to a shooting percentage in the 97th percentile at the rim when Thon is on the floor, which falls 6.8 percent lower than when he is on the bench.
On the offensive side of the ball, Maker’s overall offensive repertoire remains a work in progress, though his 52 three-point percent clip from the corner –a position the offence often demands he be– has proven to be a reliable weapon.
During a breakout performance against Utah on January 7, Maker poured in a season-high 15 points, playing a major role in the Bucks comeback victory. Post-game, Budenholzer described Maker as the “difference maker”, while All-Star Khris Middleton was even more succinct in his praise of the Australian.
“Thon, he’s a guy that can get everybody going, he has such positive energy no matter what’s going on with him or the team,” Middleton said.
“To see him have a game like that and really carry us to a win is huge for everybody and I hope he knows what he did tonight for us.”
The atmosphere in the locker room post-game was pulsating, it was abundantly clear how much Maker means to this team, and how big the emotional boost is when he plays well.
Despite that, Maker has been a complete afterthought since. He failed to see the floor in seven of the Bucks 12 following contests, never playing more than 10 minutes in the games he has played. Ilyasova currently fills the spot in the rotation that is providing the road block, and despite being in the middle of a horrific slump shooting the ball (2-for-18 over the last seven games), Budenholzer has stuck with the Turkish native, leaving Maker firmly planted on the bench.
Given the public nature of the trade request, one certainly has to ponder if playing Maker would be sending a negative message to the group; a group that has a bunch of players capable of making a case for playing time right now.
Again, it’s not clear where the leak came from, and we will likely never know. With the trade deadline less than a week a way, the stalemate would appear likely to continue for at least the next few days, trade notwithstanding.
Timing is everything when seeking opportunities in the NBA, and unfortunately for Maker, the timing on this one appears less than optimum.
The NBA trade deadline is at 7am Friday morning (AEST)
*NOTE: Christian Wood entered the game against Washington today. Wood had not seen the floor for the Bucks since December 5 against Detroit. Thon Maker again received the DNP.