With just a week left before draft night, the Milwaukee Bucks' draft diligence process is getting, well, fun.
After welcoming Wisconsin native Henry Ellenson to the Orthopaedic Hospital of Wisconsin Center on Tuesday, the Bucks turned up the intrigue factor on Wednesday with a six-man session featuring high school lightning rod Thon Maker (DX #40), Louisville bruiser Chinanu Onuaku (DX #38) and North Carolina power forward Brice Johnson (DX #30). Not to be outdone, Friday features two of the draft's top point guard prospects in Wade Baldwin (DX #15) and Dejounte Murray (DX #31), with Michigan State's Denzel Valentine (DX #16) scheduled for a solo meeting in the afternoon.
Wednesday: The Maker Hype Train lands in Milwaukee
Among big guys slated to go in the second half of the first round or early second, you couldn't have picked a more diverse group to compare against one another, which was especially important for an unproven commodity like Maker. If my Twitter feed and our comment section are any indication, everyone has an opinion of the 7'1" Sudan-born, Australia-raised, America- and Canada-educated big man, though relatively few people have actually seen him play beyond his mouth-watering YouTube mixtapes. If you want a sample of him playing against some of the other prospects from this year's draft, you can watch the full Nike Hoops Summit from 2015, which featured Maker (0/5 fg, 2/4 ft, 2 pts, 10 rebs in 14 minutues) as well as Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, Jamal Murray, Skal Labissiere, Cheick Diallo, and Stephen Zimmerman among many others.
Bear in mind that game was a year ago, but that's also why seeing him up close against real competition is so important for the Bucks and the rest of the league. Some 3-on-3 isn't much to go on from a competition standpoint, but it at least provides some proxy for how Maker compares head-to-head against a savvy college player like Johnson and a physical, non-stop motor guy in Onuaku. All three have a reasonable chance of sneaking into the later half of the first round, with Maker's range rumored to be the widest -- anywhere from late lottery to early in the second.
So what might Maker look like at the NBA level? It's obviously a topic of much debate, though there's little question that he has elite measurables (7'3" wingspan, 36.5" max vertical at 218 pounds), a non-stop motor and a great personality to boot. Those traits alone will likely get him drafted somewhere in the first round, and the team that takes him will also be hoping that Maker's good shooting in workouts is the start of a burgeoning offensive game as well. Whatever happens, Chad Ford writes that at least one GM thinks Maker should be thinking big -- perhaps literally more than figuratively.
"I think he'll eventually be a 5 in our league," the GM said. "He's got the size. He plays really hard. He's a tough kid. I think his defense will come along a lot quicker than the offense.
"I'd have him watch Tyson Chandler video. Rudy Gobert. Those guys were thin, too. He can do more than those guys can on the perimeter, I'm just not sure his NBA coach will want him to."
The offensive end is also where opinions about Maker seem to diverge the most. For all his tools, I've seen a number of references to him lacking not just polish but also feel, and to me that would be the biggest question mark for anyone considering drafting Maker in the late lotto range. It's one thing to be raw, but "feel" typically describes a more intangible, unteachable quality enveloping a murky combination of things like instincts, basketball IQ and coordination.
Some of those things improve over time, but they're not really things you can just coach up; Giannis Antetokounmpo may have been extremely raw as an 18-year-old playing in the Greek second division, but his instincts and feel were easy to see even in that setting. In contrast, Maker was never bashful about taking threes and trying to show off his ballhandling in high school -- that's the subject of many of his YouTube clips -- but one man's "guard skills" are another man's "big guy looking kinda clunky and getting away with it because of his competition level." Personally, I wouldn't put much stock into the idea of Maker ever being an advanced ballhandler or playing like a small forward; it's not to completely discredit some of the stuff he was able to do in high school, but being able to do it in constructive ways at the NBA level is entirely different.
The good news for Maker is that he doesn't need to be a 7'1" Kevin Durant. Maker stacks up favorably by any measurable against the likes of Skal Labissiere and Deyonta Davis, and those are the guys we should be comparing him against moving forward. For now, the fact that most scouts continue to peg him at least a tier below those guys suggests that there's something about his game they really don't see adding up. It could prove an example of scouts seeing past the YouTube bluster that has seduced many fans, or Maker could prove the steal of the 2016 draft Hopefully the Bucks were able to differentiate between fact and fiction on Wednesday, though it may be years before we know for sure.
Not to be overlooked are Onuaku and Johnson, especially given the Bucks' two early second round picks and the possibility that they could use them to move up into the second half of the first. A consensus All-American at UNC, Johnson might be too thin to reliably play any spot other than power forward, but he's productive and could be a solid rotation player for years to come.
Despite playing two seasons at Lousiville, Onuaku is only a few months older than the 19-year-old Maker and all told might be the biggest sleeper of the 2016 draft. A heart condition required surgery a couple months ago, but he's since returned to action and provides a unique combination of strength, motor and productivity on both ends. Among college bigs projected to go in the first two rounds, he was first in offensive rebounds and assists per minute while blocking 3.4 shots per 40 -- a weird and highly encouraging combination of skills that speak to both his physical ability and underrated basketball sense.
Friday: Baldwin and Murray duel, Valentine gets his look
If the first half of the week gave the Bucks some useful data points on potential big men, Friday's workouts promise to do the same for potential guard options. Blessed with an absurd wingspan (6'11.25") and a promising stroke (42% from three on 200 attempts in college, 80% from the stripe), Vanderbilt's Wade Baldwin has emerged as a favorite for many Bucks fans, and he'll get his chance on Friday to prove himself against Washington freshman Dejounte Murray.
I'm not sure Baldwin has the overall skill level to justify being the best guy on the board at 10 -- he was a poor finisher in college with no in-between game to speak of -- but he's otherwise a near perfect fit for a Bucks team searching for someone who can defend point guards, hit threes and generally play off Giannis Antetokounmpo. The 6'5" Murray would be an even more speculative option, as he's young, quick and talented -- and also hyper-inefficient and unpolished. Talking yourself into Murray would seem rather difficult with Michael Carter-Williams fresh in the memory (and, you know, still on the team), but here he is.
Lastly, Valentine's sensational shooting and passing as a senior have obvious appeal for a a Bucks team that could use more of both, though his flaws might be deal-breakers at #10. Despite his 6'10" wingspan, Valentine's defense, knee issues and general lack of athleticism are major concerns in trying to project him to the NBA level. For more on Valentine, Baldwin, Murray and Domantas Sabonis, I'd recommend checking out David Locke's scouting videos here.
As for next week, the Bucks may conduct workouts between now and Tuesday before having a couple days to sort through their options before Thursday's draft. Remember that Rashad Vaughn didn't work out until the Monday before last year's draft, so there's some precedent (albeit not a promising one?) for guys sneaking in late, and Giannis Antetokounmpo didn't work out at all in Milwaukee before he was picked in 2013.
Among guys in the Bucks' range who haven't been to Milwaukee, Deyonta Davis and Sabonis are the obvious options to watch out for next week. Sabonis has previously said he was only working out out for four teams (Raptors, Celtics, Jazz and Suns), though that could always change, especially given the Bucks are at the high end of his range. The Bucks previously interviewed Davis in Chicago -- something they reportedly didn't do with Skal Labissiere -- so there's been at least some suggestion of interest.
As for the internationals, Timothe Luwawu, Furkan Korkmaz, Ante Zizic, Ivica Zubac, and Paul Zipser were all at an Excel Sports pro day in New York that the Bucks attended on Tuesday; like Damien Inglis, all of those guys are repped by European agency BeoBasket, which works with Jeff Schwartz's Excel on NBA deals. As interesting as they are, none of those guys seem likely to be in play at #10, though we'll see if that's still the case a week from now.
Sam Vecenie and Frank Madden discuss the Bucks and NBA Draft | CBS Sports
I had the pleasure of joining CBS Sports' draft guru Sam Vecenie on Monday for a podcast looking at the Bucks' draft prospects as well as Giannis Antetokounmpo's future and what's next for Greg Monroe and Michael Carter-Williams. Listen below:
Katsikaris: "Giannis will have the ball in his hands" | Eurohoops.net
Bucks fans have often wondered why Giannis Antetokounmpo didn't have a more central role in the Greece national team over the past two summers. Based on the most recent comments from head coach Fotios Katsikaris, they may not have to wonder much longer.
"I think it is important to do an analysis about Giannis. He is a player who every year in the national team was having a role similar with the one he had with the Bucks. At this point we can afford to give him more responsibilities than anyone else, having the ball in his hands. We will build around him. Giannis will be the one who will take decisions on the court for us".