The Milwaukee Bucks have made a habit of making big gambles on draft night. Thursday night might be their biggest yet.
With the No. 10 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the Bucks drafted Australian big man Thon Maker, in the process shocking many observers who thought the highly touted high school big man might slip to the late first or even second round. A 7'1", 218-pounder with elite physical tools, Maker is considered one of the rawest prospects in the draft, though he reportedly impressed with his perimeter shooting in predraft workouts.
"We're really excited about him." Bucks general manager John Hammond said of Maker. "You're always concerned if you can put your head on the pillow at night knowing if you drafted somebody you can trust. We felt that with Thon. We know he's going to do everything he can to be the best player he can be."
Perhaps more worryingly, reports emerged on Thursday morning that some teams believed Maker could two or three years older than his listed age of 19, which would of course prove a major red flag. Presumably the Bucks don't believe that to be true, especially considering Milwaukee was burned by a similar situation with Yi Jianlian in 2007.
As for his game, we wrote about Maker's boom-bust potential last week following a workout in Milwaukee:
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 canwatch 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.
The Bucks at this moment have no more picks in the first round of the draft. They currently have picks No. 36 and 38 in the second round.
Stay here on Brewhoop.com for more updates on the selection momentarily.