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One Year Later: Why the Bucks Drafted Thon Maker

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How the Bucks outsmarted the rest of the league and took Thon Maker early in the 2016 NBA Draft

NBA: NBA Draft Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

As we inch closer to the 2017 NBA Draft, we thought it might be worth taking a look back at the Milwaukee Bucks’ first round draft pick from 2016, Thon Maker, and some of the drama surrounding his selection.

You wouldn’t be alone if the first time you heard the name “Thon Maker,” your immediate reaction might have been “Huh?” Or, maybe more accurately, “Who?” So of course, when the Bucks made Maker the 10th selection in last year’s draft, the naysayers certainly had a field day. Virtually no one in the NBA had Maker’s name on the tip of their tongues as an lottery draft pick. Except the Milwaukee Bucks, that is. So what did the Bucks know that no one else did? A vexing question that I feel a duty to try and sort out.

Lots of people know Thon Maker’s general story. And in fact, it’s a pretty interesting one. Thon was born and raised in South Sudan. And for those of you geographically challenged (like me), South Sudan is located almost exactly in the center of Africa. Once he reached 8 years of age he and his family relocated to Australia. Upon turning 13 and showing basketball promise, Maker settled in Canada. Thon burst onto the basketball scene with this mixtape:

He essentially played ball in Canada ever since, besides a stint in Virginia, until being picked by the Bucks last year.

But why was the professional (and college) basketball universe so unimpressed with Maker’s pro prospects? Well, I took a look at what some of the “experts” were saying before last year’s draft and it’s not an especially pretty sight.

Below are comments during a Sports Illustrated roundtable that took place last June:

Anonymous NBA scout #1:

He's a guy that I think is more two or three years away. If we were drafting him, [we'd tell him to] go spend two or three years in Europe or in the D-League. In my opinion, I don't even think he's a roster guy next year.

SI’s Ben Golliver, NBA writer:

I’m definitely a Thon Maker skeptic. —and there are many—and ponder whether he’s mentally ready to spend the next few years of his life at the end of the bench or in the D-League.

Then here’s the Undefeated’s Jerry Bembry:

Maker was one of biggest names selected for the 2015 Nike Hoop Summit, but he struggled playing on the same court as Brandon Ingram, Ben Simmons and Skal Labissiere...

Anonymous NBA scout #2:

“The real problem with Thon Maker? There’s so little to evaluate his ability.”

Hardly rave reviews. And there were many others even more critical of Maker’s NBA prospects. So what did former GM John Hammond know that everyone else didn’t? From my point of view...nothing. But Hammond had something (someone) right in front of him that no one else did. Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Antetokounmpo and Maker have several things in common. Both were largely unknown international players and many NBA movers and shakers claimed they just didn’t know enough about either of them to consider drafting them. Both have other otherworldly athletic gifts. Both could play the game but needed development. LOTS of development.

They also reportedly have a pathological desire to work hard and improve. Then Antetokounmpo went out and electrified the Basketball World. Making John Hammond look like a visionary and possibly some sort of hoops genius (if you’re willing to forget some of his less successful moves). Drafting an 18-year old from Greece and watching him become a elaborate mix of Kevin Durant, Kevin Garnett, Scottie Pippen and lord knows who else makes an impression and people tend to notice. So there was Hammond again, looking at a prospect that wasn’t that far off from his Giannis experience of just three short years ago. Big John must have been thinking Deja vu all over again?

Maker’s huge size, Olympian type athleticism and sweet 3 point shooting stroke was just too much for Hammond to pass up. Thon’s ability as a five to step out and hit 3s consistently may be a future key factor as the Bucks climb the playoff ladder. I know, Maker is rail thin and doesn’t really have anything one might consider as NBA “moves”. But early on, neither did Giannis. At the 2016 combine Maker’s vertical leap was over 36 inches. For those that hate stats, that means from a standing position Maker can jump more than three feet straight up into the air. By the way, Maker’s 36+” vertical leap is the best of any player 6’11” or taller in the history of the NBA combine. Then think about Maker’s truly astonishing quick feet and straight line running speed. It might not be a stretch to call Maker the fastest big man in the NBA right now. Of course, Giannis has paid off in a big, big way. And Maker very likely may never approach Giannis type heights. But based on his solid and ever improving first year Maker may make Hammond look like a genius ..... again.

So, maybe the Bucks didn’t draft Thon Maker because of any special intuitive insights or brilliant realizations. They drafted Thon Maker because they became convinced basketball lightning just might strike twice in Milwaukee.

THOUGHT MAYBE ONLY I ENJOY

I would seriously enjoy watching Maker and Jason “The Jet” Terry duel in a series of 90 foot end to end sprints to proclaim the title of “Fastest Milwaukee Buck 2017 edition.”I can see it now. Me- sitting in the stands of the Bucks brand new stad midcourt all alone, with my favorite adult beverage in hand. Thon and JET glaring at each other trying to gain the psychological edge. And off they go! Maker’s insanely quick feet against Terry’s freakish all court speed. And the winner is ...

I’ll leave the ending to the imagination of any Buck’s fan who cares to dream.