2018-2019 Season Review: Thon Maker Remains Frustrating, But Full of Potential

Graphic Image: @gabriella.s_photography

Ever since Thon Maker was selected tenth overall in the 2016 NBA Draft, the prospect of him being the ultimate stretch big man has been tantalizing. Milwaukee selected Maker ten spots ahead of Caris LeVert (Brooklyn) and 17 spots ahead of Pascal Siakim (Toronto), which in hindsight was perhaps too early. Long, lanky, and raw with potential, Maker was too tempting for someone to not take and think they could develop.

*as an aside, can you imagine Siakim on the Milwaukee Bucks? Talk about tantalizing…

Anyway, back to Thon Maker. The Bucks clearly were not satisfied with the progression of the 7’1” big man, so they shipped him to Detroit in a three-team trade that involved Stanley Johnson and Nikola Mirotic. Milwaukee had seen enough of Maker, opting instead for a win-now piece in Mirotic. Maker ended up in the Motor City and remains what he has always been even before he was drafted: goopy clay that might one day be a foundational brick of an organization, and Detroit hopes to be just that organization. 

Thon Maker appeared in 25 games with the Pistons, a decent enough sample size to get a general idea of what he can bring to the table with Detroit’s roster. He averaged 5.5 points on 37.3% shooting while grabbing 3.7 rebounds and just over one block per game. Shockingly enough (or maybe not so shockingly, considering he was traded essentially for another disappointing prospect in Johnson), those are the most points and rebounds he averaged per game in any season so far in his young career. 

So, there is something in Maker. He is athletic, he is tall, he might be something with the right framework around him. But Milwaukee is a pretty darn good framework, and he could not fit there. He did not do enough to crack their vaunted rotation of equally long-armed wings and was promptly moved. Maybe a change of scenery will do him well? Only time will tell, and Maker is only 22-years-old. 

However, the downsides are glaring. Simply put, Thon Maker cannot shoot the basketball. That 37.3% from the floor is pretty appalling, and he shot 30.7% from deep on 2.6 shots per game. That is too many shots from deep for a guy who has no history of being a decent three-point shooter. Breaking it down further, Maker shot 60% from under the basket, 38.9% from 3-10 feet away, and 20% from 10-16 feet.

Thon Maker, I think, might not be a shooter despite his best efforts.

As a member of the Pistons, 56% of all of Thon Maker’s shots came from beyond the arc. When he was with Milwaukee this season before getting traded that number was 58.9%, the highest of his career. For a guy who has not shown the ability to shoot threes, taking so many of them is rather inefficient. But this goes back to infrastructure too. Detroit was gasping for three-point shooting, especially in the second unit, and had really no other options. With more shooting on the roster to space out the offense, perhaps Maker could be more efficient. But with defenses sagging off of him, and Thon seemingly unwilling to take the ball into the paint, his offensive potential is limited. Even when he gets down onto the block, he does not have the hand strength to catch quick passes and avoid getting his shots deterred. At 221 pounds, Maker could do well with some additional weight to be more imposing down in the post. 

It is tough to pick the best Thon Maker game, but his showing on March 24 against the Golden State Warriors is the pick. Maker team-high +9 and had 12 points and six rebounds. He shot 4/6 from the floor and was 2/4 from deep. Detroit may have lost the contest, but Maker had a solid effort. His go-ahead three against the Hawks was a close second choice, but I will take the solid game against the back-to-back champion Warriors.

So, what can Detroit do with Thon Maker? With a salary of just over $3 million there really is no reason to not roll with him as the third or fourth guy off the bench. His impact is made in the paint, both on the boards and shooting close to the rim. His defensive rating was significantly higher as a member of Milwaukee (97.8) compared to Detroit (106.3), which averaged out to 102.6 for the 2018-2019 season. But, again, this goes back to infrastructure and defensive schemes to a certain degree. 

This is an important year for Maker. He is fighting to stay relevant and get another job. Detroit is going to be working with little salary cap over the next few years and are far from certain to give him another shot. Potential looks great on paper, but Detroit is trying to win now while they have Blake Griffin. They will need to see something sizable from Thon Maker to consider keeping him beyond next season. 

(Featured image by Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

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