The excitement that came with Thon Maker when he arrived to Detroit in a trade that shipped out Stanley Johnson was real. Johnson’s tenure with the Pistons needed to come to an end. Meanwhile, Detroit was receiving a 21-year old that came into the league with high potential and simply needed a chance, as Milwaukee, in the middle of a championship-contending season, wasn’t using time on the court to develop their young players.
But through 29 games last season in the Motor City, Maker left much to be desired. His per-game averages were mediocre; 5.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 0.8 assists, 19.4 minutes. His shooting percentages were abysmal, as he shot just 37.3% from the field and 30.7% from the 3-point line. When Maker was inserted into the second unit, which consisted of himself, Ish Smith, Luke Kennard, Langston Galloway, and Zaza Pachulia, that lineup became a negative, with a minus-1.1 net rating. Replace Pachulia with Jon Leuer and that lineup becomes a minus-1.0.
When the Pistons went smaller and moved Maker to the center spot, the second unit looked much better. When Detroit inserted Glenn Robinson III and allowed Maker to hold down the center responsibilities, the second unit had a plus-4.2 net rating. But the roster is different now, as is the second unit. Smith is gone in place of Derrick Rose. Pachulia is gone, as is Robinson.
Maker’s performance in the playoffs raised rightful concern. Defensively, the Bucks targeted him, and Maker responded poorly to that challenge. Whether it was Giannis Antetokoumnpo or seemingly any other Buck, Maker couldn’t stay in front of the opposition and found himself being blown by or outmuscled. In other instances, he was a hack, simply due to his lack of strength and his tendency to flail around. On offense he was non-existent. He didn’t make a single 3-pointer, going 0-12 through four games. With Blake Griffin out in the first two games of the series, Maker was given perhaps the greatest chance of his career to make an impact and he sorely failed to do that.
Through the first four preseason games, however, Maker has looked alright. He doesn’t seem much improved in any significant area, although he is has rebounded the ball much better, averaging 6.5 in 18 minutes per game. His shooting is still a mess, as he has shot just 35% from the field and 12.5% from beyond the arc. His fouls have been down, and his assist to turnover ratio has greatly improved.
Dwane Casey appears adamant about giving Maker every possible chance to prove himself albeit the dominance of Christian Wood throughout the preseason. Maker has responded by competing harder on the defensive end of the floor, rebounding tougher, and by helping move the ball on offense.
At just 22 years old, Maker shows each and every game how raw he still is, but he also manages to show glimpses of his peak at the same time. With Derrick Rose and Luke Kennard’s offensive firepower in the second unit, Detroit doesn’t need Maker to be a major factor scoring-wise. He’ll certainly need to shoot better than he has, but if he can do his job in the glass and protect the paint on defense, then he’ll be a positive for the team.
Maker will be a free agent next July though. And so far, he hasn’t lived up the hype he came into the league with. He likely never will. But he needs to keep developing nonetheless. He’s getting his desired shot in Detroit, and it’s up to him now to show that his pleading to get out of Milwaukee was due to good reasoning.
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