(First posted at Upside & Motor)
Earlier in the month YouTube legend Thon Maker opted to forgo his college career and declared for the NBA draft straight out of high school. After a few days of deliberation, the NBA ruled him eligible for the 2016 class once Maker successfully proved he is, in fact, a full year removed from graduating – doing so at Orangeville District Secondary School in 2015.
The decision surprised some, since Maker was said to be considering offers to join Arizona State, Kansas, Saint John’s, Indiana and Notre Dame. It was also met with skepticism because Maker was not particularly impressive in the last few events he attended in the United States.
Maybe that’s what makes it a good decision from a bottom line standpoint. The more chances people have to take a look at Maker, sooner they realize he is not all that close to the revolutionary figure those highlight clips unfairly portrayed him to be years ago. Maker is probably better off trying to get in now and get some guaranteed money while he can rather than waiting for his flaws to get exposed even further and having no assurances he will be given a real chance.
Maker will for sure get drafted thanks to his combination of size and athleticism. Even if he didn’t already have some status to him, those are appealing traits in any prospect.
Standing at seven-foot-one with a seven-foot-three wingspan and a nine-foot-five standing reach, Maker has prototypical height and length for a center.
But what really impress are his light feet. He can run up and down the court fluidly, has lateral agility and the ability to elevate out of two feet to protect the front of the rim, quickness to rotate off the weak-side to block shots in help defense, can play above the rim as a target for lobs in transition and has ‘second-jump-ability’ to fight for tipped balls and reach them at a higher point than his competition in the offensive glass.
If he were to log NBA minutes sooner rather the later, the one aspect Maker can reasonably be expected to contribute immediately is via his energy; making plays at the basket on both ends and covering more ground on defense than people his size are usually expected to.
Maker has even flashed the ability to pick up smaller players on switches and guard in the perimeter from time to time. When Prolific Prep visited Canada, it tried to draw him outside the lane with Abu Kigab – a six-foot-seven combo forward. Maker proved able to bend his knees to get in a stance and keep pace well enough in isolation for his length to create fear at the rim. That was also the case when he had to closeout to Orangeville’s shooters and defend their straight line drives in the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association Finals.
The thing is, though: for a guy looking to join the highest level of professional basketball as soon as this calendar year, Maker did not dominate the OSBA as much as you’d expect him to from an athletic standpoint, especially considering he is already 19.
Part of the reason why is his lack of strength at this point of his development. Maker has improved his physique a lot since transferring to Canada, weighing at 225 pounds at the Biosteel All-Canadian Game after doing so at 194 pounds at LeBron James Camp three years ago. But he still struggles to play with the sort of force and power his position typically requires.
Orangeville’s Khalif Young and Dantai Saint Louis, four and five inches shorter but visibly tougher, successfully kept Maker from getting deep seals in the low post, constantly pushing him further and further out to the elbow. He typically had no success backing them down through power moves due to his weak base.
The Athlete Institute’s coach had Maker setting high ball screens and then rolling into post position to get him closer to the basket but he got consistently well walled off on those too, though he did well enough hitting hooks over them thanks to his length advantage.
But perhaps more striking was how six-foot-eight, 198-pound Josh Jackson successfully fronted him in the post and boxed him under the glass in the second half against Prolific Prep – a game where the Athlete Institute led by as many as 21 late in the first half but eventually lost after Jackson moved to center on defense and completely annulled Maker late in the second.
That weak base and general lack of physicality makes you wonder if Maker is going to be able to grab a defensive rebound against grown men in six months, especially considering he is hit and miss with his attention to his boxout responsibilities and often allows the opponent inside position.
They also affect his ability to finish in traffic, as he is noticeably less explosive in a crowd than in the open floor, and his ability to maintain his balance through contact, which limits how much he can actually do off the dribble.
Maker has a decent handle for a guy his size when he is not challenged but he is not by any means an asset to create from the perimeter at this point of his development, lacking the sort of coordination needed to go side-to-side in a pinch, and the Athlete Institute did not even entertain using him that way against Prolific Prep and in the OSBA Finals.
The times Maker created his own shot from the perimeter were when he hadn’t touched the ball in a while because AI didn’t play pick-and-roll a whole lot and he often struggled establishing deep post position as mentioned above, so he grabbed a defensive rebound, walked the ball up the floor and jacked a 23-foot three-pointer. That happened every now and again.
Maker loves taking three-point shots, by the way. Life is just something to be endured between opportunities to take the next 23-foot jumper. And his shot selection is terrible, often taking contested deep bombs out of scrambles with plenty of time in the shot clock. He’s capable of hitting those walk-in threes in rhythm but not any good at it when actually defended – lacking the coordination needed to step back and pull-up from range in balance when his momentum is contained.
But Maker has developed into a pretty decent shooter spotting-up on the weak-side. His release is quicker than it was last year and his catch-and-shoot jumper looks very smooth out of ball reversals. He has not been given any chances to come off screens or work out of the pick-and-roll to showcase his shooting on the move.
Out of a standstill position, Maker elevates with pretty good balance and fully extends himself, which makes it borderline impossible to contest his shot effectively due to his length. He sets a decent base with his feet and knees well-spaced, dips for rhythm, his mechanics look clean enough up top and his touch looks good.
Oddly enough Maker hasn’t relied much in his face-up jumper out of the post lately, though. Against Prolific Prep and Orangeville, he went to turnaround hooks at all times. He has nice touch on his right hand finishes but his left is weak and his footwork is clumsy when the opponent gets physical with him.
Maker did not have many opportunities to pass out of double teams because Orangeville and Prolific didn’t throw any at him, since even in high school he’s not much feared as a post scorer. AI also didn’t put Maker in the high post at all, despite the fact he showed some ability to operate from there with his AAU team at the Fab 48 last year. So it’s unclear if he’s made any improvements to his passing.
Maker’s upside is as a center who can protect the rim in help-defense while also able to switch and guard less threatening matchups in the perimeter, then can be a constant threat to play above the rim as a target for lobs and generate second chances with his leaping ability while also able to spot up from three-point range often on offense.
For that to materialize, Maker needs to improve his strength so that he is not extremely vulnerable defending the post and the glass. He also needs to prove he can pick up defensive principles in the pros, which he was not tested on in high school or even in these camps and events because no team of teenagers can challenge the opposing center to think on the go the way even the weakest NBA teams can on a nightly basis.
Offensively, Maker will need to prove he can catch the ball in traffic and that he has touch on non-dunk finishes so that he can be a threat diving down the lane in pick-and-roll, which the Athlete Institute didn’t have him do much. That’s something he has struggled with in the past.
As far as shooting and offensive rebounding, I actually think these are two aspects he could be able to make a small contribution right away. Maker is no Ryan Anderson or anything but his catch-and-shoot shot looks good enough right now that he could possibly fill a small role as an open-shot shooter, depending on the looks that are created for him.
The biggest risk associated to Maker regards him not getting any stronger, which would make him vulnerable to being constantly overmatched on defense and probably take off the table him becoming a center full time.
But even as a second big, there are challenges to overcome. Maker’s coordination issue could also keep him from materializing his potential picking up smaller players on switches. At that point, he probably wouldn’t be any sort of asset on defense other than picking up the occasional block shot due to positioning.
On offense, the size of his hands could prevent him from ever becoming able to catch the ball on the move well enough to be put in the pick-and-roll. Maker would then develop into a guy who is limited to contributing to a half-court offense only as a standstill weak-side threat at best.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara