The Curious Case of Thon Maker


As Thon Maker embarks on his NBA dream, we still know just as little about what he will become as we did the moment he stepped into an Orangeville uniform two years ago.

It’s almost impossible to believe, but between solid seasons of progression coupled with poor showcase performances, Thon Maker still remains the biggest question mark in the first-round of the NBA draft board.

His upside is arguably the best in this draft, and his work ethic has kept his interest peaking when his stat lines have let him down.

On the eve of the draft, it almost seems surreal on how he even got to this point, and even that may forever remain a mystery.

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There were rumblings that Maker might try the overseas route that the likes of Brandon Jennings and others had done in the past, while still making the trips to the top schools in the NCAA, still having those conversations with John Calipari and Coach K, just like any other teenager in his position, and in all likeliness that’s where he was going to be.

When the announcement finally came, people had many different opinions about why it happened, and the criticism came just as quickly as the well wishes came.

Was this a ploy by his guardian, Ed Smith? Was it Thon over-estimating his talents? Did he ever intend to go to school, or was this a last-minute decision? Or did Maker turn down a college system that has more than a few times been guilty of completely exploiting would be professional athletes and amateurs alike for dollars the players would have otherwise made themselves in the pros?

Or maybe most damningly, after dropping out of both the Nike Hoop Summit and the BioSteel All-Canadian Game this year prior to the announcement, did Thon Maker just genuinely believe this would be the most lucrative path to the NBA, especially in a draft year that has been called “soft” and “not very deep” in the talent pool by many major analysts.

Did Maker sit back and say to himself, with his stock never being higher, and development be damned, he can figure that out after signing the seven-figure check.

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  • In some of the conversations with his camp that I’ve had, and with Thon himself, I’ve walked away drawing a few conclusions.

    First, Thon was always thinking of a route that didn’t involve college. He never shied away from the rumours of him looking to play in Europe, and always approached it with a “we’ll see what happens” mentality.

    Second, his guardian Ed Smith has always said that Thon, and by extent his younger brother Matur, are their own men. Thon chose to leave his family in Australia for a better chance at a life in basketball, he also had the final say when transferring from each school he was at, and when there was a chance for eligibility at the NBA Draft this year, Maker told Smith to make it happen.

    Smith maintains that he has been there in these last few years to help put Maker in the best positions to achieve those NBA aspirations.

    To Maker, if it meant no college, then so be it.

    Say what you may want about the timing, or motives, but when you see how Smith has carefully placed Maker in situations where he was always playing a prominent role on the team, and eventually taking both him and his younger brother north of the border where Maker was able to train with players closer to his size, with much more talent on the perimeter, it’s hard to argue against where he is today.

    To be honest, it isn’t anything a lot of parents haven’t tried to do for their sons in the prep circuit over the years.

    It’s just not everyone is the parent of a 7-foot-1 athletic freak like Maker.

    The situation in Carlisle Prep in Virginia, the team Thon was playing for when that mixtape dropped that got this ball rolling, is a perfect example of that.

    As much as Maker might detest that mixtape today, it was a big reason he began getting the exposure he needed.

    By the time Maker came to the Athlete Institute the following year, he was a nationally recognized name around the United States, and there are people around his camp that would maintain that he was a big reason, along with Jalen Poyser and Jamal Murray, for the multitude of showcases and events that Orangeville Prep were invited to.

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    So he comes to Athlete Institute, and I’m going to break down this prep academy for everyone who might not know really quick.

    There are two teams playing under this academy, one is called Orangeville Prep, and the other is called Athlete Institute prep. The entire academy’s roster is split relatively evenly between these two teams, while the kids attend class at the nearby public school called Orangeville District Secondary School.

    Thon Played for the Orangeville Prep team in his first year, and the Athlete Institute side the second year.

    Anyway, while at Athlete Institute, he had the chance to play with a budding high school star named Jamal Murray, and former Findley Prep standout Jalen Poyser, in his first year, and this is where we finally start seeing the Thon that is now entering this draft.

    Having two elite high school guards forced Maker to begin working on his post-game, forced him to take a back seat in a sense offensively, and Maker needed to bulk up to keep up.

    At this point, anyone who was watching him play consistently knew the Kevin Durant comparisons should have flown out the window.

    But here’s the kicker, no one really knows what to compare him to as of now.

    Is he a post player with an outside shot? Is he a really tall and skinny Carmelo Anthony? A player he has said he tries to emulate offensively from time to time. Is he Chris Bosh with better handles? The comparisons are plenty only because no one really knows until he starts playing in the league.

    He would tell you that his thirst for knowledge is one of his strengths, but many NBA scouts believe his basketball IQ is actually one of his weaknesses at this point.

    His mentor and coach, Ed Smith, dismisses those claims however, citing that some of the decisions Maker has made played more to the team’s strategy, like for instance accepting a double team in the post to open up a look at the three, or a cut to the basket could also be spun by scouts as “indecisiveness” or “lack of comfort in the paint”.

    It has to be noted, though, that Smith has been an assistant coach on every team Maker has been on during his time here in Canada, so to look at it from both sides is to be encouraged.

    From what I have seen, I can confidently say that it will be a combination of his defensive awareness and hoping for the right fit in a system that will ultimately keep him in the league for those first few years while he learns to play with the ball in his hands, if he ever gets that chance on the NBA level.

    But even that may not necessarily be a bad thing for Maker in the long run, anyone can score in the league, but very few can defend, and this kid can defend.

    Then there is the fact that he has broken just about every physical record for a player above 6-foot-11 during the combines.

    That is something that has kept him going in the first-round, despite the fact that he hasn’t ever really risen to take over any big games against top talent consistently.

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    Add in him staying out of the five-on-five workouts and game settings through this entire drafting process, like he did by not going to this years hoop summit, and you get the sense he is holding off any exposure for as long as possible as if he had nothing to gain and everything to lose by participating.

    Not exactly a strategy most players implement if they are “NBA ready”.

    Maker’s camp however feels like he doesn’t have anything to prove in those workouts to scouts.

    What’s most interesting is that they are right, Maker didn’t participate, but in no way is that going to hurt his draft stock.

    Maker’s biggest thing for him going into the draft is that he is a mystery. If he feels like he is at the same level as a Ben Simmons, Jamal Murray, or Buddy Hield that he can forego those workouts, then all the more power to him.

    So what to make of him? Jury is still out, but there is still one last thing to cover as to how we got here.

    When did Thon Maker decide he was NBA ready?

    This is my theory.

    Around September of last year, a player by the name of Skal Labissiere began his career at Kentucky. Going into that season he was touted as a one-and-done big man with an array of moves under the post and a long athletic frame that could guard multiple positions.

    He was even being regarded as a lottery pick, perhaps even a top-three pick.

    But then the season came and went, Labissiere underwhelmed in a season that was dominated by guards on his team, one of who was the aforementioned Jamal Murray, who is now enjoying the fruits of playing himself into a lottery position in the draft tonight.

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    Whether it was because of playing style or Skal just not catching on, he has fallen a few spots and even though he may still be a top ten pick, it just never seemed like Labissiere did himself any favours for his draft stock by going to college.

    That is the same Skal Labissiere who clearly outshone Maker on the stat sheets during the 2015 Nike World Hoop Summit.

    I think when Maker watched what had happened to Labissiere, a player who seems to have the exact same pros and cons that Maker has going into this draft, and decided that college may not always be the best way to up your draft stock.

    When you take into account just how radically different the overbearing coaching style, and snail’s pace of basketball that is played in college compared to the NBA, Maker and his people around him could have very well concluded that if he could go in this year, then it may be the best possible time.

    Make no mistake, Maker would have been a one and done regardless of performance in the NCAA, just like Labissiere had he went.

    It really is just one hypothesis, and I could be completely wrong, but one thing is certain, Thon Maker has decided that college just wasn’t for him, and it may be the smartest thing he could have done given the situation.

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    So with that lack of exposure he would have had, and bucking the system of regulations, he now officially leaves Orangeville, and the GTA, as an even bigger mystery than when he arrived two years ago.