When five-star recruit Thon Maker announced earlier this month that he will be foregoing college basketball in an attempt to enter the 2016 NBA Draft everyone was wondering if he would be ruled eligible but the wait is over. ESPN Insider Chad Ford reported earlier today that not only is Maker eligible but he has already signed an agent, thus officially ending any chance of him playing college basketball.
Standing at 7'1", Maker often looks like a point guard trapped in a center's body, thanks to his unique skill set and physical gifts. It has only made evaluating him that much more difficult. His wiry, teenage frame, lack of basketball experience all point to one obvious suggestion: if Maker wants to reach his potential, he needs the NBA D-League.
Wherever Thon Maker gets drafted, expect him to spend most of next couple years in the D-League. NBA execs have mostly seen him regress.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) April 4, 2016
Since breaking onto the scene, Maker has been under the spotlight. With his newfound exposure, NBA executives and scouts are starting to see faults in his game. Given his limited experience playing organized basketball, he has a below average feel for the game. He often gets lost and out of position on both offense and defense, leading to dead possessions on offense and easy baskets and rebounds for the opposing defense.
On defense, the big man tends to not find a body, letting opposing big men of any skill level either get offensive rebounds and put-backs with ease. Skipping college to go pro will only make this worse.
The average NBA offensive and defensive scheme is incredibly intricate; it takes even the most intelligent player a while to adapt to a new system. Maker can use the D-League to help him adapt to the speed and flow of a professional game. NBA franchises are starting to use similar schemes in the D-League, making it easier to transition from team to team. If Maker can really focus on being more aware of his surroundings, he will start to see his rebounds and blocks skyrocket.
It's no secret that Maker is known for his smooth jump shot and deceptively quick handles but they are not as far along as the mixtapes elude. In 75 games, he shot just over 30 percent from deep (31.6 percent on 30/95 attempts), shot 71 percent from the free throw line, and had only 50 assists in comparison to 171 turnovers. Like most young, inexperienced, insanely talented prospects, he has a tendency to show off and try to take over games. Maker will get lost on offense and instead of moving the ball along he tries to create his own shot, often throwing up a wild attempt, or holds the ball too long and tries to throw a Jason Williams-esque pass that ends in a turnover. These tendencies were masked while playing against such inferior competition but while playing against the premier high school prospects they have become glaringly obvious.
Maker's biggest issue is not his lack of experience or unpolished skills — it is his lack of strength and low-post presence. His Achilles heel is that he is a seven footer that is virtually ineffective in the paint. Weighing in at 218 pounds, he is usually bullied out of position or players finish right through him. While he is very scrappy and always puts up a fight, his lack of strength almost makes him a non-factor despite his height. The young gun's lack of inside game puts all the more pressure on the development of his perimeter game. He has put all of his eggs in the basket of being a playmaker and shotmaker and none in any of the traditional big men categories.
To be effective at the next level, Maker needs to add another 20-30 pounds of lower body strength -- something that can be easily accomplished after a couple of years in an NBA weight room. In 71 games this season, Maker has only finished 47.5 percent of shots taken inside the three-point line. Being in the D-League will give his body a chance to mature further and add to his weak frame while under the careful guidance of the team's strength trainer and coaching staff.
The 19-year-old from Sudan has had an incredibly fast rise to stardom thanks to his dominance of the AAU circuit but with only five to six years of organized basketball under his belt he is nowhere near NBA ready. He has one of the highest ceilings of any NBA prospect ever but that does not mean it will translate to NBA success, and General Managers know that. Regardless of what team selects him or what pick he is selected with he will most likely end up in the D-League.
NBA franchises are truly starting to embrace the D-League system. The proof is in the rapid, league-wide expansion and the rise in assignments. Everything from the players to the coaches are getting better and better each year. Maker should embrace being in the D-League, if he ends up getting assigned. With the right supervision and coaching, there is no doubt that he will grow into a superstar — hopefully that can all start in the D-Leauge.