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Emergence Of Thon Maker And Why The Bucks Need A D-League Team

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Despite Thon Maker having some success in Summer League, there's still a lot of work that needs to be done. We take a look at that and why the Bucks need their own D-League team.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Alongside my work as the editor-in-chief of this very website, I'm also a diehard fan of the Milwaukee Bucks. That fandom has lasted for the entire 21st century, as I learned about basketball through Ray Allen 3's and Glenn Robinson mid-range Js. While those sixteen  years as a fan has had more down times (i.e mid 2000's or the Stephen Jackson-era) than good times , there finally seems to be a sense of hope around the Milwaukee Bucks. That optimism is solely centered around the young trio of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker, who solidified themselves as a strong core during the 2nd half of the season.

In last month's draft, the Bucks tried to build onto that core by selecting Thon Maker, a 19-year-old Canadian prospect that was the first player since 2006 to have gone from high school straight to the NBA. At the moment that the pick occurred, my feelings were definitely mixed. While I was a fan of Maker's size (7'1 with a 7'3 wingspan), athleticism and hustle, I honestly preferred the Bucks selecting a more NBA-ready prospect whether they'd be a front-court (Deyonta Davis or Henry Ellenson) or back-court (Timothe Luwawu, Denzel Valentine or Wade Baldwin).

However, those mixed feelings have become more positive over the last week as we've seen Maker play against NBA prospects rather than the high schoolers that he was previously playing against. In those initial Summer League games, Maker has definitely impressed. At the time of this piece, Maker is averaging 14 points, 12 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game on 41% from the field.

While he's shown flashes of brilliance that have made thousands of Bucks fans (including myself) fans of the pick, there's still some key areas that Maker will need to work on. SBNation's Mike Prada took a look at Maker's all-around game in a great piece where he had a chance to talk about that selection with Bucks GM John Hammond. In that piece, both Prada and Hammond discussed both the risk and reward that go into selecting such a raw talent.

That reward is based around Maker being a super mobile big that has shown flashes of being a talented ball-handler and perimeter marksman. However, Maker's flaws might be enough to keep him away from an NBA court for most of his rookie year. That's primarily due to two major concerns: lack of strength and just inexperience. In regards to Maker's strength, or lack thereof, Hammond said the following:

"He's going to have to get stronger before he can get any kind of real consistent minutes," Hammond admitted. "We're going to try to go through that process methodically. Maybe it's 7-8 pounds a year, try to get him 15 pounds heavier. Now, he weighs 220 [pounds], but if we can get him to 235, he can step on the floor and he can be a more consistent player."

As he hinted in that quote, it might take Maker two years before he can become a consistent part of the Bucks offense as he's not there when it comes to having an NBA-ready body. That was evident in their recent Summer League game against the Grizzles, as Maker earned the questionable distinction of hitting the 10-foul limit and fouling out of the Summer League game. Some of those fouls were caused by Maker's thin frame as you can see from the clip below where the 6'7 Jonathan Holmes out-muscled the 7'1 Maker on the box out.

On the other hand, Maker just looks like a player that hasn't had the experience against high-level competition. The 19-year-old Maker just regularly looks out of position whether he's nowhere to be found for an offensive rebound or guarding the wrong guy on the defensive end. While he does a nice job of masking those flaws because of his sheer energy and determination, Maker still has a lot to learn about positioning on the court before you can really trust him to be a significant part of an NBA rotation.

So what are the Bucks going to do with Maker before he's ready to be a consistent part of the Bucks rotation? Well, one avenue you could go to is have Maker in a limited 10-15 minute role where he'd get a small taste of what the NBA is like. However, even that small role might be considered too big as the Bucks could be looking to make a run at the NBA playoffs. Both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton stand as potential All-Stars while Jabari Parker looked fantastic during the 2nd half of the season.

That would leave only one option for Maker and the Bucks: The NBA D-League. As we've recently seen with how Josh Richardson and Norman Powell performed during the NBA playoffs, the NBADL can be a fantastic way for teams to give their prospects opportunity to grow and progress with the D-League affiliate while their NBA squad is still having success. Thon Maker could be that next example, as Maker could be able to utilize the D-League to earn some quality experience against quality competition, whether they be former college standouts or other NBA prospects.

There's only one problem. The Bucks are one of the only NBA teams that will enter the 2016-17 season without a D-League affiliate. While there are some hints that the Bucks are looking towards D-League, this is something that the Bucks should've pursued after they drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo. Because, if you're a team like the Bucks that's going to keep on pursuing these raw high-upside prospects, you're eventually going to need a place for them to develop when your NBA team is starting to have success. Because as we've seen with Antetokounmpo, having the right atmosphere to nurture a player is the difference between that prospect becoming an All-Star or evaporating from the league after their rookie contract ends.

While the Bucks did an amazing job with Antetokounmpo and appear to be on the right track with Maker, it's doubtful if they'll continue to have success with this high-risk, high-reward prospects if they don't have a D-League squad That's due the Bucks seem to have playoffs in sight with their young core continuing to grow and prosper. Milwaukee's continued progression and ultimate goal of NBA prosperity will only be possible of the Bucks acquire their own NBA D-League organization that will allow for future prospects to grow and progress. Those future prospects using the NBA D-League to become the next Josh Richardson or Norman Powell, could help the Bucks reach heights that they haven't seen since I started to watch the team at a very young age.