Roundtable: How does Thon Maker project as NBA prospect?
With prized prospect Thon Maker forgoing college and announcing he plans to declare for the 2016 NBA draft, SI.com paneled its basketball writers and NBA personnel to weigh in on Maker's outlook in the NBA.
Maker, 19, announced the decision Monday after mulling offers from a host of top colleges and even considering a stint overseas. The Sudanese 7–footer graduated high school in Canada last June, and has technically been playing in his fifth year of high school. For this reason, he reportedly thinks he will be declared eligible.
So what do we make of Maker's NBA potential if he's allowed to declare? Opinions vary...
What will Thon Maker be in the NBA?
Ben Golliver, NBA writer: I’m definitely a Thon Maker skeptic. I’m of two minds about Maker's decision to declare: While he would certainly benefit from the stability and structure of the NBA environment, he’s also headed for an incredibly steep learning curve and a multi–year acclimation process. Forget the physical and basketball questions for a second—and there are many—and ponder whether he’s mentally ready to spend the next few years of his life at the end of the bench or in the D-League.
The best–case scenario for Maker is Toronto’s approach to Bruno Caboclo: go late in the first round to a team that doesn’t need immediate production and can afford to adopt a “He’s two years away from being two years away” mentality. That type of fit would lessen expectations and Maker find a “home” after years bouncing around from school to school.
Will any GM view Maker as worthy of that type of investment? Questions abound. My biggest issue: Even though he usually plays hard, the game often goes on around him due to his lack of awareness and limited polish. He’s the polar opposite of someone like Kristaps Porzingis from a feel standpoint. The list goes on from there: his lack of strength will be a serious issue for at least the next few years, and his weak handle, shaky shot and somewhat clumsy mobility make it hard for him to work as a stretch big in the short term. He’s also not exactly menacing in the paint or defending the rim at this point. If you’re a 7–footer and you hold down the basket area, own the glass, reliably hit threes, or make plays for others, how valuable can you be at the NBA level these days? Yes, those assessments are subject to change, as with any 19–year–old, but Maker enters the draft as a project with a capital “P”. I think the most likely scenario is that he spends at least the next two seasons as an afterthought.
Anonymous NBA scout #1: He's a guy that I think is more two or three years away. If we were drafting him, [we'd tell him to] go spend two or three years in Europe or in the D-League. In my opinion, I don't even think he's a roster guy next year. At some point, I feel like it's just been a hype machine. I've watched probably five games. And what really wows you is that he's super tall. I tried to watch him and then I tried to go back and watch Kevin Durant in high school. This kid has some things where you're like, 'maybe.' But Kevin Durant you knew was a sure shot. I don't see that in this kid. So when you start making comparisons and say he's gonna be a player, we've been saying that since the 10th grade, but now he's in the 12th grade and we're not saying he's a sure shot. We haven't seen that evolution. We haven't seen him take that next step. So what makes me want to take him even in the first round at all, unless you're a deep playoff team and you don't care if he plays in three years or not.
Anonymous NBA executive: It will be interesting to see what the league decides regarding his eligibility. It's not clear at all. That clause in the CBA has never been interpreted to cover a situation like his, so the CBA people around the league will be interested to see what the result is.
Andrew Sharp, NBA writer: If I had to predict a role, I think I'd go with... a high-energy third big man one day? Jumaine Jones? But maybe that's just because I wanted an excuse to remember Jumaine Jones.
I watched Maker play at the Hoop Summit over All-Star Weekend in Toronto. And while he was a year or two older than most everyone else, he didn't stand out. He looked gangly and raw, just like most every other player there who won't play in the NBA, except Thon Maker was more famous than the rest of them combined.
It goes back to that one video—Thon Maker REVOLUTIONARY 7 FOOTER - Incredible Sophomore - Class of 2016 Basketball—that hit the web a few years ago. I still remember co-workers telling me I had to watch. This was the next Durant, or Nowitzki, or... something. For a while, at least a few months, Thon Maker became shorthand for basketball's future. He was the guy to mention when you casually dreamed about drafts three years down the line. Part of this was because his name alone makes him sound like a science–fiction project, and then, the highlights did the rest of the work for us.
Two years later, with another viral video declaring for the draft, reality has set in. Watching him in real life doesn't inspire crazy NBA comparisons or dreams for the future, but meta-questions about viral videos and what the internet does to teenage phenoms. Is it healthy for a 16–year–old to be the basketball equivalent of a Vine star? Probably not. But it's also not Maker's fault that his highlight video was well–edited and hoops message boards decided he was the next Kevin Durant. So with that said, let's hope this works. It will take a few years, but all it takes is one team to show faith. There may not be a revolution at the end of this journey, but a solid NBA career would be good enough.
Chris Johnson, CBB writer: Earlier this year, Maker told me why he was particularly interested in a group of six colleges. Now we’re trying to project how he’ll fare in the NBA in a few months. Maker has the size, athleticism and motor to develop into a useful frontcourt role player. He can knock down jumpers, block shots and he works hard on both ends. Maker still needs to fill out his lanky frame, but he’s bulked up during his high school career and should pack on more muscle once he gets to the league. Though he could have used a year to prepare for NBA-sized forwards and centers, Maker’s athletic tools and skills are intriguing enough that some team could take him in the first round. The hype surrounding Maker has long since crossed over from absurd to “just stop.” Maker will never develop into a “Kevin Durant-Chris Paul combo,” as one outlet described him in February 2014, but he could have a productive professional career.
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Anonymous scout #2: I think he should go to school. He's not ready to play at this level. The only strength he has is that he plays hard and he runs the court extremely well for a 7-footer. He has a high motor, but on our level that doesn't help him get on the court. He has to be able to do other things. His offensive game is very limited. His weight and strength is extremely poor for the NBA. He right now is probably more of a D-League player than he is an NBA player. I wouldn't be surprised if someone took the risk in the first round. Nothing surprises me in the draft these days. You have to look at those teams that have multiple [first round] picks. But if they don't have the position available, than they may go European and stash. He's got a lot of work to do offensively, with his low post game. He likes to step out and shoot jump shot and he's not a very good jump-shooter, I don't think. His total offensive game needs to improve before he can even step on the court.
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Jeremy Woo, NBA writer: A useful role player. Maybe. Maker’s not close to NBA–ready, but someone’s going to roll the dice on his athleticism and size. On the high end, he profiles as a rotational energy player who can step out and hit a shot and won't stop the ball. But he may need a D-League stint, and there’s some real risk built in. He’s pulling out of this week’s Hoop Summit, which may have been prudent so as not to get exposed too quickly but should also raise some eyebrows. Whatever he ends up becoming (or doesn’t), he’s instantly one of this draft’s real wild cards.