One of the most intriguing and peculiar stories entering this year’s NBA Draft is 7’1 big man Thon Maker. The 19 year old Australian international was one of the most highly rated highschool players two years ago. He has become a viral internet star with his ridiculous basketball mixtapes, showing ball handling and athleticism that a 7’1 player should not be able to do. Thon Maker’s unconventional journey to the NBA has been well documented.
Maker and his family left South Sudan and moved to Australia as a refugee before settling in Perth, Australia. Maker would dominate the basketball scene in Australia before moving to a prep school in Virginia for the 2013-2014 season. This is where most people began to hear of the gangly center because his combination of size and skill. Maker fashioned himself into a five star recruit and a player that every college coach was salivating over.
He then did the unthinkable, moving to a Canadian prep school in its inaugural season called Orangeville Prep. Alongside Kentucky star Jamal Murray, Maker dominated the Canadian highschool circuit. The 2015-2016 season he moved to Orangeville Prep’s sister school Athlete Institute. This was considered a massive coup for Canadian basketball who regularly lost their top players to American Prep schools. Some of the best teams in the United States have been littered with foreign Canadian players. Montverde Academy, widely regarded as one of the best prep schools in the nation had four Canadians on its 2015-2016 roster. The move by Maker and Murray was thought to be a new way of making the NBA for Canadians as they would show others that moving to the United States was not the only way to make it professionally.
Maker was a consensus top 10 recruit for last year when he would have graduated highschool, before he chose to do a year of post-graduate studies and stay in Canada one more season. Maker was again a top-10 recruit for the 2016-17 season and was reportedly looking to sign with Indiana, UNLV, Kansas or Arizona State. Out of seemingly nowhere, he declared for the NBA draft, trying to bypass the NBA’s mandatory one year of college, despite previously stating that he had every intention to play NCAA basketball. Thon believes that he has a strong case to beat the one year rule as it is stipulated that players entering the draft must have been highschool graduates for one season before entering their name into the draft. That does not necessarily mean one year of university basketball. This has already been done to some extent by Brandon Jennings who instead of going to university played one year of pro-basketball in Europe before entering the draft. The reason Maker could feasibly enter his name is that he did technically graduate highschool last year. In Canada, a person can graduate and then do an extra year of highschool, so as per his Canadian highschool, Thon is a 2014-2015 graduate who happened to take a few extra classes for one more year.
What does this mean for future highschool players looking to go to the NBA? If the ruling stands and Maker is allowed to enter the draft, we could see a massive influx into Canadian prep schools by highly rated recruits who are considered NBA ready. There are no NCAA regulations for practice time or necessary GPA in a Canadian highschools. Players could go there for a year of post-graduate studies and only take two classes a semester and focus solely on developing their game. As opposed to NCAA schools where a player has to attend a much more rigorous course load, although this is theoretical as a lot of top schools offer extremely easy courses as a means to attract high end talent to their school. Thon Maker could be a trailblazer to a new way of making the NBA.
Now there is much debate as to how high Maker will be drafted if he is declared eligible by the NBA. Whereas he was thought of to be a future lottery pick before moving up north, there is now conflicting thoughts on just how NBA ready the young man really is. Thon Maker is an NBA ready defender, capable of guarding multiple positions, and rim protector that much is certain. Some will claim that his short wingspan will hinder him defensively at the next level. While it is true, compared to his height it is not great, but it is still 7 feet, 3 inches, more than consensus first overall pick Ben Simmons which is only 7 feet. This added to his 33 inch recorded vertical jump and good shot blocking instincts, he should be a successful rim protector. Combine that with a superb ball handling and a solid outside touch and it seems like Maker is a no doubt lottery choice. What NBA scouts are worried about is his slight frame. Weighing only 225 pounds it could easily be argued that he is a player that would easily get pushed around against bigger players. Again this is something that is being overplayed by a lot of media as Anthony Davis was only 220 pounds coming out of Kentucky. And Maker has put on 25 pounds of muscle since moving to Canada, showing his willingness to put time in the weight room and continue to get stronger. As a scorer, Maker has a decent touch around the rim and showed he is willing to work down low to get position. His most valuable asset is his shooting touch which forces defenders to step out and guard him on the perimeter. This allows him to use his quick first step and solid handle to get by his defenders. Offensively a great comparison is rookie Utah Jazz player Trey Lyles.
The only real argument against Maker is his lack of experience against top quality competition because he played in Canada against “pour quality teams.” While the quality of schools in Canada is not as high in the U.S., there are still some quality sides like Hill Academy and Orangeville Prep which Maker played regularly. Athlete Institute also traveled to the United States regularly to play in U.S. tournaments. There the quality of opponent was very good, some of the teams faced by Athlete Institute were the highly touted Oak Hill Academy, where players like Kevin Durant played, Hamilton Heights, Huntington Prep, Sunrise Christian, BTB Prep, Word of God twice, Prolific Prep twice, and Findlay Prep. Three of those teams are ranked in the top 20 best highschool prep teams in the nation. So trying to say that Thon has not played top quality teams is also somewhat unfounded. The real problem is that teams might be scared of picking a player who neither played in professional league, nor in the NCAA. Because of this Maker will likely go in the later part of the first round. Whatever the case, Maker has certainly chosen an unorthodox route to reach his NBA dream.