Thon Maker Update
Dispelling some myths around Athlete Institute’s latest NBA draft prospect Thon Maker.
Why Thon Maker’s basketball star is on the rise
In The Hills got a chance to spend a little time with Thon Maker over the course of this high school basketball season: watching him play, interviewing him, videotaping and photographing his team. His talent level for a 19-year-old kid his size is off the charts. But when he declared for the National Basketball Association draft on April 3, it sparked a lot of criticism from NBA watchers across the continent.
In dozens of online articles, some commentators showed a glaring lack of up-to-date knowledge about their subject.
This writer and basketball nut is pretty convinced that once the NBA, both the league head office and the teams themselves, take a closer look at the player from Mono’s Athlete Institute Basketball Academy, Thon will be joining former AI teammate Jamal Murray in the first round of this year’s draft on June 26. If that happens, they will be the first graduates of a Canadian high school to get drafted in the first round (guaranteeing them millions in salary and multi-year contracts) in several years.
So, here are the major criticisms of this somewhat-controversial-but-charming local player:
He’s too “raw”?
“Raw” is basketball scout lingo for not being a particularly sophisticated basketball player. In the NBA, you can’t just dunk over everybody, tip the ball to yourself to snag every rebound or try to block every shot that comes within 10 feet of you as Thon does now against shorter foes. You need to play precisely within a team’s system and have your footwork, shot selection and defence down to a fairly precise science.
Yes, Thon is “raw.” But he’s also extremely rare. The sorts of skills he’ll need to be a finished NBA product are not difficult to learn for such an extremely hardworking, intelligent, “high motor” guy.The things that are almost impossible to teach a big man in basketball? Play harder, shoot more accurately, jump higher, dribble better and get taller. Thon is an extremely rare talent in all these categories. He never stops competing, has great form on his long-range jump shot, is very athletic, covers the court with extraordinary speed and agility with the ball in his hands… and he’s at least seven feet tall (possibly 7’ 1”). Some longtime NBA watchers have said there has never been his combination of talents in a player his size.
He’s too thin?
Popular U.S. sports website Deadspin called Thon a “stick figure” this week. “Painfully thin,” “very thin” and “too thin” were some of the other criticisms. These articles are inevitably accompanied by photos of Thon that are a year or two old.
He may be “thin,” but in a 220-pounds-ripped-upper-body sort of way. In many cases, these critics haven’t seen Thon play up close over the last year. He knows he has to get bigger. He told In The Hills that it was his biggest goal when he came to AI two years ago. He has already gained about 20 pounds. He is probably only about 20 pounds from his ideal NBA weight and he appears on pace to get there in a couple of years.
He’s not eligible?
If Thon is ruled ineligible for the draft, everything else is moot. A decade ago the NBA brought in rules to prevent so-called “preps-to-the-pros” players from entering the league. At the time far too many of the top prospects were getting scooped up as soon as they finished high school before anyone really knew if they could play. Some of them, like Kobe Bryant, became global superstars, others were painful to watch and left the NBA within a few years of being drafted. The new NBA rule said you had to be a year removed from high school and at least 19 years old to be drafted in the NBA. The preps-to-the-pros phenomenon was replaced with “one and done” – players who would go to college for just one year before declaring for the draft.
Thon has two strong reasons to believe this rule does not apply, or only partially applies, to him. First, as a Sudanese native, Australian citizen and graduate of a Canadian high school, he could be ruled an international entrant. The 19-year-old rule still applies (Thon turned 19 in February) but he would no longer need to be a year removed from high school.
According to AI president Jesse Tipping, Thon graduated from Orangeville District Secondary School last year, but was required to keep taking classes at ODSS to stay enrolled at the Athlete Institute. This seems to fit the straightforward interpretation of the one-year-removed rule since the clock starts ticking as soon as the student graduates.
One upside if Thon is rejected by the NBA this year? He may want to hit the minor league or international pro circuit, instead of attending a U.S. college as planned, and it just so happens that we have a local pro team – the Orangeville A’s – that Thon already practises with. That would be something. But we’re hoping Thon and Jamal are reunited at the NBA draft and our local program becomes the talk of the basketball world.
With the top high school basketball program in the country and the NBA taking notice, a local family has made Orangeville the new epicentre of Canadian basketball.