Meet Thon Maker. (And goodbye Stanley Johnson)
Yeah. Didn’t work out, but wish him the best. I still would’ve liked to hold onto him but my understanding is that he wanted out and the relationship between him and the team had soured to the point that neither side really even had interest in extending even one more season with the qualifying offer. Which means it makes sense to trade him, and his value was going to be very low so Thon Maker is probably about as good as you could’ve expected to get back.
Why did the Bucks do this trade?
Maker had asked to be traded. He had largely fallen out of the rotation totally and he wanted to play, which is fair. His value was likely very low and Stanley made sense as a return. First off, Stanley could be useful to the Bucks come playoff time as an extra defender to toss at Kawhi Leonard, Ben Simmons/Jimmy Butler/Tobias Harris, Jayson Tatum, etc. And he also isn’t under contract for next season so they can just let him walk which makes a big difference given that they have to pay several guys this Summer.
Word is that had he not requested a trade Maker would still be with the Bucks, but he did so this move made sense for them. Stanley will have some use right now and frees up a little cap-space.
Who is Thon Maker?
Maker is (probably) a 21 year old, 7’1 forward born in what is now South Sudan. Thon was pulled out by a scout to Australia where he started to learn to play basketball. He became a bit of a phenom and some of his mixtapes are still legendary. In high school he played at several different schools and there were some weird shenanigans that I’m not getting in to. He didn’t play college ball though.
By the time of the draft he had fallen from one of the top prospects in the world to being seen as a probably 2nd round pick, spurred on by an age controversy, but the Bucks shocked the world by taking him 10th overall in the draft.
He was rarely used in his rookie season, but showed some flashes when he did play which included some nice playoff games. In his second season he got into the regular rotation as a end of bench guy and had very mixed results but once again had an impressive playoff showing.
This season Thon has largely fallen out of the Bucks rotation, Brook Lopez plugged the huge hole that had been at center and other players were taking the scraps. Once it was clear he was out of the rotation he asked for a trade and that’s what got us here.
How’s his offense?
This is going to be painful for those of you who still have the Thon in your mind who was slaughtering high-schoolers and was the next Kevin Durant. His offense is very, very, poor. In the one season where he was a regular rotation member he put up a TS% of 49% which is bad for anyone and terrible for a big man. He doesn’t draw fouls, he doesn’t get offensive rebounds, and isn’t a scary roll-man. In his rookie season and this season his efficiency has been better, but his minutes have been sporadic at best.
Despite what you may be thinking, in particular, Thon is not really much of a stretch big. Calling him a stretch big is pushing the limits of the term. Thon has been a fairly capable shooter from the corners, 37% from the corners on his career, but he is still just a 33% shooter from deep (and shot 29% in his second season, which once again is by far the best sample-size) and is so inaccurate away from the corners that hard-hats should be required for those sitting court-side.
Those corner shots are at least a small block to build on, but for reference, Bruce Brown is shooting 40% from the corners this season. So it is nice that there is at least something for Thon there (just as it is with Brown) but that doesn’t qualify him as a shooter. No one really guards him on the perimeter, and he’s too willing to fire away from above the break where he is comically bad.
One of the biggest issues with Thon is that he has very small hands. This makes it hard for him to catch the ball. Combine this with his incredibly thin frame and he is no-where near the lob-threat/general inside threat as he really should be given how tall and athletic he is. He is easily knocked off course when he rolls to the hoop and smaller guys have no problem bodying him up when he gets the ball. Meanwhile, even when he does stay on course he has trouble catching passes and is easily stripped.
To top it all off, he is not the highest basketball IQ guy. He regularly strays too far from his strong areas, shoots when there isn’t much need, and occasionally tries to recapture the magic of his mixtapes from so long ago, and is not a strong screener. Simply put, he is a poor offensive player. There’s a reason he fell out of the rotation this season.
Geez man. That was brutal, isn’t there any good news on offense?
Well that corner 3 thing isn’t nothing. Park him in the corner and you’ve got some usefulness from him, but once again, he tends to stray from there and I’m not sure I trust the unstructured Casey offense to keep him from straying. But still, he can at least do that. Beyond that, despite his bad hands he is very tall, a good athlete, and not afraid. If he can get an open runway he can be very effective as a roll-man and even with the ball in his hands driving to the hoop. If you clear out the lane for him he can catch the ball at the free throw line and get a dunk without having to dribble, a key skill for high-level roll-men. Beyond that, he does have at least some touch around the hoop. But, I mean, yeah, pretty brutal. This dude is not a very good offensive player. He’s closer to Eric Moreland than Kevin Durant.
How’s his defense?
This is where some fun stuff is but lets start with the bad.
First off, like on offense, he is regularly out of place and gets caught in no-mans land. He doesn’t really read plays well or generally stay focused. If you’ve been frustrated by Drummond’s defensive rotations then Thon is likely to cause you physical pain.
The biggest issue is that Thon is very skinny. It makes him a terrible rebounder (which is compounded by his small hands) and soft interior defender. He is easily moved off his spot by bigger guys and even smaller guys.
There is good here though! First off, Thon is very tall and very long. His help-side defense can be devastating when he does see things coming, he has the foot-speed that he can switch out onto some smaller guys, and most importantly he really plays hard.
This is actually where he really looks like Eric Moreland. He is often out of position and always a bit wild, but he’s got bounce and plays his tail off consistently. His best moments as a Buck were always when his aggressive athleticism came to a head (along with Giannis) to be a hugely disruptive defensive force. His defense has altered playoff games.
So he is often out of position and generally still very raw and unless he finds a way to put on some weight he will be a terrible rebounder. But he’s a good athlete, he’s very tall, and he plays hard. Athletes who play hard every night are always dudes that you like to have.
How does he fit on the floor?
He will likely spend a lot of his time spotting up in the corner which is good, and occasionally dunking open looks. The trick will be keeping him from straying too far from the couple of things he can kind of do, Casey’s offense isn’t very structured so it’s a worry, but hopefully the ball is dominated enough by others that he stays in his lane more often than not. Defensively he may or may not end up being a good fit. On one hand, Casey’s ultra conservative scheme may shackle him from making the occasional great play that makes him fun/worthwhile but still let him make all the dumb mistakes. On the other hand, maybe the ultra-simple and conservative scheme is just what is needed to reel him in and let him really unleash his athleticism at the right times and be more in control. We will check on how his defensive fit is later.
Upshot for the rest of the roster?
He will likely get the backup 4 minutes more or less immediately. I would honestly rather play Leuer there at this point but my guess is that they will at least give Thon a shot. Since he is under contract for next season that is likely what they are looking to with him, with Zaza gone they will need a new backup center and they probably hope Thon can fill that.
The bigger upshot for the roster is not adding Thon but removing Stanley Johnson. WIthout Johnson it probably answers one of the questions I had about Svi Mykhailiuk. The Pistons probably see Svi as more of a forward than a wing and will probably give him minutes at the 3 spot right away.
Best Case Scenario:
Thon really did just need a change and arrives ready to go. Right away he fills the previously gaping hole at backup 4 and also takes on backup center minutes next season becoming a de-facto 6th man who plays double bench minutes and is an integral player for the Pistons. He hits corner 3s at a high clip and finds some competency away from the corners, at the same time he finds productive ways to channel his energy on defense.
Worst case scenario:
He is what the Bucks said he was. He’s just not good, a stretch big who can’t really shoot and is too wild on defense to actually be any use on that end. The Pistons give him minutes because they have little other choice and he is terrible. The backup big spots are just as big an issue as they were before, if not even worse, and the Pistons bench continues to be utterly terrible. For good measure Stanley does go an figure it out with another team.
The Pistons save some money and potentially fill a hole for next season. I’ve never been a big fan of Thon but there are two big things to say for him. First off, the theoretical version of Thon is a good player and one that would really help the Pistons as a athletic big who can shoot a bit. Even if reality remains a long way from that, there is a useful player somewhere in there. Beyond that, he has always been a high-effort guy, he will endear himself to teammates, fans, and coaches like that and gives some hope that he may yet put it together. At this point I’d largely feel ok about just calling a player dead in the water, but you hear so much about his work-ethic that it gives some hope he could still find something.
I admit that I’ve never thought much of Thon and his game and never really have and unlike Stanley he doesn’t even have one NBA skill that we know he can do at a high level like we could with Stanley’s defense. Assuming, however, that the rumors were right and Stanley wanted out anyways this is a fine return. Not great, but fine.