Thon Maker: Junior Primer

When Thon Maker embarked to America from Australia several years ago, he quickly began to generate a national buzz.

How he got here

This How He Got Here section applies more literally to Thon Maker than most of his Class of 2016 contemporaries. A native of the Sudan who moved to Australia at a young age, just prior to high school he and his younger brother (Matur, also a talented prospect) emigrated to the United States.

After initially playing for Metairie Country Day in Louisiana, Maker transferred to the Carlisle School in rural Virginia. Following the 2013-14 season, however, he transferred once more to Orangeville Prep northwest of Toronto.

And yet, despite all the moves, Maker never has missed a beat in terms of capturing attention. His talent has brought college coaches, national writers, scouts, fans, mixed tape shooters and everyone else to his various courtsides.

Glancing at his timeline, the 7-0 center immediately generated traction as an abnormal athlete, even by the highest grassroots standards. Very rarely will one encounter such a graceful athlete at that size, and still today he remains the most “freakish” of all the continent’s juniors.

Maker has uncanny reflexes and speed for a big man

Maker competed for Boo Williams on the EYBL circuit in 2013, averaging eight points and seven rebounds per game as a rising sophomore. Impressive. His tendency for movement extended into the grassroots realm as well, however, as he competed for Adidas-backed Team Loaded VA in 2014.

His production and efficiency both improved. Maker averaged 14 points and eight boards per contest, shooting 47 percent from the field. He also shot a solid 70 percent from the foul line and averaged two blocks per game.

More than his numbers, he seemingly does something out of this world in every outing. Even when he isn’t playing well, Maker rarely generates a lukewarm response because even the most casual fan can recognize his immense promise. You might go a decade without seeing a seven-footer with such great lateral quickness, and one who also can handle, shoot and pass.

His recruitment has been difficult to track. Many programs have gotten involved with Maker at one point or another, but privately very few coaches feel good about their chances or even claim to have a strong grasp on the situation. The frequency of his high school changes certainly has contributed to that sentiment, and everyone is curious if he’ll finish up at Orangeville as well.

Maker’s scenario also differs from American natives in the sense that he might more realistically head overseas for a year following graduation, before declaring for the NBA draft. He really hasn’t added fuel to that speculative fire himself, mind you, but it’s not like he’d be leaving home or traveling abroad for the first time. Only time will tell, but virtually no one will be shocked if he ultimately travels a less conventional path.

Still, it’s worth noting that he has visited several schools unofficially while, according to CardinalAuthority publisher Jody Demling last month, Louisville, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri and Stanford maintain a steady pursuit, among others.

To 2015. …

Given that Maker is so thin, of course gaining strength is his primary need. He lacks lower body muscle, in particular, though he has bulked up some through his arms and shoulders over the past six months.

He weighs roughly 200 pounds, so he may be multiple years away from achieving a size that will enable him to hold his own physically against pros.

In terms of skills, Maker plays a style more similar to a Kevin Durant than he does an Anthony Davis. That said, he lacks Durant’s stroke and is prone to miss shots badly when he misses. The fact that he converted just 47 percent of his shots from the field for Team Loaded illustrates that he can improve significantly on his shot selection.

He also will benefit as a finisher if he can absorb contact more effectively. This comment dovetails back into the strength issue, because he gets stripped inside frequently or knocked off-balance.

What’s tantalizing is that he does make some threes, even off the dribble and contested, and that he does dribble well and make very crisp passes. Maker’s primary need is to keep working on his outside game while developing an interior game to establish a healthier balance. The fact that he spent so much time outside helped lead to his alarming 6-46 assist-to-turnover ratio last spring and summer.

At this juncture we consider him just a half notch down from the genuine contenders for No. 1 in the 2016 class: Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles and Josh Jackson. But who knows what might happen when NBA scouts get to watch his fluid athleticism in person, whether that’s at a postseason all-star practice session, college freshman season or an international professional league.

Maker may not presently be the best player in the class, but he’ll always be the rarest. And a player fitting that description has a chance to move on to truly great things.

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