Did the Bucks Really Reach for Thon Maker?


Leading up to the draft there was plenty of talk of blockbuster trades and moves that could happen in the early stages of the first round, but everything went mostly according to plan until the Milwaukee Bucks came on the clock at N0. 10.

I am from Milwaukee, and subsequently am a dedicated fan of the Milwaukee Bucks, so their decision to select Thon Maker with the 10th pick was more important to me than it was for the average NBA blogger.

I was watching the draft with two friends, both also ardent supporters of the Bucks. I was unable to keep my eyes off of Twitter, which led to me knowing the Bucks pick minutes before it happened. My friends had stronger resolve, and managed to get to Adam Silver’s announcement without any idea of what name he was going to say.

“With the 10th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the Milwaukee Bucks select Thon…”

Their immediate reactions summed up the spectrum of feelings from the Milwaukee fanbase surprisingly well.

One of them was ecstatic, leaping from the couch before Silver could say “Maker”, clearly happy with the decision.

The other also stood up, but with his hands on his head, still trying to figure out what he thought while the first friend paraded around the room.

But both, regardless of other feelings, were in complete shock.

And with good reason. Maker was nowhere near any of the draft pundits’ top 10 players. Our own expert Zach Reynolds had Maker at 38 on his Top 100 Big Board. DraftExpress listed him as the 41st best player in their rankings. Sam Vecenie of CBS Sports ranked him the highest of most notable experts, with Maker coming in at 33 on his draft prospect rankings.

With almost everyone calling Thon Maker an early second-round pick, the Bucks taking him at N0. 10 sent shockwaves through the NBA, and the move was naturally questioned by many.

Zach also graded the draft of every NBA team, and the Bucks had the honor of being his lowest ranked team with a strong D+. I fully trust the draft opinions of Zach, Jonathan Givony, and Vecenie, and agree taking Maker so high was probably not in accordance with his value, but I also believe the dynamic of this draft made the selection more realistic.

There appeared to be three distinct tiers of prospects in this draft. The first tier was simply Simmons and Ingram, who stood head and shoulders above the rest of the players. The second tier was made up of the next six best players, Jaylen Brown, Dragan Bender, Kris Dunn, Buddy Hield, Jamal Murray, and Marquese Chriss. Although some may have seen this group going in a different order, all of them were gone in the next six selections. The final tier, meaning everyone else in the draft, evidently had no consensus order or any form of agreement amongst the NBA franchises. From the ninth pick on, there was a steep drop in talent level, and I personally wasn’t thrilled with a single prospect beyond that range.

And it’s clear very few, if any, teams were thrilled with these prospects either. Only one team traded down from the top eight and into the teens, that team being the oft-criticized Sacramento Kings, who were critiqued accordingly for moving down from eight to 13. And the Phoenix Suns, the team that traded the 13th and 28th pick for Sacramento, was the only team to trade up in this draft, and that was to get into the eighth spot to snap up the last remaining second-tier prospect (Marquese Chriss).

There was apparently little interest in moving up in this draft, and because of that teams like the Bucks sitting just outside the second tier were in a tough position. Trading down would have been the smart move if they didn’t like the value of anyone at N0. 10, but they weren’t able to because no one wanted to move up.

So the Bucks took their guy, a guy who perhaps they felt was a stretch at 10, but certainly wouldn’t have been available at 36. With no ability to move in the draft, Milwaukee felt this was their only chance to get him.

Reaching this conclusion purely on assumptions naturally doesn’t mean it is airtight, but the pattern with many other teams gives additional credence to the theory. Thon Maker was the first and perhaps biggest reach of the draft, but his selection was only the beginning of a host of picks that could be considered “reaches”.

The Hawks took Taurean Prince, the 22nd player on Vecenie’s Big Board, with the 12th pick. The Kings’ 13th pick Georgios Papagiannis was the 39th player on the board. Juan Hernangomez, the 15th pick, was ranked 23rd. Boston took Guershon Yabusele, 38th on his board, with the 16th pick. And Brooklyn, who traded into the first round the day before, used the 20th pick on Caris LeVert, ranked 45th in Vecenie’s rankings.

In the meantime, multiples players generally ranked in the low teens tumbled down the board, such as Wade Baldwin, Henry Ellenson, Deyonta Davis, and Skal Labisserie, players the Bucks would’ve been criticized a lot less for taking, but other teams evidently weren’t that interested in either.

The third tier of this draft was a mess, and one of the more disappointing back-ends of a draft in recent memory. This led to many teams feeling very differently about various prospects and  plenty of surprises for the people who have the impossible job of predicting what each team is thinking.

As for the Bucks, I think taking Maker in such a down draft was worth the gamble. I have no information or desire to go into how old he truly is, so under the assumption that a professional basketball organization has much more resources at its disposal than the users of Reddit, Milwaukee drafted a 19-year-old with unparalleled physical tools. Maker stands at 7-1 with a 7-3 wingspan, adding to the absurdity that is the length of the Milwaukee Bucks. The Warriors have demonstrated the effectiveness of a big and versatile lineup, and while they made their team with a variety of 6-7 players, the Bucks appear to be trying to do the same thing, except everyone is seven feet tall.

Thon is a super-slim 216 lbs. and will need to add to his frame, but one look at his now-teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo shows that a player entering the league who looks frail can become a powerhouse under an NBA training program. And similar to Giannis, Maker has played very little basketball at high levels, and it could be a while until he is ready to contribute. Antetokounmpo is the shining example of a player out of nowhere being able to make an impact right away, but other similar players in the league like Bruno Caboclo in Toronto have had to spend much of their early career in the D-League.

The Bucks don’t have their own D-League affiliate, so Maker will probably spend most of his time with the senior roster even if his minutes are limited. In those minutes, Maker will offer versatility and a lot of energy, which should result in a minimum of plenty of blocks and rebounds on both ends of the court. The number of people who know what to expect when Maker steps onto the floor can probably be counted on one hand, and that is what makes him exciting.

Stuck in the middle of a poor draft and without a lot options, the Bucks swung for the fences by drafting Thon Maker, and count me in as someone who thinks they won’t regret it.

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