Around this time last year I was sitting at my computer typing a preview piece for Thon Maker as he entered his 2nd season. Thon had finished his rookie season with an unspectacular 4 points per game, but generated a lot of buzz during his playoff series against the Raptors in which he blocked close to 2 shots a game while providing a lot of energy for the team. As a result many fans, myself included, predicted a significant leap from his rookie season to his sophomore season.
After showing flashes of excellence in the 2017 playoffs, there were significant expectations for Thon entering the 2017-18 season. With John Henson being the only center challenging Thon for minutes, many expected Thon to take command of the starting job at center. Reality did not meet those lofty expectations as Thon finished the regular season with the teams worst box +/-. He struggled so much that the Bucks traded a future 2nd round pick for Tyler Zeller to help shore up their spotty center rotation. But, once again, Thon completely flipped the script during the playoffs by having a stellar first round series against the Celtics. Thon’s high energy play helped disrupt the Celtics defense, and his 3 point shot finally found a groove as he hit one three per game. Aside from his surprise postseason play, Thon struggled immensely during the regular season when dealing with big, physical centers as he had a tough time keeping them away from the rim and off the offensive glass. On top of that Thon’s three-point shooting, which many believed to be the strongest part of his game, inexplicitly fell off the map; about half way through the season. After stories came out last season about Jason Kidd telling Giannis to “never shoot” during his sophomore season, there is a possibility a similar scenario could have occurred for Thon last season as well.
Areas for Improvement
After hearing John Henson tell the media that new coach Mike Budenholzer is expecting all of his centers go be able to hit a corner 3, it seems like this could finally be the year Thon makes a 3 pointer per game. Thon made 0.5 threes his rookie season and followed that up with 0.4 his sophomore season. With a coaching staff that is more than ready to give him the green light paired with decent mechanics on his jump shot, Thon could stand for significant improvement from 3 this season. Additionally, after a season of getting abused in the paint by much more physical centers, Thon could benefit from an offseason of added muscle.
Projected Role: Backup Center
The Bucks attempted to shore up their center position by snagging Brook Lopez who will likely be their starting center for the 2018-19 season. This means that Thon will have to battle John Henson for backup center minutes. It’s usually not wise to look into preseason games too much, but Thon did log some minutes at PF, so there may be some potential for him to pick up some additional minutes at the 4.
Projected Key Stat: 3 Pointers per 36 Minutes
Last year I made a prediction that Thon would make the jump to one 3 point make per game but the combination of Jason Kidd’s neglect for the 3 ball and Thon’s loss of confidence in his shot resulted in him falling way short of that prediction. Now that Maker is competing for minutes, I don’t feel as confident he will hit at least one 3 per game, but I do expect him to make at least one per 36 minutes.
Projected X-Factor: Minutes Per Game
This may seem obvious but Thon’s development this year will be directly correlated with the amount of time he sees on the floor. It is already pretty evident that Coach Mike Budenholzer is going to put the best players out there, and that winning will be prioritized over development, as it should. For Thon to make the jump many fans are hoping for, he would likely need to see the floor for at least 10 minutes a game, but hopefully more. It’s been well documented that Coach Bud wants spacing out of his centers and Thon has the upper hand on Henson in that regard, but if Thon wants to see the floor consistently, he’ll have to shore up the other parts of his game to do so. All in all, we are entering another year in which Thon has increased expectations; we’ll see if he can live up to those expectations this time around.