The Bucks have played two hard-fought games against the Toronto Raptors and return to Milwaukee with the series tied 1-1. There have been a handful of standout players for the Bucks thus far in the series. Giannis and Moose have played well, Khris has made clutch shots. Brogdon and Dellavedova have put out solid performances from the backcourt including combining for only two turnovers in game one. To me though the X-factor of this series is none other than Thon Maker.
Thon has shown some amazing defensive ability highlighted by the now viral play where he matched Kyle Lowry step for step on a drive. Thon Maker in the playoffs has a DRTG of 93 which would be 11 better than the Spurs league best 104.3 DRTG for the regular reason. He has so vastly improved from the Summer League rookie who could not make advanced reads on defense. His anticipation on defense has improved and as a result we have seen him block multiple shots in Games 1&2.
His ability to drag big men out to the perimeter has also proved invaluable. Even though he has only made one three this series, the fact that he poses a threat has created gravity for himself and moved Jonas Valanciunas. He also displayed a good passing ability racking up 4 assists in game 2, including a great skip pass leading to a three from Snell. Critics of Thon’s game would say that he has not been physical enough on the boards, but the Bucks have rebounded fine with him on the court for the most part. In a year, after working with the Bucks weight and strength staff that has transformed Giannis, Thon will likely be a force on the boards.
Thon has been able to hold his own against Jonas Valanciunas throughout the series, which was a question mark coming into the series. There was a belief that Jonas would be able to just bully him in the post, with his massive size discrepancy and strength advantage. Game 2 showed that this might not be the case, Valanciunas went 4 for 10 and was generally unable to get going offensively or get to the line. Thon also showed the ability to guard Serge Ibaka when the Raptors tried to go small and play Serge at Center. This allowed the Bucks to match the Raptors small lineup without sacrificing any size.
For the Bucks to win this series it is important that they can get Thon Maker going from outside, he changes the look of the Bucks offense and opens up the floor for Giannis drives. If Thon can knock down a few shots early, it could allow the Bucks to have an explosive night on the offensive end of the court. The Bucks should also look to use Maker in a “Baseline Bari” fashion where he cuts in from the corner for lobs off drives, he has the athleticism to catch the Raptors sleeping and get a few easy buckets. Maker will continue to improve on defense and learn how the Raptors play, all the Bucks need to do is get him some more time and Thon will do his best to make the Bucks win this series.