A Tale of Two Rookies


The Bucks drafted two rookies last June: Thon Maker and Malcolm  Brogdon. If you asked Bucks fans  they would tell you that they  have both had successful rookie years, but in very different ways. The Bucks took a guy in Thon who would be the first the first player to go pro directly out of high school  in several years. Brogdon stood in stark contrast to that, a four-year player at Virginia that had a laundry list of accolades. So have these players both achieved success? It starts with their differing goals: The Bucks were merely hoping to see a glimmer of NBA-starter-level potential in Maker, while the older Brogdon needed to prove that he deserved a spot in the rotation immediately. Despite Brogdon being drafted 26 spots later, he is five years older and was considered the more polished of the two.

Brogdon had an incredibly successful four-year  career at Virginia, winning two ACC titles and over 100 games in his college career. He won ACC Defensive Player of the Year  as a senior and was known for his great defense as a prospect. There were a lot of concerns about his shot and how his athleticism would transition to the NBA. There were people in the analytics community that  thought he would translate very well ; his stats from college projected very well in models. Yet Brogdon  fell all the way to 36 in the draft, Bucks fans were excited to get him, but were not expect ing much from a second-round pick. The Bucks have not drafted a high-level guard since Brandon Jennings and even he peaked pretty low.

Thon could make highlight plays, but could he play at a high level?

Thon was a YouTube sensation ; his high school  and AAU mixtapes  received millions of views: a 7-footer who can cross up opponents and make three-pointers? Who wouldn’t be excited? Apparently, Bucks  fans everywhere, the bar at which I watched the draft at  was filled with guys cursing and yelling about the pick. Bucks fans hated Thon;  they did not think the ability to shoot or dribble would translate well at all. Thon was yet another rail-thin  center for the Bucks and after years of seeing John Henson fail to put on weight, fans had similar concerns about Thon. These flaws don’t even mention the age concerns; rumors surfaced that Thon might actually be 23 and not 19, which would make everything he’d accomplished prior to draft look wholly unimpressive. Personally, these rumors did hold much weight. I saw Thon in 2014 and the way his body changed between then and the draft would be  bizarre for 21-23 year-old, but typical for a teenager.
Walking away from the draft, a majority of Bucks fans weren’t happy, but they also had  not come in with high expectations. Entering Summer League, there was mild interest, but most fans were not expecting much. Thon played remarkably well in Summer League , averaging 14.2 PPG and 9.6 RPG. Thon showed he could play well with fringe NBA guys and college standouts, which was the highest level he had ever played at (It should be noted the center crop in summer league most years is poor even for summer league standards). It was encouraging, but Thon showed that while he was a great physical specimen, he was very raw mentally. He struggled to make good reads on defense and turned the ball over at the second-highest rate on the team, which is impressively bad for  a center.

Brogdon was even more of a mixed bag at summer league, despite the fact that players like him usually thrive in that environment.  He was a polished collegiate star; he should mop the floor with players like Thon and guys who were worse than him in college. He facilitated extremely well with 4.4 APG playing with other ball-handlers , b ut the impressive part was his miniscule 0.6 TOPG. On the other hand , he struggled to score,  finishing fifth  in PPG on team, despite ranking first in MPG. This had Bucks fans concerned he was less ready than initially anticipated and would take more time  than expected to become an NBA player.

Thon’s rookie season got off to a slow start, he racked up  DNP-CDs in 14 of his first 20 games and only played substantial minutes in a shellacking of the Sacramento Kings when the Bucks put away the game before the fourth quarter. There was clearly something there  though. In his second ever NBA appearance , Thon came off the bench and hit two threes  in a little over a minute. Buck’s fans lost it and started cheering for him like crazy, he  became a guy to cheer for whenever he was in. There is  this magic about his playing style that makes him lovable, it’s reason his mixtapes were so popular.

Brogdon’s rookie season got off to a hot start by comparison. Playing  21 minutes opening night and put up eight points, six rebounds, and five assists.  It was nothing spectacular, but he proved the first night of the season he could play at an NBA level. He has played in 75 of 82 games for the Bucks this year, only missing games due to two separate injuries. He initially got the starting job when Dellavedova got injured and performed well enough to keep it for a stretch afterwards, but after a few uneven performances Kidd gave the job back to Delly. He was given the job for keeps on March 1st and the Bucks went on a nice winning streak he does not do any one thing extremely well , but does everything well. He fits with everyone  on the Bucks due to his ability to shoot, run pick and roll , and defend. Brogdon has had an extremely strong finish to the season,  including being the go-to  guy down the stretch in a crucial win against the Celtics. Brogdon is also one of the favorites to take home the Rookie of the Year award. He faces stiff  competition from two 76ers third-year  players.

The Bucks rookie has been integral to the team’s success. Photo credit: CBS Sports

Thon has also taken big strides in his game with his own signature performance coming in a 23-point  win against Detroit. He scored crucial buckets down the stretch for the Bucks  including making four  threes. His defense has also improved throughout the year; at the beginning he looked like a deer in the headlights (no pun intended) and now he is making good reads and contesting shots at a higher rate. Most Bucks fans seem to agree that Thon is progressing faster than they expected, and that’s exciting for Milwaukee.  He will get playoff minutes and that’s a rare experience for a rookie.

So how have the Buck’s two rookies both have successful years despite their different roles? Thon showing that he was competent  has impressed Bucks fans as a 20 year old straight from high school rookie, he has garnered comparisons to Kevin Garnett and Giannis already.  Thon has a higher ceiling than Brogdon and being nearly 4  years younger had more time to improve. Brogdon came out balling and has been by most accounts the Bucks 3rd best player this year. He has made the Bucks feel they have a guard they can count on for the first time in years.  The Bucks are truly owning the future and are  starting two rookies as the 6th seed in the East.



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