NBA teams have spent a considerable amount of time trying to evaluate Thon Maker. In the 2016 draft class, Maker might be the most unique prospect.
He is 7-1, did not play in college and is not from America. Maker, 19, has spent his life being an overachiever and someone who cannot easily be labeled.
A tall, athletic player who can stretch the court to create mismatches. That is how Maker describes himself. In a league where teams are valuing frontcourt players who can shoot, Maker is hopeful that a team will select him in the first round of the June 23 draft.
“Before, they would have probably labeled me as soft, just because you have the skill set,” Maker said. “They would probably label me as soft, which is not me. But right now, you kind of put other teams in trouble and you give more value to your team being able to shoot.”
Maker is expected to be the first player to enter the league from high school since 2005; in 2006, the NBA began requiring that prospects be at least 19 and one year removed from high school. Maker declared for the draft in early April and the league cleared him two weeks later, determining that he graduated high school in 2015 and did a preparatory year in 2016, fulfilling the requirement that he had been out of high school for a year.
“I was just hoping and praying that I would get accepted,” Maker said. “It was a dream, so I’m glad I got the opportunity.”
Maker is from South Sudan and moved to Australia at age five. The sport he loved first growing up was soccer. But at age 13, Maker was persuaded to try basketball. He came to America to play in high school and impressed college scouts as a versatile frontcourt player. He spent the past two years at Orangeville Prep in Ontario, Canada, and graduated in June 2015.
Almost every powerhouse program in the country offered Maker a scholarship. Before hiring an agent to forgo his amateurism, Maker was rated as the 10th-best high school player, according to 247Sports.com.
Maker said he was seriously considered playing in college at Indiana if he were not eligible for the draft. Maker, who visited IU on the final day of the regular season in 2015, said Indiana, Kansas, Notre Dame, Arizona State and St. Johns were his top schools.
But once the NBA was an option, Maker shifted his plans to prepare for the draft. He participated in the NBA draft combine and had workouts with the Hawks and Suns before Wednesday’s workout with the Pacers.
In those private workouts, Maker has competed against Purdue’s A.J. Hammons, Vanderbilt’s Damian Jones and UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman. What those players have that Maker does not is tape from college of how they fared against players at the Division I level. That fact could have a negative impact on Maker in the draft since he is such a rare prospect.
Maker said he has used workouts to prove to executives and coaches that he is talented enough for the NBA.
“I’ve played against most of these guys already when they were in high school,” he said. “Sure enough in college they developed a lot more in terms of physically getting stronger. But I’ve held my own. They’ve watched me and they see that – and I see that – not much has changed since they were in high school.”
Maker ended his workout by swishing most of his 3-pointers, a skill he said has impressed many NBA teams. When asked who he resembled most in the NBA, Maker said Kevin Garnett, the 15-time All-Star who won a championship with the Boston Celtics.
But in order to reach his potential in the NBA, Maker said, he understands that he will have to get stronger and add weight to his 216-pound body.
“I’ve gotten better, I’ve matured and physically I’ve gotten stronger,” he said. “Over the years I’ve gradually put on weight and gradually gotten stronger. I’ve always done it the right way and I’ve always put on the right amount of weight so that it’s not too much because I have to be able to hold on to that weight. We’re taking our time.”