2018-19 Season in Review: Thon Maker

Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Dwane Casey’s first season as Pistons coach delivered them to the playoffs after a two-season absence. The Pistons have 11 of the 15 players who finished the season either under contract for next season or holding team options to retain them.

With the No. 15 and 45 picks in the June 20 draft and the mid-level and biannual exceptions available to supplement the roster, there will be several new additions on board when they gather in September to open training camp.

But as Casey said after the Pistons were eliminated by Milwaukee in the first round, “We’re going to have to grow from within. We have a lot of talent with our young guys, but they have some areas they can get much better.”

Blake Griffin emphatically returned to All-Star status, Andre Drummond likely would have joined him there had the Pistons not slumped during injury-riddled months of December and January, and Reggie Jackson bounced back from two injury-plagued seasons. They again figure to be central to the 2019-20 Pistons.

Then comes the group of young players that played major roles during the playoff stretch drive: rookie Bruce Brown and former lottery picks Luke Kennard and Thon Maker, the latter acquired in February from Milwaukee. The Pistons also will have two other 2018-19 rookies who did most of their work behind the scenes, in practices and the G League in Khyri Thomas and Svi Mykhailiuk.

In our 2018-19 Season in Review series, we’ll take a look at the key players returning for the Pistons in Dwane Casey’s second season.

PLAYER: Thon Maker
PROFILE: 7-foot-1 center/22 years old/3 NBA seasons
2018-19 STATS: 5.5 points and 3.7 rebounds in 19.4 minutes a game
STATUS: Maker has one year remaining on his rookie contract

DID YOU KNOW?: Maker was born in war-torn Sudan, in what has become South Sudan, and fled to Uganda where along with family members he was accepted as a refugee in Australia. In his teens, basketball took Maker to the United States and he eventually finished high school in Canada before declaring for the 2016 draft and requiring a ruling from the NBA to determine his draft eligibility.

A LOOK BACK: No one was more a mystery in the 2016 draft than Maker given his lack of college basketball experience and a history that left some questioning his age. But Milwaukee, which gambled three years earlier on an even more obscure prospect in Giannis Antetokounmpo, took Maker with the 10th pick. Maker worked his way into the rotation of a playoff team as a rookie, though he averaged only 10 minutes in 57 games despite making 34 starts. Maker started all six of Milwaukee’s playoff games as a rookie, averaging 5.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots in 20 minutes to end his first year on a high. He averaged 17 minutes and made 12 starts in 74 games as a second-year player, again seeing his role increase in the playoffs. Maker’s progress stalled in his third year as he eventually lost his spot in the rotation to second-year forward D.J. Wilson, Milwaukee’s 2017 No. 1 pick out of Michigan. Maker requested a trade in the weeks leading to the February trade deadline and Milwaukee obliged, sending him to the Pistons in a three-team trade that saw Stanley Johnson wind up in New Orleans and the Bucks obtain veteran power forward Nikola Mirotic, a premier 3-point shooter, from the Pelicans.

A LOOK AHEAD: It would be hard to envision Maker having a better opportunity than the one he has with the Pistons, given the enthusiasm with which Dwane Casey embraced his arrival. Casey gushed about Maker’s demeanor, selflessness and hunger to improve time and again and – more meaningfully – gave him ample leash in terms of minutes and responsibility. Maker played a career-high 19.4 minutes a game with the Pistons over 29 games after the trade, splitting his minutes between power forward and center. His strength comes at the defensive end where his enormous wing span of 7-foot-3 and superb lateral foot speed gives him the ability to smother pick and rolls, guard the 3-point line and recover to protect the rim. At the offensive end, he’s a work in progress but shows the promise to develop into an efficient 3-point shooter. Fifty-six percent of Maker’s shots with the Pistons came from the 3-point arc. Though he shot 31 percent, below the league average, Maker is comfortable taking the shot and the expectation is that he’ll become an improved shooter with added strength and repetitions. Maker isn’t likely to develop into an interior scorer, though as he gains strength he figures to become a more effective rebounder and target for lob passes. With a year remaining on his rookie contract ahead of restricted free agency, it will be a big off-season and season ahead for Maker.

MONEY QUOTE: “What a hustler that young man is. I love the way he competes. His spirit is in the right place. He’s about winning. I just love the energy that Thon brings. He creates an atmosphere, the way he plays – the hustle plays, the blocks. His spirit is contagious.” – Dwane Casey after Maker’s contributions to a win over Washington in February

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