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Thon Maker Player Preview: Can the unicorn inside of him come out to play?

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Make(r) or break time for the “future MVP”

Thon Maker Christopher Daniels, Detroit Bad Boys

I promise the only Maker puns I deliberately make(r) will be in the headlines of this preview. I’m not trying to make(r) any enemies here, ma(r)k(er) my words...

Thon Maker enters this season at something of a crossroads in his fledgling NBA career. On one hand, he’s a theoretical basketball unicorn, a 7-foot-1 pterodactyl who possesses the ability to hit threes and block shots. However, his career has often been marred by inefficiency and a set of hands that would make even Lobster Claws himself blush. Put simply, this year is an absolute make(r) or break year for Thon (SORRY).

Last Season

Thon began the year on a Bucks team in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference armed with shooting, an MVP and a legitimate NBA title case. With the hiring of actual real NBA coach Mike Budenholzer and a coherent system around Giannis Antetokounmpo, optimism was justifiably high in Milwaukee. Maker was expected to play an important part off the bench as part of the big man rotation with Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova. However, the unexpected emergence of DJ Wilson coupled with Thon’s maddeningly inconsistent play led to his spot in the rotation eventually disintegrating, leading to a trade request and his eventual landing in Detroit for fellow “maybe he’s good” All-Star Stanley Johnson, who was eventually rerouted to New Orleans. In Detroit, Thon had a consistent and well defined role. Come off the bench, hit threes, block shots, and hustle the fuckin shit out of yourself.

Lets see how that panned out.

.307 - Thon’s 3P% as a Piston, not great.

6.8 - Rebounds per 36 as a Piston, not ideal for a 7-footer with Elastigirl arms, even if he probably weighs less than Elastigirl herself.

2.1 - Blocks per 36 as a Piston, actually not bad, well done

463940 - Dropped passes per game, stat courtesy of my own eyes, which rolled around in my head like a ball cascading out of bounds.

Thon had a couple of excellent moments early in his Pistons tenure. This block (may be a foul but in the current NFL climate what is a foul anymore) on Bobby Portis bought him an unlimited supply of checks notes clout with Pistons fans who immediately attached to him the HustleTron 3000 monkier, especially as the price for said clout was an extremely busted lip.

Then this game winner against the Hawks after some serious disrespect was shown towards Blake Griffin (ejected for trash talking with Old McDonald Vince Carter).

Thon Maker Christopher Daniels, Detroit Bad Boys

2019-20 Role

Thon Maker will be on the Pistons opening night roster. He’s a former lottery pick still playing on his rookie deal in a contract year. You don’t cut those guys, especially if they have shown some stuff over their first three years in the league (yes, Thon has shown stuff, stop hating).

The real question is where Thon’s best position is and who his best frontcourt partner actually is. According to Basketball Reference, Thon spent 53% of minutes last season at C. However, when you break it down pre and post trade, it’s an interesting story:

Thon in MIL 18/19 - 12% PF, 88% C

Thon in DET 18/19 - 73% PF, 27% C

Whether this is a product of roster construction or actual coaching is unclear. In Milwaukee, Thon was generally used next to Giannis in uber-long frontcourt defensive nightmares, while in Detroit he almost never played with Blake Griffin, instead splitting time with traditional centres like Andre Drummond and Zaza Pachulia.

According to NBA.com, Thon shared the court with Drummond for 243 minutes, or 8.7 minutes a game, with a net rating of +5.9. Meanwhile, the Thon-Zaza pairing was abysmal, with a -7.0 rating in 135 minutes. That has nothing on the Thon-Blake duo though, who in only 91 shared minutes, managed to throw up (as in vomit) a net rating of -17.7.

What does all this mean? Thon ideally needs to play next to someone in the frontcourt who is either an excellent rebounder or not totally horrid on defense. Thon’s struggled with corralling rebounds since entering the league, and his defense on the perimeter (and really anywhere besides weakside and help rim protection) is laughably chaotic. Dwane Casey experimented with some Thon and Christian Wood lineups during the preseason with Thon manning the middle, and while it won’t likely be a regular occurrence in the regular season, it looked like it had potential as a stifling combination of athleticism and hustle. Drummond, however, remains the obvious pairing for Thon, as his abilities as a helpside defender combined with Drummond’s historically good rebounding help cover up Thon’s major flaws.

Changing pace, here’s Thon’s shot chart from last season.

Thon’s role in the offense is to hit open threes and finish around the basket. His shot distribution is generally good, but there’s a lot of red there. Thon was known as a corner specialist in Milwaukee, and last season he shot 39.3% from the right corner, but only 34.3% from the left. Above the break though he was abysmal, only hitting 28.2% of his 85 attempts (he had 68 combined corner attempts).

Obviously Thon’s offense is mostly assisted, and scrolling through the list of people who assisted Thon last year, Ish Smith ranks first with 16 assists on Thon field goals. The speed at which Ish played was a change from what Thon was used to on Milwaukee second units with George Hill and Matthew Dellavedova. Now with Ish gone, Derrick Rose assumes the mantle, and he also plays a downhill style of basketball that could prove beneficial to Thon’s game, allowing him to generate easy looks from the corners or on rim runs.

The problem is Thon only shot 33% on his catch-and-shoot threes last season, and 31.4% with a defender more than 6 feet away (wide open according to NBA.com). For a player who spends as much time beyond the arc as Thon does, those marks just aren’t good enough. He’ll get open shots playing with playmakers like Derrick Rose and Luke Kennard on the second unit. He cannot waste them.

Season Prediction

65 games, 6.5 points, 3 rebounds, 1 blocked shot, 35% 3PT.

***

This is Thon’s world. Thonos is inevitable. Don’t make(r) him click.*

*Yes I realise I finished a Thon preview where I basically called him an average player by comparing him to an absolutely destructive, fictional force of efficient destruction. Sue me. [Editor’s note: Thon definitely has the potential to split the Pistons’ fanbase in two]