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Top Prospect Thon Maker Ready For All Challengers

Australian basketball phenom Thon Maker continues to show signs of progress and sounds eager to conquer all challenges placed before him.

Jabari Davis

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Born in the war-torn South Sudan before moving to Australia as a small child, 17 year old Thon Maker finds himself as one of the nation’s top prep basketball players as he heads into just his junior year at Carlisle High School in Martinsville, Virginia. After a journey like that, it comes as no surprise that Maker is one of the more unique and intriguing prospects we’ve seen in some time.

Although every bit of 7’ (if not taller), Maker possesses a skill set closer to that of a small forward. Not only does he have impressive range for a player at his height, Maker is every bit as comfortable putting the ball on the floor and using his agility to out-maneuver opposing defenders with comparable size. Having averaged 21.3 PPG and 13.3 RPG on the year and after leading his team with a 26 point, 18 rebound five block performance in the 2014 Division II State Championship game as a sophomore at Carlisle, Maker realizes he is no longer an unknown commodity when on the court. In a day when just about every rising player is contrasted to stars (both past and present) with varying degrees of favorability, Maker accepts that some comparisons are simply inevitable and isn’t afraid to offer an opinion on which make the most sense to him.

“I would say [I’m] like a ‘stretch-four’ type, punishing inside and out at the same time,” Maker told Basketball Insiders. “I would say Kevin Durant, because basically we kind of have the same build. I’m a little taller, but at the same time he’s got that frame and that skill set. He’s tough and he gets to the line. I love getting to the line, I like taking those bumps and getting to the line. Also, [I like to] just go hard like Kevin Garnett. He’s a winner. His mindset is crazy. “

That answer makes a ton of sense, as he would almost certainly be considered a hybrid forward if anything. His love of the game is immediately evident when you talk to Maker about his play as we were able to throughout the adidas Nations Tournament in Long Beach, Ca. last weekend. Not only did he praise the tournament for attracting the “good players” that (specifically) “worked hard” on more than one occasion, Maker made it clear he thoroughly enjoyed embracing each matchup as a challenge and welcomed the idea of opposing coaches throwing the more talented players at him.

Maker also went on to reaffirm how much he respected Garnett’s intensity, mindset and approach. He seemed intent upon making it clear just how much he loves to compete; which may come as music to the ears and eyes of scouts that raised concerns over reports of defenders pushing him around in previous tournaments. Although there was continued evidence of opponents employing a similar ‘physical’ approach against Maker, he gamely battled and competed with some tough competitors throughout his weekend at Nations. Like many young players, Maker will need to improve his overall court awareness on the defensive end. He readily challenges in the lane and as a rim-protector, but still managed to find himself out of position at times throughout the weekend. Like with most skills in basketball, this something that can be rectified and enhanced with the proper coaching and focus upon improving.

While he certainly wasn’t the most dominant force in the field amongst high school players – a distinction that would probably have to go to the phenomenal weekend of G Dennis Smith Jr.– Maker was steady and showed signs of progress as he settled in. Perhaps the most fair and accurate way to describe Maker is that he is a work-in-progress that shows plenty of promise. Beyond the size and athleticism, he genuinely comes across as an individual that is intent upon improving on a daily basis.

The strongest and most telling response from Maker came when asked about which aspects of his game he’d like to improve upon over his next two seasons at the high school level.  The 7’ Maker made certain of direct eye contact as he seemed to almost relish the opportunity to address his future goals.

“Strength…that’s the number-one goal. Strength,” Maker declared. “I’ve said it a lot to the media, but they don’t know what’s going on through this mind or about what I’m about to do…really just dominate this game.”

Those may come across as bold words to some, but it is necessary to combine that type of self-assuredness with a certain level of dedication to his craft in order for a player like Maker to reach his full potential. Even though there was speculation that he might apply for reclassification for senior status (given his age), it appears Maker intends to take the full two years of high school he is eligible to utilize. That should give him plenty of time to not only add the strength and size he desires, but he’ll also be able to continue refining what is already an impressive skill set before moving on to the next level.

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.

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NBA AM: A Look At The 2019 NBA Draft Class

With the NCAA basketball season gearing up, here is an early look at some of the names to watch as it gets rolling.

Steve Kyler

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A Look At The Top Of the 2019 NBA Draft Class

With the college basketball season getting ready to get underway, it’s time to take our first look at the names to watch in what could be a very flat 2019 NBA Draft class. While the draft class always evolves as the season goes on, there are a few names that look more likely to be sure things than others, and here are a few:

Luka Dončić – Real Madrid

The 6-foot-7 Dončić looks to be the front-runner of the 2019 class. While not a college player, Dončić has been on the NBA radar for some time and took part in NBA preseason last year when the Oklahoma City Thunder faced off against Real Madrid.

Dončić is considered by many to be the next can’t miss International player, with some labeling him a basketball prodigy. Dončić has spent his offseasons training in the U.S. at the famed P3 Performance Training Center in Santa Barbara, so he is no stranger to the NBA style of play or how hard you have to train got be great at the NBA level.

Dončić is listed as a forward but tends to play with the ball in his hands a lot for Real Madrid, where many label him as more of a point forward. Dončić is a polished shooter, with the game all the way to the three-point line.

It will take something pretty special (or tragic) to happen for Dončić not to be the top overall player this June. He is absolutely the name to watch.

Michael Porter Jr. – Missouri

Of all of the college players with a shot at a top-three pick in June, the 6-foot-10 Michael Porter Jr. might be the best of the bunch. With an amazing set of skills, Porter has been the star of the high school all-star circuit and has cemented himself as a very serious NBA prospect. The problem with Michael Porter Jr. isn’t anything he does on the basketball court, it a reputation that’s followed him for a while that he may not have the right circle of influence.

In what has become all too common in the AAU/high school, players have started to amass a circle of influence that’s been clouding the star of some of the top players.

Dallas’ Dennis Smith Jr had similar concerns last year, which was a big contributing factor to him sliding to the Dallas Mavericks and the ninth pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

For Porter, NBA teams are going to want to see him shake some of the labels around his game and gauge how coachable he can be at the next level.

From a pure talent and skill point of view, though, Porter might be the next best talent in the eventual 2019 NBA draft pool, it will be interesting to see if Porter and a very solid recruiting class can get Missouri into the elite of the college basketball. It would go a long way towards quieting the noise around him that doesn’t have anything to do with the game.

Marvin Bagley III – Duke

If Porter isn’t the guy for whatever reason, the next guy looks to be Duke’s Marvin Bagley III. He re-classified this summer making him eligible for this season and one of the younger prospects on the board. At a legit 6-foot-11, Bagley has the whole package for a big man. He is an incredible athlete that can score from everywhere. He is explosive around the basket and a lethal at-the-rim scorer.

Given Duke’s loaded recruiting class, Bagley looks likely to be playing deep into March this year, and that could bode well for his eventual draft stock.

Collin Sexton – Alabama

Alabama’s Collin Sexton looks to be the top point guard prospect in the eventual 2019 NBA Draft class. He is a legit 6’2 and as cat quick as they come. Sexton was a star on the high school All-Star circuit and looks to have the whole pack for an NBA caliber guard.

The big thing Sexton is going to need to show at the next level is that he can be a playmaker as well as a scorer. The High School/AAU platform has shown that Sexton can score at will, NBA teams are going to want to see him create for others.

It’s no secret that the NBA is built around point guard play, and like Smith Jr, who is flourishing in the NBA with the Mavericks. Sexton could be equally as potent, especially after a season playing for Avery Johnson at Alabama.

Miles Bridges – Michigan State

Surprisingly, Bridges opted to return for another season at Michigan State. Historically most players don’t add to their draft stock returning to school, but in Bridges case, he could find himself towards the top of the class with a dominating season for the Spartans.

Bridges is more of a combo forward. The knock on his game is he is more of a tweener, with a limited outside game. If he can take over in his Sophomore season and prove he has improved as a perimeter threat, he could add some serious value to what many expected was 15-20 draft range in 2018.

The problem for Bridges is that scouts tend to latch on to an idea around a player and unless he shakes the label, it’s generally viewed as a negative if a player does not improve.

Bridges has the potential to leap way up in his draft stock, which is pretty rare. The question is, is there another level to his game in college basketball?

Trevon Duval – Duke

Duke has a great recruiting class, but the enigma of the bunch may be guard Trevon Duval. A start for IMG and one of the top high school/prep players in the Nation, the buzz around Duval has dropped considerably. Most NBA scouts are eager to see how Duval handles being coached by Mike Krzyzewski.

Duval has all the tools to be an elite point guard prospect, but like Porter Jr, there are questions about his circle of influence and how much he wants to win at the college level.

With some many prospects looking past their college season into an eventual NBA career, scouts and executives seem to be interesting in seeing how Duval leads a team like Duke and how much latitude Coach K gives him throughout the season.

The one this to know about any future draft class at this point in the calendar is that everything is subject to change. However, history has proven time and time again that the top names on NBA scouting boards in November, usually end up being in the top 10 when the draft rolls around in June.

Once some of these guys log actual games, we’ll start dropping our monthly NBA Mock Drafts, so stay tuned for that as the college basketball season ramps up.

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The Best of the Undrafted Players

David Yapkowitz breaks down the best players who weren’t drafted in Thursday night’s NBA Draft.

David Yapkowitz

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Ben Wallace, Raja Bell, Avery Johnson, David Wesley, John Starks; those are just a few former NBA players who didn’t hear their name called on draft night, yet went on to have pretty impressive careers.

Each year there are a few undrafted players who end up making a team’s roster and turn out to be solid contributors. This past season, players like Ron Baker of the New York Knicks, Yogi Ferrell of the Dallas Mavericks, and Derrick Jones Jr. of the Phoenix Suns went undrafted in 2016 yet ended up as regular rotation guys for their teams. In Ferrell’s case, he became a starter.

With the 2017 NBA Draft come and gone, here’s a look at some of the top undrafted players who might be able to strengthen a team’s roster.

Johnathan Motley

Johnathan Motley was the best player on a Baylor team that was a No.3 seed and made it to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament. He averaged 17.3 points per game on 52.2 percent shooting and pulled down 9.9 rebounds per game.

At 6-foot-9 and 230 pounds, Motley is definitely in the mold of a versatile wing player who can play multiple positions and thrive and in today’s NBA. What he needs to do, however, is improve his outside shot. He shot only 28.1 percent from three-point range. One crucial aspect for hybrid forwards is to be able to step out and hit long range jumpers.

His stock often fluctuated in various mock drafts; some had him going in the first round, others in the second. Per The Vertical’s Shams Charania, Motley signed a two-way contract with the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday.

P.J. Dozier

P.J. Dozier was one-half of South Carolina’s star duo that helped propel them to a Cinderella run to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament. The other half, Sindarius Thornwell, had his name called, but at the end of the night, Dozier was still waiting.

Only a sophomore, Dozier was the second leading scorer for the Gamecocks with 13.9 points per game. He was always projected to go in the second round on most mocks and perhaps he came out a bit too early. The talent is there though.

He can have success as a team’s combo guard off the bench. He will need to work on his shooting though. He shot only 40.7 percent from the field, 29.8 percent from three. He’ll be in summer league with the Los Angeles Lakers, and from there will hope to entice a team to bring him to training camp.

Melo Trimble

Melo Trimble might have been one of those players that needed to strike while the iron’s hot. Two years ago, he was talked about as a probable first-round pick had he declared for the draft after his freshman year at Maryland. Instead, he stayed until his junior year and his stock fell.

He actually turned in an impressive junior campaign with 16.8 points per game, 3.6 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. He shot a respectable 44.4 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from three-point range.

Trimble will play summer league with the Philadelphia 76ers, and like most undrafted free agents, will look to turn his performance into a training camp invitation. He probably projects to be a backup point guard should he find a place in the league. He had first round and possible lottery talent before, however, so maybe all he needs is an opportunity.

Devin Robinson

In today’s game, where teams put a premium on versatile, do it all type players who can play multiple positions, Devin Robinson certainly fits that description. Robinson is a long, athletic forward who can step out and hit outside jumpers while locking up his opponent’s best wing scorer.

Florida had a surprisingly solid run in the NCAA Tournament and Robinson was a big part of that. His junior year, his best year yet, saw him average 11.1 points per game on 47.5 percent from the field and 6.1 rebounds. He showed a much improved outside shot, connecting on 39.1 percent of his looks from downtown. In the tournament, he upped his averages to 28.3 points on similar shooting percentages.

Robinson will be in summer league with the Washington Wizards, a team that often times lacked production off their bench last season. Depending on how he performs in summer league, don’t be surprised to see him on the Wizards roster come opening night.

Nigel Hayes

Playing in the shadow of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker in years past, Nigel Hayes was given an opportunity as a senior at Wisconsin to show what he could do as the focal point of an offense. His numbers didn’t jump off the page, but he did play well enough to be given a shot at making a team’s roster.

His 14 points per game were good enough to tie teammate Ethan Happ for the second leading scorer on the team. As a power forward, he was actually the second leading assist man with 2.7. One area he’ll need to improve on to make an impact in the NBA is his outside jumper. He shot 39.6 percent from three his sophomore season. This year it was down to 31.4 despite taking a similar number of attempts (2.5 and 1.9 respectively).

Hayes looks to be one of those players in between positions. He lacks the quickness and range to thrive at small forward but is a bit undersized at the NBA level for power forward. He is an incredible energy player, though, and players like that have been able to carve out nice careers. He’ll be in summer league with the Knicks, and given their current state of affairs, they need all the help they can get.

L.J. Peak

In the mock drafts that projected him to be drafted, L.J. Peak was most likely going to be a second round pick. That’s not to say he doesn’t have first round talent. He’s a big guard that can play both guard positions.

Despite Georgetown’s futile record this season, Peak was a standout. He was the team’s second-leading scorer at 16.2 points per game on 48 percent shooting from the field. He was also their top playmaker, dishing out 3.5 assists. In the NBA, he most likely can find a role for some team as a combo guard off the bench. He only shot 32.7 percent from the beyond the arc, however, so if he wants to make an impact in the league that’s one area he’ll need some work.

He’s set to go to summer league with the Houston Rockets. Depending on what roster moves the Rockets make, it will be tough for Peak to make the final team. They already have two guards capable of playing both guard spots off the bench in Lou Williams and Isaiah Taylor. Taylor’s contract isn’t guaranteed, but he probably has the inside track due to his familiarity with the team. In any case, a strong summer showing should lead Peak to a training camp invite with another team, if not the Rockets.

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NBA PM: Losers Of The 2017 NBA Draft

Who were the two parties who came out of draft night worse off than they went in? Spencer Davies explores.

Spencer Davies

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As the book closes on the 2017 NBA Draft, the league takes a bit of a break before going full throttle into the free agency portion of the off-season.

Before we get there, though, Basketball Insiders will take a look at the winners and losers of Thursday’s draft to get you caught up. Our own Benny Nadeau already took care of the former, so this piece will focus on the two parties who came out of the night worse off than they did going into it.

Early Entrants Going Undrafted

The amount of talent in this year’s draft class was undeniable, so those that decided to come out of college too soon instead of returning to school for another year suffered tremendously.

Let’s take a look at some notable undrafted players that entered as underclassmen:

Kobi Simmons

Simmons was an interesting story this past season with the Arizona Wildcats. It was a difficult one-and-done season for Simmons, as he had trouble converting on the perimeter (33 percent) and contributing anything other than scoring.

In the first couple of months as a freshman, he was basically an every game starter and played at least 28 minutes per game for the team. As the year wound down, though, the 6-5, 175-pound shooting guard barely saw the court, and the time he was given came during blowouts.

His decision to enter the draft was questionable and a gamble, and most teams saw it the same way. Luckily for Simmons, he was reportedly able to come to an agreement with the Memphis Grizzlies on a free agent contract.

P.J. Dozier

A player that surprisingly didn’t get selected was P.J. Dozier from South Carolina. In his sophomore season, the 20-year-old swingman took on a much heavier workload and dramatically improved his game on both ends of the floor.

Dozier was one of the best defenders in the SEC and in the entire NCAA, as well as an aggressor on offense. He was not bashful and took his new role in stride. Over the course of one year, he attempted six more field goals per game and upped his three-point success by 8.5 percentage points.

He also snatched almost two more rebounds per game and averaged nearly two steals for the Gamecocks. Dozier going undrafted was a head scratcher, but the Los Angeles Lakers made sure he landed on his feet with a deal.

Isaiah Briscoe

Briscoe is more of a hybrid type with a bulky build for a backcourt player. In two seasons under John Calipari at Kentucky, he was pretty consistent with his game as somebody who will give you a little bit of everything.

He’s not particularly a good shooter, but he can get some rebounds and dish it out to make the right plays. You’ll see that with when he’s playing for the Philadelphia 76ers in Summer League.

Antonio Blakeney

Blakeney—a sophomore guard from LSU—proved that he can shoot the basketball and be a pure scorer (17.2 points per game) when given the opportunity, but what about the defensive end of the floor? He’ll need to work on that, as well as his all-around game that won’t make him a one-dimensional threat.

He hasn’t received an offer from a team yet, but he’ll likely get a chance to showcase his talents in either Orlando or Las Vegas.

The trend here seems obvious—if you’re a shooting guard and haven’t gotten at least three years of college experience, it may not be wise to declare. Executives understand that they need players with the “do-it-all” quality and not just pure scorers that can’t bring more than one or two skills to the table.

Chicago Bulls

Over the past week, the writing seemed to be on the wall for Jimmy Butler and his future with the Bulls. There were rumors all over linking him mainly to the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the dark horse candidate to land the All-Star was the one to pull the trigger.

After the first selection in the draft was made, the Minnesota Timberwolves came to an agreement with Chicago that reunited Butler with his former coach of four years, Tom Thibodeau. The deal came a few weeks after an exit interview regarding the team’s direction that reportedly went well.

The 27-year-old’s trainer didn’t hide his displeasure about the move, but it’s understandable from the perspective of VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman, who strived to “set a direction” for the franchise.

However, what they received in return for Butler was not nearly enough for a man that is just now entering his prime as one of the best two-way players in the game today. In exchange for Butler, the Wolves sent Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine to Chicago. Furthermore, the Bulls were able to move up nine spots in the draft, but it cost them their 16th pick to do so.

LaVine is as exciting as a player as any young talent in the NBA, but he’ll enter the season coming off a brutal ACL tear that ended his year prematurely. It will probably be a little while before the 22-year-old sees the floor, and, as the centerpiece of this trade, it’s definitely risky not knowing how he’ll respond to the injury.

While Dunn could have plenty of promise as the starting point guard of the future, his rookie season in Minnesota left a lot to be desired. The only defense of his inclusion as one of the key pieces in this transaction is being a top five pick in last year’s draft with untapped potential.

With the seventh overall selection, Chicago drafted Lauri Markkanen out of Arizona. In his lone season under Sean Miller, the seven-footer was a key cog in the Wildcats’ run in the PAC-12 and NCAA tournaments.

The talent is clearly there as a sharpshooting stretch four or five, but with Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic already in the mix at power forward, the fit may be a problem. He could see some time at center, but remember, Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio, and Joffrey Lauvergne are holding down the fort there, too.

Markkanen’s situation will all depend on if qualifying offers are made to Mirotic, Felicio, and Lauvergne.

To add the cherry on top of the Bulls’ rough night, they excited some fans of the organization when they took Jordan Bell out of Oregon early in the second round. That hope quickly diminished when the Golden State Warriors paid $3.5 million for the pick, and Chicago agreed to send him to the Bay.

Bell was one of the sexier names in the draft for a good reason, but the money was more important to the Bulls, who will have some more decisions to make this summer with their veterans on the roster likely not wanting to be a part of the rebuild.

Without their superstar of the last three years, and still with an inexperienced head coach like Fred Hoiberg to develop the young talent brought into the organization, it’s going to be a little while before basketball is king again in the Windy City.

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