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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 Daily: Lessons From The 2018 NBA Draft

After a wild 2018 NBA Draft, here are four lessons and storylines worth watching over the next few years.

Ben Nadeau

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Now that the dust has settled on an unpredictable NBA Draft — what exactly have we learned? In amongst the unrelenting rumors, refused workouts and surprise reaches, there are a few key takeaways from Brooklyn. Of course, some of these are one-off instances, but others are definitely part of modern-day draft patterns. While draft night may sometimes seem like complete chaos or chance, each scenario on this rundown has been boiling over for weeks. Between passing on a talented prospect to letting an injured one slide, here are four important lessons from the 2018 NBA Draft.

Luka Dončić… Not The No. 1?

For months and months, it appeared as if Luka Dončić was poised to become the No. 1 overall pick in this draft. Even today, it’s hard to believe that somebody with Dončić’s age and resume wasn’t the top selection. In 2017-18 alone, the Slovenian took home EuroLeague MVP and Finals MVP plus ACB MVP, with championships in both leagues to boot — but here we are. Dončić averaged 14.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.1 steals over just 25 minutes per game, quickly transforming into the most well-rounded overseas prospect of all-time. But as impressive as Dončić was throughout the spring, the potential ceilings of both DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III eventually won out.

At 7-foot-1, Ayton’s 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game were undeniably worthy of a top selection too, pairing well alongside Devin Booker and Josh Jackson for the foreseeable future. While the jury is still out on Bagley III — his defense needs some major fine-tuning — he won’t take key touches away from De’Aaron Fox either. More or less, nobody wants to be the organization to miss on such a franchise-altering pick. The Suns, Kings and even the Hawks may eventually regret passing on Dončić, but when general managers’ entire careers can depend on making the right choice at the right time, it’s not difficult to understand why the top of the draft unfolded as it did.

Playing Hard To Get Doesn’t Always Work Out…

As draft boards began to take shape, there was one particularly interesting situation sitting at No. 4 overall. Jaren Jackson Jr., solidly leading the second tier of prospects, was looking like a lock at the Memphis Grizzlies’ pick — but with one major caveat: Jackson Jr. reportedly didn’t work out or give his medical information to the franchise. After he was drafted, Jackson Jr. called those rumors “a tad out of context” — but, obviously, those are some massive red flags. Either way, Memphis went with their gut and selected the talented forward anyway.

But beyond all that, Memphis absolutely made the right move by sticking to their guns. Putting a modern three-point shooting, defensive-minded athlete next to Marc Gasol should prove to be an absolute nightmare for years to come. Naturally, Jackson Jr. will get plenty of easy looks from the stellar Mike Conley Jr. too — so if the draftee was once apprehensive, surely that will pass soon. Still, it reflects on a larger NBA pattern, wherein which prospective athletes sensibly look to mold their own path out of college. With players trying to control their draft narratives more than ever, it’s reassuring to see that some franchises will take their target first and then figure out the rest.

We may never know Jackson Jr.’s full thought process behind not working out for the Grizzlies, but there’s a great chance that the former Spartan was made for Memphis’ tough brand of basketball — and we should all be glad we’ll get to see it.

…But Injuries Will Lead To A Slide

Michael Porter Jr. — what a year for him, huh?

After missing out on much of his only collegiate season due to back surgery, Porter Jr. promised that he was feeling better than ever. But over the last month, scouts and front offices were treated to canceled workouts and hazy uncertainty. And, at the end of the day, it probably scared a handful of franchises away from the talented scorer. Just this week, the Kings heavily considered Porter Jr. at No. 2 overall — but even with that sudden unlikelihood passing by, few thought he’d drop out of the top ten altogether. Outside of the guaranteed money that Porter Jr. will miss out on, redshirting his rookie year may also be on the table as well.

The inherent upside with Porter Jr. is obvious, but — similarly to the Dončić issue — it’s tough to ask franchise officials to stake their livelihood on the prospect’s health. If Porter Jr.’s lingering issues stay with him and he never reaches his mountain of potential, that’s a tough pill to swallow. The 19-year-old would fall all the way down to No. 14, where the Denver Nuggets gladly scooped him up. During the combine in May, Porter Jr. called himself the best player in the draft — but it’s now up to him to prove them all wrong.

The Mysterious Men Nearly Miss Out

Let’s rewind to early April. Villanova had been just crowned NCAA champions for the second time in three years, the NBA playoffs were soundly on the horizon and mock drafts had begun to consistently pour out. Early on, there were two athletic big men that looked like shoo-ins as first-rounders: Robert Williams and Mitchell Robinson. Despite their undercooked skill-sets, both players pulled out of the combine and then waited for the hype to build — except, well, it didn’t. Williams, who was typically projected in the early teens, slipped out of the lottery entirely, only to be rescued by the Boston Celtics at No. 27. Williams is a booming, powerful prospect, but he could’ve really benefited from competing against the other top prospects in May.

Although he’s now landed in an ideal situation with Brad Stevens, Al Horford and a process-driven Celtics squad, Williams likely cost himself a whole load of money over the last 30-plus days as well.

In Robinson’s case, many believed his floor was the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25 — rumors swirling that the 7-foot-1 center even received a promise from the illustrious franchise. Instead, Robinson dropped to the New York Knicks at No. 36 overall. Robinson had originally committed to Western Kentucky in July of 2017 before dropping out to prepare for the draft. After skipping the combine last month, Robinson indeed exhibited the potential to be both a steady shot-blocker and three-point maker during his individual evaluations. But with little to go off of but high school highlight reels and small session workout tapes, he understandably fell.

Sometimes the hype is impossible to ignore, but not participating in the combine and staying as mysterious as possible hurt these ultra-talented prospects.

While the 2018 NBA Draft wasn’t quite the trade-heavy, drama-laden extravaganza much of the world expected, there are plenty of narratives to reflect upon. At the end of the day, the ink is barely dry on this year’s festivities and it’ll be some time before there’s any indication of these successes or failures. Still, there are lessons to be learned from every draft, workout or injury process and these are four conversations worth considering as the NBA quickly rolls into the summer league season.

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VIDEO: 2018 NBA Draft Winners

Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may have done better than expected.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may have done better than expected.

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Insiders Video

VIDEO: 2018 NBA Draft Losers

Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may not have done as well as expected.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may not have done as well as expected.

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