The Milwaukee Bucks may be becoming the NBA’s ‘freak’ show.
After last season’s breakout performance, every person tuned into the Association knows who Giannis Antetokounmpo — otherwise known as the ‘Greek Freak’ — is. But look a little further down the Bucks’ roster and there is another freaky athlete waiting in the wings to break out like Antetokounmpo did.
Thon Maker stands at 7-foot-1. He’s lanky. He’s coordinated. He possesses ball handling and shooting skills that most people his size don’t. Based on the eye test, Maker can challenge even his teammate as one of the league’s biggest freaks.
After being selected No. 10 overall by the Bucks in the 2016 NBA Draft, without even playing a single college basketball game due to a loophole in draft eligibility rules that allowed Maker to throw his name into the ring, the Sudanese native hit the ground running in the Summer League that followed.
Last summer in Las Vegas, Maker showed the promise and tantalizing potential that made the Bucks pull the trigger with their lottery pick. On his way to second team All-NBA Summer League honors, Maker averaged 14.2 points and 9.6 rebounds. During the season, however, Maker came along slowly, as most rookies do. Over the course of his rookie campaign, Maker averaged about 10 minutes a game, getting on the court 57 times. Maker shot well from deep, 37.8 percent on the year. During the playoffs, where his Milwaukee Bucks team took the Toronto Raptors to six games, Maker logged 19 minutes a game and got valuable run as a 20-year-old in a high-pressure enviornment.
Adjusting Maker’s rookie numbers to a per-36 scale shows that his production and efficiency were definitely freaky. When playing starter’s minutes, Maker averaged 14.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc.
Now, with his first NBA season under his belt, Maker is seemingly ready to take that next step forward. And who better to do that with than Maker’s teammate, whose nickname lends credence to how unique and abnormal he is.
“I’m flying back to Milwaukee tonight,” Maker said in Las Vegas last Sunday. “Me and Giannis [Antetokounmpo] are going to be working out for the next two weeks straight, just the two of us, back in Milwaukee.”
Two weeks straight of Maker and Antetokounmpo together? The possibilities to enhance each other’s game during that time are obvious. The latter of the two stands at 6-foot-11 and operates as the Bucks’ primary ball-handler. Antetokounmpo’s ability to guard nearly every position on the floor and his versatility on both ends of the court are well documented.
According to Maker, the two-week session between him and Antetokounmpo came about from multiple influences within the Bucks’ organization. From the outside looking in, it would seem those in charge up in Milwaukee may recognize the freak-duo they could form to challenge the Eastern Conference for years to come.
“Everybody had a hand in it, including the coaching staff,” Maker said. “We felt like it was going to be good for me and for him also. With my length and my footwork on defense, it’s going to help him out and he’s going to help me out also with his strength and length.”
This summer in Vegas, however, was a much different experience for Maker. Instead of anchoring the Bucks’ summer squad like he did last year, Maker appeared in just two games and went 4-of-18 from the field.
Most second year players find themselves back in summer league action for their respective clubs, especially high draft picks who didn’t log too many minutes during their inaugural season. But for Maker, this year in Sin City operated as more of a formality, ultimately getting overridden by the opportunity to train directly with his superstar teammate.
“It started off a little slow,” Maker said of his second Summer League stint. “I haven’t been playing much, I’ve just been lifting and in the gym a lot. I’ve been out of game rhythm, so I need to do that a little bit more from now on.”
Even without spending most of his time on the court, Maker still felt it was important to get some summer run in before flying back to Milwaukee.
“Oh definitely,” Maker said. “I needed those two games and now I’m trying to go back and start my workouts.”
Last season, the Bucks won 42 games and were the six-seed in the playoffs. After the latest free agency period left the East a bit more depleted than it was last year, Milwaukee could be poised to make a big jump in the win column. Especially if Maker turns it on in his second season.
And he knows how important that growth is, not only for himself but the rest of his team as well.
“For us, we trying to get better every single year,” Maker said. “I know it’s something random for me to say because I wasn’t there last year, but, this last season, we showed what we’re capable of and then we had the injuries. Now we can only go up from here on out. Some of the guys are going to come back healthy, Khris [Middleton] is going to be healthier, everyone is going to come back better. It’s just about putting it together.”
Next season could prove a big test for Maker and the Bucks. Even with his sights set on making a jump to the next level, Maker knows that the climb to success is a process and he isn’t willing to skip the necessary steps.
“We’re in no rush to try and push it to a whole new level,” Maker said of his team’s aspirations. We take our time to develop every single person and everybody is doing their part by working hard. It all comes together when the season starts.”
The Bucks’ season next year won’t be determined over the two weeks that Maker and Antetokounmpo spend sweating in the gym together. But if Milwaukee wants to become the NBA’s next traveling circus of versatility, those two weeks are a good start.
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