Thon Maker can't help it if he already seems like more of a myth than a man. Though he just completed his second year of high school in Virginia, Maker is already drawing comparisons to all-time greats like Kevin Garnett and Kevin Durant based on his YouTube mixtapes. The comps are ridiculously premature, yes, but the hype is only going to get louder during the summer AAU period.
The scouting report on Maker sounds like hearing about a created player in a video game. He's 7-feet tall with the ball handling ability of a guard, shooting range that extends past the three-point line and a prodigious wingspan that makes him the most terrifying shot blocker on the high school level. Maker's legend grew again when ESPN named him the top player in its new class of 2016 rankings on Wednesday.
Maker has every college coach in the country begging for his services, but his next big decision won't be where to go to college, it will be when. Maker is weighing the idea of reclassifying to the class of 2015. If he does it, he'll almost certainly be the top player in the class ahead of Ivan Raab, Malik Newman, Ben Simmons and Diamond Stone.
According to NBADraft.net, Maker was born on February 25, 1997. That makes him a year older than every other incoming high school junior. Maker is only 15 days younger than Stone and four days younger than Newman, both of whom are in the class of 2015.
The decision to reclassify is a complicated one for Maker. He was born in South Sudan before moving to Australia when he was five years old. He's spent his high school years in the United States, but his family is still concerned about academics and how his thin 210-pound frame will hold up physically.
Maker is far from the first star high school player to consider reclassifying. Andre Drummond, Nerlens Noel, Andrew Wiggins and Noah Vonleh are just a few of players to jump up a year in high school. Drummond and Noel were both top 10 draft picks, and Wiggins and Vonleh will be later this month.
Drummond is perhaps the best case both for and against reclassifying. When he decided to jump from the class of 2012 to the class of 2011, he shot past every prospect but Anthony Davis in ESPN's rankings. Drummond would go on to play for UConn, but his one year of college ball momentarily ruined his reputation.
Drummond's statistics were underwhelming for the Huskies, where he averaged only 10 points and 7.6 rebounds per game on 53 percent shooting. Worse, Drummond was greeted in the 2012 draft by a chorus of criticism over his maturity. Here's what ESPN's Chad Ford had to say about Drummond before the draft:
He doesn't always play hard. He takes off plays and sometimes entire games. His skill level (highlighted by his awful 29.5 percent free throw shooting) is a major work in progress. He doesn't always work hard off the court to improve his game. And when you talk to him, he sounds more like a 16-year-old trapped in the body of a 28-year-old giant.
Drummond would fall to No. 9 in the draft, but he's off to a great start in his young NBA career. Every team who passed on him regrets it, with the exception of Davis' Pelicans and (maybe) Damian Lillard's Trail Blazers.
There are downsides to not reclassifying, too. It can only help a player's development to go against the best competition possible. Shabazz Muhammad is an example of a player who could have reclassified but didn't. Muhammad was considered one of the top two players in the high school class of 2012, but it later came out that he was actually a year older than he said he was. Muhammad was underwhelming in his only college season at UCLA and had a quiet rookie year for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Muhammad and Maker aren't direct comparisons because Maker didn't grow up in America and his thin frame is a legitimate concern. But if Maker is concerned with reaching the NBA as soon as possible -- and just as importantly, starting the clock on his second contract -- the decision shouldn't be particularly difficult. Maker is too good for the high school level already. Why spent an extra year there when you don't have to?
Maker was named to the U.S. Eurocamp roster on Wednesday and has expressed his desire to play for the Australian national team. The commitment to the Aussies is another reason Maker might want to reclassify. If Maker, Simmons and 2014 NBA draft prospect Dante Exum reach live up the hype, Australia could soon be a power on the international basketball scene.
It might seem a bit insensitive to advise a 17 year-old in Maker's position skip a year of high school, but Maker isn't a normal teenager. Whether he lives up to his lofty billing, he has all the markings of a future pro. To be the best, you have to play the best. Jumping up in competition is the only way to do it.