The Thon Maker redemption story is fully underway. As the strange world of college basketball recruiting descends on the South this week for the start of July evaluation period, Maker is off to a killer start at Under Armour All-America Camp in Charlotte. Suddenly, he once again looks like the type of special prospect he was purported to be when he broke onto the national scene more than a year ago.
Let's back up for a second: we all remember the ultra-skinny 7'1 forward who drew national headlines off a mixtape in February 2014, right? At the time, Maker seemed like a basketball prospect sent to Earth from 200 years in the future. Here was a player as tall as anyone in the NBA crossing people over in transition, raining three-pointers, blocking shots and dunking on anyone who got in his way. He was drawing comparisons to Kevin Durant and Kevin Garnett. The footage was that impressive.
Of course, anytime a teenager gets compared to future Hall of Famers, a backlash is inevitable. That's exactly what happened with Maker as he transferred out of Virginia's Martinsville Carlisle School to the Athlete Institute in Ontario.
Was Thon Maker "exposed"? It depends who you ask. Many of his 'flaws' were things that have long been evident. He reportedly didn't even weigh 200 pounds a year ago, meaning he had to add serious weight before he could even think about realizing his full potential. He also seemed confused as to the type of player he wanted to be: was Maker a wing or should he be developing his post game?
It culminated at the Nike Hoops Summit in April, where Maker looked overwhelmed against the best players in the 2015 class, scoring only two points. ESPN's Fran Fraschilla tweeted "NBA scouts not seeing it w/Thon Maker." At that point, it seemed like he might not even be ready to be an impact player at the college level as he contemplated reclassifying up a year to play in 2015.
Ultimately, Maker decided stay in the class of 2016, which gave him another year to add strength and refine his game. Guess what? Now Maker once again looks like a great prospect. He has reportedly added 26 pounds to his frame over the last year, and is playing with a renewed aggression scouts weren't seeing months ago.
As for Fraschilla, he seems to have changed his tune this week:
Watched Thon Maker dominate tonight @UnderArmour All American Camp. I've never NOT seen him play hard. Easily a high lottery pick in 2016!— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) July 9, 2015
This is not to pick on Fraschilla, who is excellent at what he does. He was simply going with the industry consensus that Maker wasn't ready yet. And you know what? He probably wasn't. But things can change fast if you're talking about teenagers, and it seems like something has finally clicked in Thon Maker this week.
Maker had a high-profile showdown on Wednesday with DeAndre Ayton, the class of 2017 center many believe is the best prospect in high school basketball. Ayton is the same player who dominated North Carolina's starting frontline as a high school sophomore, so the hype isn't without merit. All Thon Maker did was go out and dominant him:
Thon Maker easily had upper hand in his showdown with DeAndre Ayton. Motor never stopped running, aggressive to the rim. Ayton foul trouble.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) July 9, 2015
Official stats had Thon Maker with 23 points (seems low, to be honest) and 17 rebounds, DeAndre Ayton with seven points and six boards.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) July 9, 2015
Through three games, Maker has been among the camp's leading scorers, and he's pulled down more rebounds than anyone. His defense is drawing rave reviews as well. Not bad for someone who was considered soft just a few months ago.
And hey, now he's a future lottery pick again:
I didn't see Thon Maker in past year, but some were down on him. Not sure because every time I see him he looks terrific. Future lotto pick.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) July 9, 2015
There are a few lessons in all of this:
- Don't judge a prospect off a mixtape: Mixtape scouting is a dangerous game. At their core, mixtapes are entertaining to watch and a great way for a young player to get his now out to the world. They just shouldn't be treated as anything more substantial than that. Just because Maker could dribble between his legs on a fast break doesn't mean he's a future No. 1 overall pick. How about scoring in the half court? How about creating for others? There's plenty a mixtape can't tell you.
- Scouts are just as impatient as everyone else: Scouts want to see something new in a player every time they watch him. You're supposed to get noticeably better from your freshman summer to your sophomore summer to your junior summer. When that doesn't happen, a player will slide down the rankings as someone else moves up. Of course, all of this is an inexact science and has to be treated as such. That's the case for NBA teams in the draft (remember: Hasheem Thabeet went over Steph Curry and James Harden) and it's the same for college evaluators as well. This stuff is difficult and it's easy to overreact to recent performances.
- Thon Maker was probably never as good or as bad as he's purported to be: Is Maker a good long-term prospect? Yes. He has great size, long arms, a nice shooting stroke and looks like a fluid athlete. At this point, that's basically all you need to know about him. When he goes to college a year from now, the basketball world will get a whole new set of numbers on his performance that isn't available at the moment. We don't know his true shooting percentage off catch-and-shoots. We don't know his field goal percentage at the rim. We don't know his block rate. So, maybe let's just chill until all this info becomes available, because it will be soon.
Maker lists Florida State, Arizona State, Indiana, Kentucky and Oklahoma State as the teams recruiting him. They would all surely love to have him. Whether or not Maker turns into the future of basketball or simply a nice college player can't really be determined yet. He's a young man with plenty of room to grow. That should be enough for the coaches offering him a scholarship, but it's not enough to satisfy the news cycle.
For now, just let Thon Maker be. You'll be watching him play plenty of high stakes basketball games soon enough.