Aussie Thon Maker earning rave NBA reviews in Milwaukee

Milwaukee Bucks forward Thon Maker, left, fights for control of a loose ball with Denver Nuggets forward Nikola Jokic. Photo/AP Photos
Milwaukee Bucks forward Thon Maker, left, fights for control of a loose ball with Denver Nuggets forward Nikola Jokic. Photo/AP Photos

Thon Maker's rookie numbers in a Milwaukee Bucks team battling to make the NBA Eastern Conference playoffs don't exactly jump off the page.

In 26 appearances, the Australian-raised power forward is averaging 2.9 points and 1.2 rebounds - not exactly eye-popping and nowhere near impressive enough to convince league assistant coaches he deserved a spot next to compatriot Dante Exum on the World Team roster in the game between the NBA's best first and second-year players at this month's All-Star Weekend.

There have been glimpses of the potential that saw the Bucks, in the views of many rival scouts and general managers, reach for Maker at pick 10 in last year's NBA Draft.

Earlier this month, he knocked down three consecutive three-pointers late in a game against Exum's Utah Jazz, while putting up career highs in points (12) and rebounds (five).

But it's what Maker is doing behind the scenes that has led to some rave reviews in recent weeks. Maker's positive attitude and approach to training have his team-mates convinced the 19-year-old's not only going to make it at NBA level - but dominate.

"You can quote me right now ... Maker's going to be the best seven-foot player in this league," forward Jabari Parker recently told The Lead. "He's going to, he's that good, man.

"If he was on a team like Philly or one of the teams that's below .500, he'd be averaging 15 (points) and 10 (rebounds) easily, because his skill-set is so amazing.

"He can shoot the ball, he can put it on the ground and he's athletic. He has a quick first step for his size, agile, great hands and a good feel for the game - and it's only going to get better."

Kevin Garnett, who Maker is often compared to because of his length, shooting touch and commitment to defence, visited the Bucks to tutor the young charge late last year.

The NBA champion was most impressed with the Sudanese-born project's "focus and appetite".

"Thon Maker, he was refreshing," Garnett said. "Just having an appetite and being in there, 'I want to work on this'. I gave [advice] to him.

"Thon, I'm looking for you coming soon. Seriously."

Bucks veteran Jason Terry, who played with Garnett in Boston and Brooklyn, immediately thought of his former team-mate when he first saw Maker in the gym.

"When I look at Mr Maker, the first impression you get is this kid resembles Kevin Garnett a little bit, just in his stature and build," said Terry, in a magazine piece on Maker, published by Bleacher Report.

"And then you watch him play? And you're like, 'Whoa'."

And defence.

But there's another player Maker sees every day, who is providing him with a blueprint to follow.

Greek-born superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo was also far from a finished project when the Bucks took a flyer on him with pick 15 in the 2013 Draft.

Three years later, at age 22, he's averaging 23.2 points, 5.5 assists and 8.8 rebounds a game, and is set to become the youngest player in franchise history to start in the All-Star Game. He also agreed to a $US100 million contract extension last year.

"I see some similarities," Antetokounmpo told Bleacher Report, while adding Maker is a lot better player than he was at 19. "He wants to be great and he's not scared to say it.

"Like, he come up to me and be like, 'I'm trying to follow in your footsteps. I'm trying to do what you did. And I'll do whatever it takes'."

Antetokounmpo is right when he says Maker's not afraid to toot his own horn.

"I'm going to be an All-Star," Maker told BR. "I'm going to be a champion.

"Not just one, multiple times. I'm going to be an MVP.

"I'm going to be Defensive Player of the Year. Not just once, multiple times.

"And the rings part is the biggest one for me ... and the Hall of Fame part."

But for now, it's just about development - both physically and mentally - and taking his opportunities when they come. Like a recent four-point, two-rebound showing against the Celtics that was better than it looked on paper.

"I thought Thon ... he gave us energy," Bucks coach Jason Kidd, after the late January game. "I thought he changed the game in the second half."

If the projections are accurate, it won't be long before Maker is giving Milwaukee more than energy.

- news.com.au

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