The Maker Brothers
With NBA Final in the rear view mirror, all eyes (except for those still basking in the glory that was that Cavs comeback) are set on the NBA Draft itself which is later this week. This year’s class is headlined by an Aussie phenom Ben Simmons, but there is one more, a tall kid, who calls Australia his second home and who is this class’ biggest X-factor. His name is Thon Maker.
The Maker family belongs to Dinka people, an ethnic group in South Sudan. Devastating civil war made Thon’s aunt, himself and his younger brother Matur flee Sudan and seek refuge in Australia. The three of them settled in Perth when Thon was six and Matur was five. Everyone in the Maker family was a dedicated sport fan, soccer at that time, so boys quickly found their way on the local fields and started showcasing their immense athletic gifts. That’s where they were discovered by Edward Smith, basketball coach from Sydney.
Smith, a man who by that time had already helped several Sudanese refugees receive valuable opportunities in basketball, offered Makers’ parents to take Thon to Sydney, take proper care of him and teach him basketball. Under Smith’ tutelage and due to his natural gifts and strong work ethic, Thon picked up the basics of the game really fast and dominated the St. George Basketball Association in 2011. Smith and elder Maker moved to the United States in 2012. Matur followed them in 2013.
Their constant movement was not over at that point: in 2014 Ed Smith and the Maker brothers moved to Ontario and enrolled at Athlete Institute, a high-profile Canadian sports academy, similar to Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra. The Makers’ dream came true: they were finally together and playing for one team. And boy, some playing they did. Brothers formed the most talented and feared high school bigmen combo in Canada (and maybe even in the whole world).
Thon and Matur look very similar: both insanely tall, skinny, long armed and equipped with legs that are seemingly interminable. Their personalities have a lot in common too: hard-working, patient, mature for their age and with unique view on life, after all they’ve been through.
But their playing styles are somewhat different: Matur is a bit smaller, if you can call a 6’10 dude small, and quicker. He is a better slasher and ball-handler than Thon, and he’s also more instinctive player, which could be explained by the fact that he picked up basketball at the earlier age than his older brother and sort of grew up with it: he understands little nuances better, knows how to get open and how to get to his favorite spots on the floor.
Playing without Thon will be a challenge for Matur. He won’t have the luxury of having one of the country’s best shot blockers behind him, more likely he will be asked to do the heavy lifting on the less glamorous end of the court and be that last line of defense for his team. Also, having an equally talented, but more experienced older brother practicing with and/or against you every day helps, especially in terms of learning the game and the competition.
Matur’s future looks really bright: he’s already a coveted prospect and has several offers from top US colleges. But he also has another option: stay with his team for one more year as a post-graduate student, forego college and declare for the NBA Draft, just as his brother did this year.
Thon was ruled eligible for the Draft by the Association and now waits for his name to be called on Draft night. It’s crazy how his whole hype-train went: when the first mixtapes of long skinny guy who played bigman, but could do everything on the floor started to pop up online, he was presumed the next Garnett or Durant and dubbed the #1 player in his high school class.
With more mixtapes and more exposure scouts and critics started noticing holes in his game: he’s too stiff, he’s not instinctive, he is skilled, but he’s not trying to be an offensive threat, too skinny, not physical enough etc. Just last year Thon was projected to be a mid-first round pick, now you can see his name going 26th to Philadelphia, 28th to Phoenix or falling out of the first round entirely in some of the mock drafts.
Concerns about Thon’s ability to be productive in the league go beyond his weight, which at 216 lbs. more suits a wing player. Scouts are noticing hips and legs stiffness, which could limit his athletic development and also be a cause for injuries. Also, Thon’s body type is not the one that gains weight and strength well, especially in the lower body, which is crucial for basketball players. Thon has definitely added muscle mass in the past couple of years, but again, he seems to have lost some of his agility and quickness because of that.
Evaluators also point to the fact that Thon might be actually older than he’s listed and the fact that he might have allegedly competed against younger kids doesn’t do his draft stock any favors. But hey, not everything is that bad: at the NBA Draft Combine Thon wowed NBA executives with his maturity, work ethic and poise during the interview sessions. He also had a series of talks with the media, where he described himself as an intense, competitive leader and defensive ace, sort of in Garnett’s mold, and also fired a subtle shot at his mixtapes:
“People have got to stop with the mixtape stuff. That’s not me. I bet you those people that put out those mixtapes haven’t really sat through a whole game of mine, and watched it, and saw my defensive rotation, the way I communicate with my teammates, and the way I pass the ball.”
Thon also did extremely well in the athletics testing: he managed to get respectable 3.33 seconds in the three quarter sprint and 11.5 seconds in lane agility time, but his leaping ability blew the competition away: Thon’s maximum vertical leap was 36.5’ inches, and his standing vertical leap – 32’ inches. Both are the Draft Combine all-time records for players 6’11 or taller.
All doubts aside, you cannot but root for guys like Thon and Matur Maker and want them to do well. Two great kids with a tonne of adversity in the past, just living and working hard to make their dreams come true. That’s a heck of a story and a heck of a life.