Taking on new role, Thon Maker set to continue NBA journey with Long Island Nets
“I took him home the other day, he tried to give me gas money. I’m like ‘brother, I don’t need the gas money, we’re going at the same location.’
This is Long Island Nets guard Bryce Brown describing his teammate, Thon Marker: generous, fun…and eager to get to his next destination as quickly as possible,
A 7-foot, 230-pound center, Maker was drafted 10th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2016 NBA Draft, a lottery pick with high school and international experience a developmental play. Since then, the 25-year-old’s NBA journey has included stops in Detroit, Cleveland, and now Uniondale, NY with the Long Island Nets of the G League.
Maker’s goal with Long Island is simple: like any other G League player, he’s working toward an NBA call-up, but says he’s present and in the moment with his current team.
“I’m not one foot in one foot outside. I want to focus on where I am now and there. And whether there are attacks every day, practices, every game, shots or whatever, I’m just locked in, and then the chips will fall wherever they fall. But I’m here 100 percent.”
His teammates on Long Island describe Maker as “very likeable”, someone who’s been dying to take the team out to dinner since he arrived. “That’s exactly the kind of guy Thon is,” Brown says. (For the record, the team couldn’t make dinner work in Lakeland, but went to Hibachi on a road trip to Chicago. Eventually things worked out.)
And it’s not just around his teammates either. Maker is outwardly cheerful when interacting with fans, graceful with the media.
From speaking up in team meetings to being a leader in practice, Maker is “an amazing human being. [and] teammate. Long Island head coach Adam Caporn said, echoing many of his players’ sentiments.
This isn’t the first rodeo – or as it’s known in Australia, the Bushmen Carnival – for Maker and Caporn. The two were together in Australia’s 2019 FIBA World Cup Qualifying Squad, a run best characterized by a brawl that broke out during a match between Australia and the Philippines, in which Maker unfortunately figured prominently.
“Thon Maker’s famous kick”, as Maker remembers it. “From that moment, as staff and players, we had this bond, this relationship from that moment. But we turned that negative thing into something positive.
Caporn isn’t shy about acknowledging the “ups and downs” of the race (Australia eventually qualified for the World Cup), but remembers Maker as the same entertainment hub that’s once again on its listing. The bond is strong: Maker and Caporn have stayed in touch since 2019, and the coach was ultimately a “big reason” he chose the Nets…and why Caporn was happy to have him.
“I don’t think I’ve seen the best of him as a basketball player yet,” said the coach.
By signing with Long Island, Maker has joined a playoff-ready G League group, a group whose goal is to win it all by the end of the season. It didn’t start like that. The Nets were a team that didn’t even have a former NBA player in their starting lineup at the start of the regular season (and one of the few G League teams that didn’t have a player signing a contract). 10 difficult days when the coronavirus the NBA).
Now, Maker, along with signees Treveon Graham and Tyrone Wallace, are bringing much-needed NBA experience to Long Island. Among them, they have more than 500 NBA experience games, led by Maker’s 263.
Maker’s impressions of his team? “It’s run well, that’s the first thing,” he notes.
“They already have a great set of development standards. So you [can] just insert a drive and everything is fine. When I got here they told me everything about how they develop players and how they run the whole organization, [and] how they want hard working people. At the same time, it’s not like they’re stopping you from doing things. It’s just more, ‘okay, that’s what we do. We know it works. And we need you to kind of agree. And so far, you know, it’s been really fun.
Although he bounced between a few NBA teams centered in the Midwest, Maker had never found himself in a G League setting, not with Milwaukee, Detroit or Cleveland. Now in his first stint in the NBA developmental league, the former lottery pick’s mindset is without hubris.
“For me, my mentality every day is to improve, to attack every day to improve, whether it’s taking hits [or] work on my body,” he told NetsDaily. “I’m a person who can put their pride aside, put their ego aside and find ways to improve themselves.”
“Getting back to being myself, flowing into the game, not thinking too much, just playing the game,” he added. “The biggest goal would be to have an identity that I know. [That way, if] a team contacts me, I can say, ‘okay, that’s what you’re going to get out of Thon Maker’, okay. That’s what I’m building here, and the coaching staff know that and they’re helping me through it.
Prior to joining the Nets, the 7-foot center had a slew of options available, but none worked. Over the summer, Maker was forced to watch his fellow Australians fight for Olympic glory – led by current Brooklyn Net Patty Mills – from home.
Even with an offer to join the Boomers in Tokyo, Maker had instead opted to participate in off-season training for NBA teams as he explored his next destination.
“I was a bit stuck between national team games [and] workouts. As a free agent you try to solidify something on the spot, so that was the most important thing. But I was supporting these guys from the jump.
Finally, he landed in Israel, with Hapoel Jerusalem. Even without an NBA opportunity clearly in sight, he didn’t want to wait on his couch, hoping to get that phone call. Playing in Jerusalem was an opportunity to stay fresh.
With his new club, Maker got used to a whole set of new rules and was forced to be a more physically imposing player on the low and setting screens.
After a few uneventful weeks, the player and the team reached a ‘mutual agreement’ to part ways. Looking for the next opportunity, Maker considered playing in Europe and even returning home to Australia. When tough 10-day contracts became available in the NBA, his eyes once again turned to the United States.
Once Covid-19 subsided league-wide, hardship contracts also disappeared afterwards. And there stood the G League and his longtime friend and coach, Adam Caporn.
After not being in an NBA environment for so long, the plan was always to bring Maker in gradually. “Talking with the coach [Caporn] and the coaching staff, that’s the plan we agreed on because I haven’t played for a minute,” he said. “For example, I played a bit in Jerusalem. But after that, my last real game was three months ago. So they wanted me to take it slowly.
Before each game, Maker goes through his pre-game practice with fellow center Adam Woodbury and Long Island assistant Ben Strong, a former G League center. Strong detailed to NetsDaily the main areas of improvement for Maker going forward:
“Timing is really the most important thing for him. He’s a vet, he knows how to play. The most important thing with him is timing, [and] recover his legs. In defense, he is a bit slow to block shots. It’s like he’s right there, but a millisecond late, so we’re working on conditioning his legs to pop… it’s usually from a pick-and-roll situation, [so] get from the free throw line to the glass faster than the guard.
Here’s an example of such a block, from Maker’s time in Cleveland, where he recovers to pin Elfrid Payton’s layup attempt against the glass.
Maker echoes Strong’s sentiments about defensive rebounding, shot blocking, and the vitality of timing his jumps to do it. Plus, he says, “Running the floor is another part I worked on as well. I constantly want to run hard both ways, also coming back in defense. Those are the areas that have been most important to me, defensively. And you know, because I’m very proud of the defensive side.
And in attack?
“[Getting] pick him up and jump, putting his legs under him for his shot,” Strong said. “He just hasn’t played in a while. And then working when he’s at his lowest, getting him down so that when I hit him he doesn’t fall back because he’s kinda thin. Everything is centered around his legs. Once his legs come back, he’ll be fine.
Maker has struggled to shoot the ball so far as a net, nailing three at a rate of just 13%, but was a very capable shooter from beyond the arc in his final years in the NBA . He’s played pick-and-pop and pick-and-roll action over the past year, as well as corner threes, where he’s the NBA’s 36% career shooter, according to Cleaning The Glass.
“The coaching staff is doing a good job with those [shots] too,” notes Maker.
In a month of play with Long Island, Maker slowly found his footing, raising his per-game averages to around six points, six rebounds, and one block per game.
But even in a game where he’s not the most effective on the pitch, Maker was able to make an impact in other ways. Take the Feb. 4 double-overtime game against the Cleveland Charge, for example. Maker shot just 2 for 12 from the field but hit a 3-point dagger to seal the Nets’ victory in the second overtime. That was matched by strong defensive play on Cleveland’s towering Tacko Fall, even winning the opening jump in overtime against Fall, who is six inches ahead of him, to set the tone.
Just one game before the midseason hiatus, Maker notched his season-high Nets scoring high, scoring 13 points and 8 rebounds in a 115-86 win over Grand Rapids Gold.
Maker’s journey has been long and difficult, the story of a survivor. He was born in what is now South Sudan amid the Sudanese civil war that lasted 22 years. As a child, he crossed the border with his mother and brothers to Uganda, then across the Indian Ocean as a refugee to Perth in Western Australia, not far from Caporn’s hometown, where he started playing. Then he crossed the continent to Sydney and finally to North America, eventually following the man who mentored him to Toronto where he caught the eye of NBA scouts.
His next stop will certainly be elsewhere. A successful stint on Long Island would help, a title run even more. Longtime backer Caporn believes Maker can still be a “great basketball player,” as he said at the signing. Brooklyn has no rights to Maker and an NBA team could call him at any time. That’s how the G League works.
One thing, however, remains certain. Wherever he is, whoever pays the gas money, he’ll be grateful for the opportunity, glad he did. Because that’s exactly the kind of guy Thon Maker is.