The people who put together NBA mock drafts aren’t exactly showering Thon Maker and Brice Johnson with love.
Consider Maker, the intriguingly talented 19-year-old from Sudan:
– ESPN.com has the 7-foot-1 Maker ranked No. 19.
– HoopsHype ranks Maker 27th
– nbadraft.net has Maker at 28.
– NBA.com doesn’t project Maker going in the first round
– Draftexpress.com predicts Maker will go No. 35.
Such is the extensive range for arguably the most mysterious player in the draft. Yet, his draft range could be even more extensive if you listen to some veteran NBA officials.
Two longtime NBA scouting officials, who I spoke to within the last few days, contend Maker is ascending in the pecking order like no other draft prospect.
“I think he could go as high 12,’’ a Western Conference scouting director said of Maker. “I got him between 12 and 18.’’
Added an Eastern Conference assistant general manager: “I think he goes from 15 on down to 21 or so.’’
As crazy as it sounds, is it out of the realm of possibilities Maker could go even higher than what those NBA officials project?
Maker raised a lot of eyebrows recently during a workout for NBA teams In New York. His team workouts have gone equally well, including one Wednesday for the Milwaukee Bucks who have the 10th pick, along with two second-round picks at Nos. 36 and 38.
While still pencil-thin and tipping the scales at 218 pounds, according to an NBA coach whose team worked him out, Maker possesses a solid skill-set. He does one thing particularly well and that’s shoot the ball. In New York, he put on a shooting clinic.
“Thon Maker is a hell of a player,’’ said Johnson, the ex-North Carolina power forward who also worked out for the Bucks on Wednesday. “I went against him in Orlando as well. He can shoot the ball.’’
While Maker would seem to be a stretch for the Bucks at 10, one should remember the team, especially since John Hammond became the GM eight years ago, has frequently drafted players with alleged upside instead of passing taking more proven players: i.e. Joe Alexander, Brandon Jennings, Larry Sanders, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Rashad Vaughn.
Maker fits into that mold. He is clearly several years away from being a major-minutes type player, but he also has major upside, not to mention major confidence. When I asked him to compare himself to another player, Maker responded, “I’m a modern-day version of Kevin Garnett.’’
We’ll see about that. But there’s no question Maker could be a gem that just needs some polishing.
“There are a lot of questions about him,’’ Bucks director of scouting Billy McKinney said of Maker. “Dave (Babcock, the Bucks vice president of player personnel) and I have watched him a lot; I wouldn’t say a lot but during the past couple of years in different events.
“He’s got a long way to go as a player, but he has a lot of potential.’’
To possibly being the Bucks’ top pick.
Another player flying under the radar?
Johnson is generally regarded as a middle to late first-round selection.
Sources claim the Bucks are among his biggest fans, with some in their scouting department extremely high on him. Johnson, who played four seasons at North Carolina, capped his collegiate career with a banner season, averaging 17 points and 10.5 rebounds in leading the Tar Heels to the NCAA title game.
The only real knocks on Johnson’s game, some scouts note, are his alleged lack of shooting range and his tendency to take possessions off.
Yet, Johnson and McKinney both insisted Johnson simply wasn’t asked to shoot from the outside in Tar Heels coach Roy Williams’ system, but rather was instructed to park around the basket.
“I wasn’t asked to do that,’’ Johnson said of being a primary scorer or being allowed to shoot from the perimeter. “We had other guys (designated) to shoot before me.’’
Said McKinney: “He didn’t get to do that (shoot outside) at North Carolina.’’
McKinney also addressed the talk about Johnson’s supposed lack of determination and focus.
“There have been some questions that he’s acknowledged about his intensity,’’ McKinney said. “But here’s a guy who led his team to the Final Four, had a storied career at North Carolina and looked like they were going to win the title and he was the best ballplayer on their club.
“He did a lot of fabulous things. Every year he got better. If you talk about mental toughness, I can recall being at practice, his freshman year, and Roy was really on him.. But he and Roy have a good relationship and you saw how well he performed for Roy over the course of his career.’’
McKinney is convinced Johnson’s pro career will be bright.
“He had a really, really good workout today,’’ McKinney said. “I think he’s going to be a really good pro.’’
- Brice Johnson on Bucks forward John Henson, a friend who also went to North Carolina: “I have never seen anybody so happy all the time like him. He’s always in a good mood.’’
- Daniel Hamilton decided to declare for the draft after his second season at Connecticut, a season in which he demonstrated his all-around skills.
The 6-foot-7 Hamilton averaged 12.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.5 assists. He was one of only two NCAA Division I players to record more than 450 points, 300 rebounds and 150 assists. The other was Louisiana State’s Ben Simmons, the consensus No. 1 player in the draft.
“He is a very crafty scorer, and I think he’s a guy who will be able to play some two and three with his size,’’ McKinney said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if someone took him later in the first round.’’
- Hamilton said Caron Butler, a former UConn star who is now with Sacramento, has been a big supporter of his during the draft process.
“I saw Caron at the pre-draft camp (in Chicago),’’ Hamilton said. “He said that I should be myself, to play my game. He was definitely offered me encouragement.’’