The Denver Stiffs will be covering all of the top prospects in the 2016 NBA draft in our Stiffs NBA draft series. Check back daily for video, stats, and analysis of all of the projected first round prospects.
Stiffs Draft Series
Since Thon is bypassing the NCAA, his stats are somewhat irrelevant since most of his competition was against vastly inferior opponents. Instead, check out his measurables.
Physical tools: Thon stands 7'1" and has a 9'3" reach. He only has to jump eight inches to touch the rim. Given his 33" vertical, Thon can elevate to heights that very few NBA athletes are able to match. This has the potential to translate onto both ends of the court. As an offensive big man he has the ability to create gravity toward the basket on rolls and cuts to the rim. Defensively he has the ability to have a Roy Hibbert-like verticality protecting the rim.
Open court: Thon's athleticism doesn't translate perfectly in half court settings as he can be a bit clunky at times, but in the open floor, he has the speed and leaping ability to be a great finisher on the break.
PnR mobility: Thon's mobility in general will likely develop into elite teritory for centers his height but at the moment, the part that sticks out the most is his ability to hedge ball screens and recover out on the perimeter. That skill has become increasingly important over the last half decade or so as teams run more and more pick and roll.
Defensive instincts: While Thon has the physical tools to be an elite rim protector, he's often a step behind the play and out of position to be as effective as he should be. Defensive instincts can be among the most difficult thing for players to learn so there is no guarantee that time will bring development. Thon will need very detailed coaching and a lot of patience to learn the proper positioning and timing on the defensive end, especially around the basket.
Offensive instincts: Thon would likely benefit from stripping his game down to the most bare essentials first before adding more skills later. He seems to love his jump shot much more than his percentages warrant. He also trusts his handle more than his high turnover rate warrant. Centers like DeAndre Jordan are offensive juggernauts by perfecting one skill, the roll to the rim. Thon has some raw skills that may blossom at some point down the road, but he'd be helped by mastering the art of the roll first. At the moment, he doesn't seem to understand when to roll or how to roll to the basket to maximize his gravity. He also misses passing lanes and open cutters far more than he should to become a reliable playmaker.
Touch: Thon lacks touch on both his jump hooks and his jump shots. His efficiency on his jump shot is decent enough but the motion and footwork seems to change quite a bit and the form is far from text book. If he is going to succeed in the NBA, he'll have to develop touch around the rim or bulk up quite a bit to become a power finisher.
Strength: Given his height and age, it's no surprise that Thon is skinny as a rail and gets pushed around by small, stockier players. In the NBA, every center will be stronger and more physical than he likes. It'll be on him and his work ethic to develop the strength to hang with guys like DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond.
1. Tyson Chandler - He's nowhere near the player that Chandler was in his prime but he has the length to be an elite finisher and rim protector, if not the skill.
2. Nerlens Noel - Nerlens is a slender guy with great athleticism. However, that athleticism hasn't translated the way you'd expect, especially alongside another big like Jahlil Okafor. Still, there is some raw talent there that has plenty of upside.
3. Hasheem Thabeet (worst case) - Similar size and athleticism. Thabeet never achieved the potential that many NBA teams expected. Thon could end up in the same boat.
Fit with the Nuggets
It's unlikely that Thon will receive major minutes in his rookie season regardless of where he plays. The team that drafts him will probably have a long-term outlook with him, probably expecting him to play more minutes in the D-league than anywhere else. In that regard, I'm not sure he's a great fit in Denver. His outside shot probably isn't enough to make him a serviceable floor spacer which means he'd be difficult to pair alongside Kenneth Faried. Faried is actually similar in a lot of ways to Thon, albeit much better at finishing above the rim. Ultimately, Thon isn't a natural fit on the roster and may have a hard time finding minutes behind Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic, and Joffrey Lauvergne.
Projected Draft Spot
CBS Sports (Vecenie) - 2nd round
I remember standing right beside Hasheem Thabeet last summer at Las Vegas Summer League and wondering how he never panned out in the NBA. At 7'3" and with the perfect build and mobility to be an elite NBA center, Thabeet never really figured out the NBA game or refined his instincts to become a top rim protector. Thon Maker has a similar build to Thabeet. He's a couple of inches shorter but has an incredible wing span, reach, and the athleticism to become a Tyson Chandler type player.
Thon is also the unfortunate victim of the Youtube hype machine. His mixtapes have been on Youtube for over two years, many of them billing him as the 7'1" Kevin Durant. Comparisons like that have done a disservice to Thon since his skillset is much more raw than Durant's. Although no comparison is perfect, he's much closer to a Kenneth Faried type of hustle player than he is to a Durant type skill player.
Nonetheless, Thon is a wild card in this year's draft. He's coming straight from prep school into the NBA, bypassing NCAA thanks to a technicality, and therefore much of what is known about him is based off of scrimmages and his performance in select events like Nike Hoops Summit. He certainly has a very high ceiling and his ball-handling and shooting skills have the foundation to evolve into workable tools, but he'll enter the league as a hustle guy with height and athleticism and little more. I'd be fine with the Nuggets taking him in the 2nd round but most mock drafts have him going later in the first. His upside means that he's worth the risk if a team has the patience and roster spot to spare.