“It’s an interesting dynamic, because anytime there’s money involved, there’s going to be people trying to game the system…
It has become the trend of many college teams, a trend perfected by John Calipari, to bring in massive classes of ‘One-and-Done’s to compete for singular NCAA championships, but recently, Duke has followed suit with players like Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Brandon Ingram. This method of coaching and recruiting has become the norm of college basketball, to the chagrin of many college basketball purists who insist that the system is now rigged against smaller schools. According to critics, these players are making the game unfair and turning it into a game not about teams, but about overwhelming individual talent.
Enter Thon Maker. The 7-foot Sudanese forward is 19, per the age requirement of the NBA, and graduated high school in a “post-graduate” year in June of 2015. There are a few problems with Maker as a pro prospect, and most of it has to do with the fact that NBA scouts weren’t expecting him to declare early, so there isn’t much tape of Maker playing against elite competition. For example, during the 2015 Nike Hoops Summit, Maker managed only 2 points, and barely saw time on the floor:
“More than anything, the Hoops Summit showed that he is just not ready to contribute quite yet. Maker had only two points and didn’t look comfortable on the floor.”
Maker’s rise to prominence could more accurately be described as a viral phenomena than a display of legitimate, ball-in-ball-out dominance. His hoops mixtape, which can be seen below, had people salivating over what can be described as an NBA 2K ‘My Player Mode’ type of domination, a 7-footer using spin moves and dunking all over people.
The problem is that some have Maker slotted as the 16th best player in the class of 2016, which is not by any means guaranteed a spot in the lottery. Not only that, but he was older and bigger than almost all of his competition. There are certain advantages that coaching can’t overcome, and trying to guard a 7-foot star athlete as a high schooler is one of them.
In an interview with Draft Express (who has Maker going 39th overall), Maker explains some of the players he looks up to in the Association, particularly Kristaps Porzingis, who he notes as a “mobile big” and as a role model for how he could be used at the next level. This is not a bad player for him to look up to as he himself is also a capable shooter with an obvious height advantage if he is to play as a wing on offense (or defense, for that matter). Maker has a center’s height with a forward’s offensive skills, and will likely be used in most systems as a 4.
More important than him as an individual talent, however, is how the NBA’s landmark decision to allow Thon to enter the draft will affect general discussion about one-and-done players and the one-year requirement for players before they can join the league. Many publications have written about the absurdity of this rule and how it not only fails to benefit college players who could otherwise have declared for the draft, but how it actually impedes their development as a player.
Take, for example, Ben Simmons, a player hyped as the number one pick in the 2016 draft since it was 2014. He unquestionably dominated as an individual player throughout his entire career, but his college team, the LSU Tigers, were one of the most mediocre teams in the already mediocre SEC. Now there are rumors that he may even be unseated as the top pick by Duke’s Brandon Ingram. In an article published by USA Today, Simmons spent his college career not on classes, but on “being a better player and teammate,” which is the only sensible thing for an obvious NBA-caliber talent to do. (Chris Korman, Ben Simmons shows the NCAA why the one-and-done rule is a sham)
Think about it: Does Simmons really need to take oceanography? Hell, I don’t understand oceans, and I’m a student, not a dude going to play professional basketball for millions of dollars. I didn’t even pass one of my freshman elective, yet many give Simmons flack for not maintaining his GPA at a school he will, at most, spend one year at.
The NCAA uses its classic, condescending (if not, plantation-style) logic that they know what’s better for players than the players do. Such an obvious charade to cover up a money grab (fans probably want to see Simmons and Ingram play college) is an insult to the players that they presume to protect. Through their continued exploitation of young athletes for no pay while universities and TV networks make millions of dollars, the NCAA essentially represents the Enron of amateur sports.
The one-and-done rule needs to die. Maybe Thon Maker isn’t ready as a player to take on the NBA, but as the possible catalyst for a new movement, he is easily one of the most compelling of the players in the 2016 NBA Draft Class.