Bucks Lead

A Year in Review: Examining the Rookie Seasons of Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon

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With the draft approaching, I wanted to take a moment to look back at the season that was for Milwaukee’s 2016 draft picks. With the 10th overall pick, the Bucks selected Thon Maker. And at pick number 36 they found one of the greatest steals of the draft in Malcolm Brogdon.

The now 20-year old Maker was born in Sudan, but spent most of his life in Australia. Milwaukee drafted him directly out of Orangeville Prep in Canada, where he had elected to stay a year as a post-graduate student rather than being a possible one-and-done in college. Thon is the last fingerprint of John Hammonds’ era of draft picks that featured numerous tall, long, unproven prospects with potential. Luc Richard Mbah Moute, Larry Sanders, John Henson, and most notably, of course, Giannis Antetokounmpo have all proven to be successful NBA caliber players. Others, like Joe Alexander, did not pan out; and the verdict is still out on Rashad Vaughn.

Taking players who are viewed as “boom or bust” prospects is not without its risk, but the Bucks have had luck recently. And I believe Thon can be an elite talent in this league. During the regular season, he played sparingly. Appearing in 57 games, with 34 starts, Thon averaged just shy of 10 minutes per game. He didn’t start his first game until late January, and then went on to start every game he appeared in from February 10 through the end of the season. Including the playoffs, where both of the Bucks’ rookies started all six games against the Raptors.

Maker’s mid-season emergence may be partially credited to Milwaukee not yet having a D-League affiliate to allow him to receive game experience. Coach Jason Kidd, knowing he’d prefer to continue bringing Greg Monroe off the bench, began starting Thon around the All-Star break. From this time, his minutes slowly rose, peaking with the 19 minutes he averaged during the playoffs, with a few anomalies. On March 31st, Thon totaled 24 minutes, and scored his current career high 23 points against the Pistons; shooting 75% from the floor, including 4 of 7 from three.

For the season, Maker averaged just 4.0 points and 2.0 rebounds per contest, with a shooting split of 45.7% FG, 37.8% 3PT, and 65% FT. His numbers spiked slightly in the playoffs, mainly due to playing more minutes. But neither his current or his projected value can be accurately judged based on his stats from this season. Ultimately, part of what you believe Thon can become is what you see and how he moves on the court. Recall that he had a unique route to the NBA and had not played any professional or college basketball prior to coming to Milwaukee.

Legend has it that former GM John Hammond became enamored with Maker, and was thus convinced to draft him number ten overall, during Thon’s workout with the Bucks. After the group workout had finished, and the other prospects left the court, Thon stayed for close to two hours working on his game and getting up shots.

His three-point shooting looked mostly smooth this season, and truthfully 37% is good for a rookie playing limited minutes. During the month of February, his first as a starter, Thon shot 13 of 26 (50%) from three. With the current trend throughout the NBA of seven-footers being able to shoot threes and defend the rim, affectionately referred to as “unicorns”, Thon Maker is a perfect fit for this league. I look forward to being able to watch him grow and develop, and will go as far as to predict him as a way-too-early candidate for Most Improved Player within the next two years. Something it took Giannis until, presumably, his fourth year to do. Giannis is one of the three finalists for the award this season, and our staff pick to win it.

Statistically, and quite obviously, Malcolm Brogdon had the better rookie season of the two young Bucks; although Malcolm is four years older than Thon. Brogdon is a finalist for Rookie of the Year, and I believe he will give the Bucks two individual award winners on June 26th at the NBA’s inaugural Awards Show on TNT. Had Joel Embiid’s meteoric start of the season sustained throughout, he would have walked away with ROY. But ultimately, Embiid appeared in just 31 games. Brogdon appeared in 75 of Milwaukee’s 82 games, with 28 starts.

Unlike Thon, Malcolm earned game minutes from day one, and didn’t miss a single game until mid-March. Averaging 26 minutes per game for the regular season, Brogdon put up a respectable 10.2 points, 4.2 assists, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game. He also posted an encouraging 2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Brogdon’s breakout moment came early in the season, when the Bucks hosted the defending champion Cavaliers on December 20th. His stat line was rather modest, scoring just six points and tallying five assists. But the rookie burst into everyone’s social media timeline when he faked a dribble hand-off to Mirza Teletovic, and used his hesitation dribble to get just enough separation from his defender to get to the rim, throwing down a strong reverse dunk. Impressive enough as it is, even more so when you realize the defender guarding Brogdon, and getting dunked on, was LeBron James.  Earlier in the same game, Malcolm put Kyrie on a poster as well; capping off the viral moment and kick-starting his Rookie of the Year campaign.

December was Brogdon’s strongest month statistically, punctuated by his first career triple double on New Year’s Eve in the United Center against the Bulls. Malcolm finished that game with 15 points, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds on 53% shooting. He shot over 50% from the field for the entire month of December, including 18 of 36 from beyond the arc.

Brogdon split his minutes between the two guard positions, including starts at both PG and SG. Whatever position he played, the Bucks offense was better with him on the floor. Milwaukee posted an Offensive Rating of 111.9 with Malcolm on the court, compared to 107.2 without him, good for a net of +4.7. Specifically, the Bucks shot a slightly higher percentage and recorded fewer turnovers during Brogdon’s minutes. The four years he played at Virginia and mastering the fundamentals of the game, were huge factors in his rookie year success.

Two very different rookies, with unique paths to the NBA, who both shined this season in Milwaukee. I think the Bucks have effectively secured a talented core groups of players, a core which Brogdon and Maker can be a part of, that will allow them to be a major contender in the Eastern Conference for years to come. With Hammond’s departure to Orlando, we will see if Milwaukee’s success in the draft can continue into this new era.

About Preston Dubey

Lifelong basketball fanatic and Bucks’ supporter

I coach basketball; but I eat, sleep, and breathe the game.

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