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Despite being a reach, drafting Thon Maker would make sense for the Charlotte Hornets with the #22 pick

Thon Maker's path to the NBA is unconvential, but his abilities and potential fit much of what the Hornets are looking for in front-court players.

Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images
Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images

Whether Thon Maker ultimately makes it in the NBA, his path to the league could have precdence. NBA rules declare that a player cannot enter the NBA Draft straight out of high school, and must be at least 19 years old and one year removed from graduating. Most prospects play one year of college ball, or play in another professional league (overseas, D-League, etc) before becoming eligible.

Maker did not attend college, nor did he play overseas. Instead, he attended Orangeville Prep, located near Toronto, Ontario. Prep schools like Orangeville are scattered all over the United States and Canada, and when players attend them after graduating, they are typically viewed as a 5th year of high school. Players use these schools to get an extra year of exposure, and hopefully up their status as a college (and potentially pro) prospect. Maker's camp concluded that this 5th year of high school wasn't high school at all, and viewed as a post-graduate year. They took their case to the NBA, and surprisingly, the NBA agreed. With Maker eligible to enter the NBA draft, he did just that, and his path could potentially add an additional path for players to enter the draft without attending college.

What's intriguing about this however, is that Maker doesn't enter the draft as a top five prospect, or even a lottery candidate. Most mock drafts have him as a mid-to-late first round pick, with some viewing him as a 2nd rounder. One could make the argument that a year of college or non-NBA professional play would have benefited him, but that's a moot point now that he's entered the draft.

Maker resides originally from the Sudan. He's 19, and has lived all over the United States, and most recently near Toronto with Orangeville Prep. He stands at 7'1'', and has a 9'3'' standing reach. He's fairly mobile as well, which allows him to get up and down the floor.

The Charlotte Hornets brought Maker in for a workout, so there's interest from them, at least intially. It make sense, as Maker tested really well at the combine, and Rich Cho tends to favor prospects that grade well. Beyond his combine measurements however, Maker displays a few things that the Hornets want out of a frontcourt player.

Beyond his mobility, Maker possesses a great motor. This can often be code speak for "he's really lacking in other areas, but at least he plays hard!" and that's kind of the case with Maker (but more on that in a bit). That said, where Maker's "motor" likely intrigues the Hornets is with how physical he likes to be, particularly in the paint. Maker loves to crash the boards, and doesn't appear afraid of mixing it up with stronger front court players. While he lacks strength at this point, it's encouraging to find a prospect that likes the physical side of the game. One of Cho and Steve Clifford's post-season comments were their desire to become more physical in the post next season. This doesn't mean simply finding a strong body and sticking him down low (in other words, Jason Maxiell), but rather someone who wants to be physical. The Hornets saw how dominate Hassan Whiteside could be simply by being more physical than any of their frontcourt players, so they have to like any prospect that's willing to match that.

From a skill standpoint, Maker can handle the ball a little bit, but don't ask him to lead the break. His best skill is his outside shooting, which at this point is solid, but falls victim to being his only capable form of scoring in the halfcourt. He isn't known to take players off the dribble, and instead settles for jumpshots too often. HIs offensive game will have to expand if he wants to become a threat from the outside. Still, that he possesses a face-up game checks off another box of what Charlotte likes in their front-court players.

So to recap, Maker is fairly athletic and mobile, likes to play physical in the paint, and can shoot from the outside. These are things worth building on, but there are concerns regarding other parts of his game. For one, he struggles in basic halfcourt settings. He isn't a capable passer, and tends to make the wrong decision on offense. Considering the Hornets love ball movement, spacing, and sharing the ball, it doesn't bode well for him fitting in immediately. He'll need to get stronger as well, but that could be said of every draft prospect. Getting stronger isn't a concern at this point, but adjusting to an NBA offense is.

All that said, if the Hornets draft Maker, he'll likely spend most of the season in the D-League with the Greensboro Swarm. Player development is one of the, if not the reason Charlotte invested in the Swarm, and the consistent playing time he'd receive in Greensboro would help him learn the Hornets' offense while developing the parts of his game needed to excel when running that offense. He'd be a slight reach with the 22nd pick, but the Hornets don't have a second round pick. If they're sold on him, taking him 22nd wouldn't be risky given his potential. He does a few things the Hornets like, just don't expect him to contribute right away.

If you're interested, here's a mixtape of Thon Maker from last August, complete with overly-dramatic background music: