Thon Maker and Ron Baker, you won’t find two more identical names in the NBA. However in ways that go beyond what is on the surface, the Thon/Ron duo couldn’t be any more different. David and Sam would like to take a look at these polar opposites, whilst introducing you to a game we at TFPP like to call “Thon Maker or Ron Baker?”. Answers are at the end, no peaking or checking until you have read through.
Question One: Who grew up in a place with a population of 157 people?
You may not find two more different journeys to the NBA. Maker grew up in war-torn Sudan and fled to Perth, Australia as a refugee when he was 5 years old. Baker grew up in Kansas and attended high school at Scott City, where he only grew to traditional NBA height in his senior year. Maker has been on NBA radar’s since he was in high school – having one of the most legendary mix tapes known to man (1.3 million views). Baker was a walk on (you read that right) at Wichita State as a Freshman – which is the inspiration for his co-authored children’s book “You’re Too Big To Dream Small”. Maker was a surprise Pick 10 in the 2016 NBA Draft. Baker went undrafted and fought his way onto the New York Knicks roster through Summer League.
Question Two: Who’s 2016/17 NBA shot chart does this image represent?
The shocks aren’t reserved purely for the wider NBA community when it comes to these two. Maker begins his professional career in one of the coldest cities in America while Baker now calls one of the busiest cities in the world his home. The wild journey to the NBA rolls on. This article is a tongue in cheek look at two NBA enigmas and their stories have been documented by plenty of others too. Their on court play not so much though, so let’s take a look at how Ron and Thon are faring in very limited NBA minutes so far – and find out if they are all opposites. Perhaps there are in fact more similarities to these two, than just their rhyming names.
Question Three: Who said this at a pre-draft workout; “It’s pretty simple. You’re hard-working, your effort are things you can bring to the table every day….Being here is obviously a pretty cool deal. Just make the most out of it and enjoy it.”
As mentioned above, Maker was a Sudanese refugee who grew up in Perth, which is where he began to hone his basketball skills. In order to maximise his exposure, Thon then moved to the USA and later Canada to continue to develop as a player. He’s one of the (very) few NBA player’s left that never attended College, as Maker went straight from preps to pro. The majority of the pre-draft analysis had Thon Maker’s draft range anywhere from mid 1st to early 2nd round. His pre-draft age range varied depending on who you believed too, the rumour potentially leaked by teams knowing he wouldn’t be available at their pick and tried to hurt his draft stock. When his name was called by the Bucks at #10, it was a shock…but perhaps it shouldn’t have been. How many 7’1″ players who shoot threes and have a 7’3″ wingspan are there in the NBA!? (OK, Porzingis).
On to the basketball side of things, and Thon’s rookie year has largely been developmental. He hasn’t played a lot, and when he has, it has largely been in junk time. Still – you can see the skillset that has tantalised NBA GM’s for years. First there was the unconfirmed cause of Birdman’s ACL tear, showing off his advanced footwork and range for a guy 7’1″. Then there was the coming out party vs Utah, which was his best pro game to date. While Maker hasn’t had huge opportunity to this point, he has shown that he has a couple of ready made NBA skills – 3pt shooting and shot blocking. Currently shooting 54% from the field and 61% from three (11-18) in his 26 games, Thon projects as a floor spacing and rim protecting big who could potentially be a match up nightmare. While I don’t think those FG% are sustainable, particularly for a jump shooting big, I’m seriously intruiged to see how he can fit in with the all-length team captained by Giannis Antetokounmpo. Spacing will be a premium attribute to continue to unlock The Greek Freak’s abilities, and the Bucks will be hoping that Point Giannis and Center Thon could be a lethal combo for years to come.
Thon has also shown a nose for the offensive boards, while also showing speed and effectiveness at closing out to shooters at the 3pt line. Considering how big a weapon the 3 ball is in today’s NBA, having a big able to chase shooters off their shot is a huge boon. Maker’s massive 7’3″ wingspan helps contest just about any shot, and he has shown the ability to mix it up inside despite his light frame. Given the physical similarities between Thon and the Zinger, perhaps that’s the “absolute best case scenario” for a player like Thon to aspire to. Is there room in the NBA for two unicorns?
Question Four: Who averaged a combined 5.4 blocks/steals per game in 50+ games in high school?
Baker signed a one year minimum salary deal after going undrafted, with the full salary only guaranteed a month ago on January 10. Up until that point he had only featured in 14 of a possible 38 games, yet found himself starting less than a week later. The starting stint only last 3 games, where it was likely a move by Hornacek to make a point to his team but was reward for ‘Burgundy’ nonetheless. Reward for what he had been able to show on the court. His movie star look combined with on court hustle, quickly gave him fan favourite status with the Knick faithful. Don’t be fooled though, Baker is not just an entertaining mascot (even though they need one!) for a Knick team on the ropes. He has earned his minutes and fits very well with the current roster, no matter how poorly assembled it is.
As seen in the video above; Baker can hit the open shot, plays pesky defense which leads to easy points at the other end and has also been able to drive with effectiveness – either finishing or setting up teammates with great vision. Although still a small sample size (just 290 minutes), Baker is a positive piece on the court where he posts a net positive of around +5 when on the court as opposed to off it. Any player that goes undrafted is clearly going to have his limitations and Baker has struggled to shoot the rock against NBA level defense (37/32/61 %). He is a player who doesn’t overdo it and sticks to his strengths. This is where his true strength lies.
While Baker is only shooting 32% from deep, he is a much better 53% when wide open and this is when the majority of his looks come. The gravity of star talent means Baker is often left open and he has proven to be reliable enough to knock down shots when the extra pass comes his way. When he is initiating the offense, he is again able to use the star power of those on his team to the right effect. Pick and roll action often results in Baker finishing at the rim or making the right pass to an open teammate. Finally, Baker has brought effort on the defensive end where New York has struggled to find any. He may never play 36 minutes a night but he is active on the ball and in the passing lanes (1.9 steals per36), leading to plenty of free points. Interestingly, a 2.6 steal percentage would place him in the Top 20 of qualifying players.
Question Five: Who was this said about; “…he was refreshing. Just having an appetite and being in there, ‘I want to work on this’.”
Many folks around the NBA will tell you, once you are on an NBA roster it doesn’t matter how you got there. We all know, to some degree that notion is in fact a little untrue. High draft picks, player egos and the business of the NBA will always win out. Ron though, is certainly testing where those boundaries lie in one of the biggest sporting markets in the world. While Thon bides his time with similar opportunities despite being taken in the top 10. The pre-NBA journeys are polar opposites, as are their appearances and how they landed in the NBA.
Are Maker and Baker a crazy juxtaposition and nothing more? The opposing profiles are too hard to ignore but if Ron and Thon were to meet, they could certainly talk about what they share in common too. Both are acclimatising to very different geographical situations than they are used to. Despite the different journeys, they could certainly empathise with the limited opportunity they have shared so far and contributing on the court where they can. While dealing with the new life and basketball experience combo, they could also speak of the thrill in starting an NBA game (3 times each) in your Rookie Season and becoming THE fan favourite for their respective franchises. So the two aren’t as different as they may appear.
Question One: Ron Baker. Utica, Kansas city. In fact, Baker often only had a handful of kids in his school classes. Each member of the town would have to watch Thon Maker’s mixtape 8,253 times to reach its current views. 1,295,808 at time of writing.
Question Two: Thon Maker. Baker has had more time on court and roughly doubles Maker’s attempts from outside, inside and everywhere in between. Albeit, at a significantly less efficient rate compared to Maker’s hot start.
Question Three: Ron Baker. After a Detroit Pistons workout he spoke of the opportunity. Full story and quote here.
Question Four: Ron Baker. According to Maxpreps.com, in 62 HS games Baker averaged 4.2 steals and 1.2 blocks. Maker actually beats this though, with 4.5 blocks and 1.4 steals in 53 games.
Question Five: Thon Maker. This was said by Kevin Garnett after working out with Thon in Milwaukee. Full story and quote here.