Kevin Garnett working with Thon Maker (Courtesy of the Milwaukee Bucks)
The Bucks are trying to build Maker's muscle mass, but gradually. He's gained about 10 pounds since the summer to bring him up to 215. Eventually, perhaps, he will settle into the 230-240 range—Garnett's playing weight for much of his career—but that could be years away. Adding weight too quickly could lead to soft-tissue injuries. The Bucks intend to be methodical about this.
When Maker arrived, the Bucks measured his muscle mass, limb by limb, using a DEXA scan—essentially, an X-ray of his body composition. That helped shape his workout program, which for now is focused on building up his hips, trunk and quadriceps. (Despite the wiry appearance, Maker already has great upper-body strength, the trainers say.)
In a typical week, Maker will work in the weight room three to four times and log more than 20 miles of running between team practices and individual work.
And it all ties together. The trainers have spent months developing Maker's squat technique and strength, which provides a base for both his jump shot and his defensive stance.
"He squats beautifully," strength and conditioning coach Mike Davie enthuses.
They are working on his acceleration, especially laterally, because today's pace-and-space game requires big men who can defend a lot of ground.
"His ability to, like, tag somebody and get back this way, he's brilliant," Davie says. "He needs some technical work. In terms of speed time, he's as good as anybody on the squad."
If the Bucks needed Maker to play 20 minutes a night, he could. But their stocked frontcourt provides Maker the luxury of developing his body, working, observing, preparing.
"I've never heard him complain about not playing," Davie says. "He understands. And he just gets to work."
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Photo by Sara Stathas for B/R Mag
Steve Novak had conflicting thoughts when he glimpsed the mystery kid at a draft workout last spring. First: "Wow!" Then: "WTF?"
Maker was working his way around the three-point arc on the Bucks' practice court, sinking 12 of his first 14 tries.
"And I was like, 'This guy's unbelievable!'" Novak, the veteran sharpshooter, recalled before being waived by the Bucks on February 2. "And then he would, like, shoot one off the backboard."
So, yeah, there was room for improvement.
When Maker returned in July as the Bucks' top draft pick, the coaches liked what they saw.
• A smooth jumper that just needed some tweaks.
• Rudimentary post moves—a hook shot, a fadeaway, a stepback.
• A deft handle, including that internet-famous crossover dribble.
Mostly, they loved his boundless energy.
"He might not be the most polished," assistant coach Josh Broghamer said of his first glimpse of Maker, "[but] he's contesting every shot. He's trying to guard every player. … He's trying to hit everyone on screens."
It takes a village to raise a prodigy, and every Bucks assistant has spent time with Maker over the last seven months—from 74-year-old coaching legend Tim Grgurich to defensive coordinator Sean Sweeney to big-man coach Greg Foster. Kidd and his top deputy, Joe Prunty, are also deeply involved.
A typical day begins at 7:45 a.m., two hours before practice, and often ends well past sundown, when Maker returns for night shooting sessions. After breakfast, he'll spend 30 minutes in the weight room with Davie, then head to the court for an hour of individual work with Grgurich and Broghamer. All before Kidd whistles the start of practice at 10 a.m.
After practice, Maker might spend another 20-25 minutes going one-on-one with Miles Plumlee or shooting with Antetokounmpo. (Plumlee was traded to Charlotte on February 2.)
Long after sundown, Maker often returns to the gym for his own night shooting sessions. Or at least he did until late January, when the Bucks training staff—concerned that Maker was working too hard—kindly ordered him to stop. Yes, they effectively had to bar the kid from the gym.
"He wants to be great. He's not scared to say it."
— GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO
Broghamer, the youngest member of the staff at 26, might spend more time with Maker than anyone. He says Maker's jump shot, solid on Day 1, has undergone minor surgery.
When Maker arrived, Broghamer says he was jumping too high—about eight to 10 inches, a needless extra burst for a 7-footer who can already shoot over most opponents—so the Bucks have brought it down to about five inches.
The rationale: High takeoffs fatigue a player faster, leaving him with less lift as the game wears on and thus a harder time replicating his shot.
"The easier the shot is, the easier it is to replicate," he says, echoing one of Kidd's key teaching points. "When you're used to shooting it at a certain point, and you can't get to that point, it's hard to make it consistently."
Maker also had a habit of pausing slightly between the moment he planted his feet and his jump, resulting in a "fling" and a flat shot, Broghamer says. Those mechanics have been adjusted so that every shot begins with a smooth, predictable pattern as he gathers the ball: left foot down, right foot down, then both up together in one fluid motion.
Now? "It's all together. He gets that beautiful arc you saw." Now, when Grgurich asks Maker to shoot from behind the green sideline, 25 to 30 feet from the basket, Maker has no problem delivering an effortless swish.
He would surely benefit from more game reps, but the Bucks do not yet own an NBA D-League franchise.
So Maker keeps working and waiting for opportunities. He made his first start in a January 21 game at Miami, when Parker was benched for disciplinary reasons. The box-score line was modest: six points (1-of-3 shooting), one rebound and one steal in 18 minutes. But his frantic energy was unmistakable.
Photo by Sara Stathas for B/R Mag
On any given day, Maker might work out with his fellow big men on post play before practice, then join the guards for perimeter footwork sessions after practice. Then he fuses it all together to unleash in his next one-on-one battle with Plumlee, or Monroe, or Antetokounmpo.
That killer crossover-to-stepback move? Maker got Antetokounmpo on it, too.
"He wants to be great," Antetokounmpo says. "He's not scared to say it. Like, he come up to me and be like, 'I'm trying to follow in your footsteps. I'm trying to do what you did. And I'll do whatever it takes.'"
Antetokounmpo had an early advantage: The Bucks were terrible when he arrived, allowing him to join the rotation immediately. He played 77 games as a rookie, including 23 starts, averaging 6.8 points and 4.4 rebounds in 24.6 minutes.
But Maker joined a Bucks team on the rise, with sights on the playoffs. Team officials resolved to use this as a development year, meaning his biggest highlights would be confined to the practice court. That may be changing.
Maker recently started back-to-back games at center, alongside Antetokounmpo and Parker, and showed flashes of that tantalizing potential. In a February 1 game at Utah, Maker twice swatted away layup attempts by Jazz star Rudy Gobert, then capped the night with a trio of fourth-quarter three-pointers. He finished with career highs in minutes (24) and points (12).
For a few moments, at least, the world could see what teammates have been gushing about.
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