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Thon Maker, viral sensation, makes case for No. 18 pick during Pistons workout

All that glitters is not gold.

Such is the case in the mixtape era of high school basketball.

When it comes to wildly proportioned and athletically gifted prep stars, embedding oneself on the national basketball landscape has never seemed so possible.

For Thon Maker, that moment came in February of 2014, when his sophomore year mixtape was uploaded to YouTube, featuring the 7-footer crossing up defenders, dunking in faces, and burying jumpers, accruing well over 2 million hits as onlookers checked in on what was dubbed to be the next revolution.

Maker is 19-years-old now. And, having officially graduated from high school in Ontario last June, is now eligible for the 2016 NBA Draft, this despite having played another year of prep basketball last season in lieu of attending college (a complicated school career that saw Maker bounce from his native Sudan to Australia to the United States to Canada accounts for the strange circumstances regarding his eligibility).

Last Friday, Maker found himself in suburban Detroit, working out for the Pistons in hopes of cementing his place as a mid-first round draft pick come June 23. Already having worked out for Atlanta, Utah, Phoenix, Chicago, and Indiana, he’s been low key encouraged by early feedback.

“So far, teams, they’ve been able to see how I perform and most teams are getting very excited in terms of what we can do with him. ‘Oooh, like, man, we can’t wait. If we get him, we’ll get to use him this type of way.’ I don’t really care about that, to be honest. I just play basketball right now.”

Many scouting services have been quick to make note of Maker’s supposed inability to take the next step after arriving on the scene as a high school sophomore. Despite standing a shade taller than Andre Drummond, Maker currently weighs in at just 216-pounds and tends to slide into a wing position as opposed to dominating smaller defenders inside. Despite those trumpeting his all around skills, questions abound regarding the tightness of his handle and the consistency of his jump shot when translating to the next level. SI’s Ben Golliver:

Even though he usually plays hard, the game often goes on around him due to his lack of awareness and limited polish. He’s the polar opposite of someone like Kristaps Porzingis from a feel standpoint. The list goes on from there: his lack of strength will be a serious issue for at least the next few years, and his weak handle, shaky shot and somewhat clumsy mobility make it hard for him to work as a stretch big in the short term. He’s also not exactly menacing in the paint or defending the rim at this point.

Still, speaking with local reporters last week, Maker focused in on what he felt could be a mutually beneficial relationship with an All-NBA Third Team member like Drummond.

“I’ve seen it. I envisioned it. It’s a successful vision,” Maker said of a theoretical Drummond-Maker combo in the front court. “You get to see he can do damage on the inside, so you can stretch the floor out a little bit more, therefore there won’t be that much doubling. If he’s on the block, you’ve just got to move. You need a mover around him with my type of quickness and speed and having me around him would keep the defense really alert.”

With multiple outlets, ranging from the aforementioned Sports Illustrated to NBA.com’s Keith Langlois applying the “he’s two years away from being two years away” line infamously used by Fran Fraschilla to describe Brazilian import Bruno Caboclo, the jury remains out on an unpolished specimen like Maker.

In the meantime, the workouts rage on and the Pistons will be left to decide whether a question mark is worth the risk at No. 18.

Other participants in Friday’s workout:

  • Isaiah Taylor, Texas (6’1”, 170lbs)
  • Anthony “Cat” Barber, NC State (6’2”, 173lbs)
  • Pascal Siakam, New Mexico State (6’9”, 226lbs)
  • Stephen Zimmerman, UNLV (6’11”, 234lbs)
  • Petr Cornelie, Le Mans (6’11”, 220lbs)

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