The above is a video comparing the potential of Ben Simmons, the projected number one overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft against Thon Maker, a seven-foot phenom who self-admittedly only began playing basketball at a serious level in January, 2011. Maker is currently slotted to go Number 23 to the Boston Celtics in Chad Ford’s latest NBA Mock Draft, while others have classified him as a likely second round pick due to the raw nature of his game. However, the likelihood of Maker hearing his name called be Adam Silver on June 23, 2016 – whether in first or second round – remains to be seen, as Maker currently waits for the NBA to decide whether he is actually draft-eligible and able to remain in the draft.
Who Is Thon Maker?
Thon Maker was born February 25, 1997 in Republic of South Sudan, and has been on the move ever since. At the age of five, Maker moved with his aunt and younger brother to Uganda in order to escape the civil unrest occurring in his home country. Thereafter, Thon moved to Australia, where he eventually settled down and picked up soccer as his primary sport.
In 8th grade, Maker – with the help of his guardian, Ed Smith – moved to the United States. During his freshman and sophomore year, Thon played varsity basketball for Carlisle School, a private school located in Martinsville, Virginia; Maker moved to Ontario, Canada to attend Orangeville District Secondary School for his last two years.
Prior to the completion of his final year at Orangeville, Maker announced his decision to reclassify into the class of 2015, thereby allowing him the opportunity to enroll in college for the 2015-2016 season. However, citing a heavy workload and the opportunity to play a year with his brother, Maker elected to remain as part of the class of 2016 and play a 5th year of high school basketball.
Maker’s Hurdle To The NBA
On April 3, Maker announced his intent to bypass college and enter the NBA Draft. However, the last NBA Draft to allow prep-to-pro players took place in 2005, where fans witnessed Martell Webster (#6) and Andrew Bynum (#10) get drafted in the lottery by the Portland Trailblazers and Los Angeles Lakers, respectively, and a total of six other players drafted throughout the first and second round.
In 2005, substantial changes were adopted in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) entered into by the league and its players that effectively prohibited NBA draft entrants coming straight from high school and adopted the “one-and-done” rule. This ban carried over into the 2011 NBA CBA, and is reflected Article X, which, in summary, states that no player shall be eligible for selection in the NBA Draft unless: (a) he is at least 19 years old during the calendar year for which the draft is held – meaning if he turns 19 at any time during the year the draft is held, whether before or after, he meets this qualification; and (b) at least one NBA season has past since he graduated from high school, or if he did not graduate, since the graduation of the class with which he would have had he done so.
Maker meets the first hurdle, having turned 19 in February. However, in addition to the two requirements mentioned above, prior to entry, the player must meet one of a number of additional qualifications, with one being that the player graduate from – or at least attend – a four-year college or university in the United States. A potential draftee may circumvent this requirement by signing a player contract with and playing for an overseas team prior to the January 1st preceding the draft; this tactic was used by Brandon Jennings when he decided to skip college and play professionally in the Euroleague in order to gain entry into the 2009 NBA Draft. If the player graduates from high school but meets neither of these requirements, four years must elapse since his high school graduation prior to being eligible for entry.
Maker has neither attended college, signed and played with a professional overseas team, nor have four years passed since his graduation from Orangeville. However, because Maker expressed his desire to be selected in the 2016 NBA Draft prior to the NBA Early Entry Eligibility Deadline of April 24, he qualifies as an “Early Entry Player,” and therefore meets one of the other additional requirements presented for eligibility. Thus, the only question is whether Maker’s 5th year at Orangeville satisfies the “one-year gap” needed to satisfy the second element for qualification. Maker’s camp believes he does, stating that graduated from Orangeville in June 2015, thereby making his 5th year of high school technically a post-graduate year.
What Will the NBA Decide?
Maker has already stated that if the NBA approves his entry, he will remain in the draft and will not entertain the thought of withdrawing in order to head to college. Thus, the ball is entirely in the NBA’s court.
This an matter of first impression for the NBA.
By the letter of the CBA, if it is determined that Maker graduated high school in 2015, as his camp asserts, then the 2016 NBA Draft is technically one-year removed away therefrom, and he should be allowed entry. However, the spirit and intent of the rule adopted in 2005 was to prevent players from entering straight from high school based on the belief they lack the maturity and physical toughness to last in the league. Thus, it’s not far-fetched to believe that the NBA decides that Maker’s 5th year of high school counts towards his high school career.
Furthermore, the fact that Maker had the chance to reclassify as part of the 2015 class, yet elected to remain part of the class of 2016 – and was selected to participate in the 2016 Nike Hoops Summit in which the top United States high school players go up against the best teenagers the world has to offer – does not bode well in his favor.
However, it is it the plain terms of the CBA that should prevail, and if Maker has a high school diploma declaring him a graduate as of June 2015, then the fact that Maker stayed behind for an extra year should be of no effect. The reason why players elect the “one-and-done” route, or choose to play overseas in lieu thereof, is because they are no longer eligible to remain in high school. Because of this rare instance, not only is this an instance of first impression for the league, but also one not likely to be repeated. That may help Maker, because it allows the league to make a decision without the burden of being concerned with setting precedent that may go against the grain of the CBA.
The facts of the matter indicate that Maker has a strong case, and thus should be allowed to enter the 2016 NBA Draft. Whether he is allowed to do so will boil down to how the Article X of the 2011 CBA is interpreted by the league. As of now, we can only wait and see if Maker will be allowed to chase his dream, or whether he will have to wait another year (or three) to do so.