Detroit Pistons trade for Thon Maker has been a success

DENVER, CO - MARCH 27: Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) shoots over Detroit Pistons forward Thon Maker (7) in the second half at the Pepsi Center March 27, 2019. jokic missed the shot, but Nuggets went on to win 95-92. (Photo by Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - MARCH 27: Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) shoots over Detroit Pistons forward Thon Maker (7) in the second half at the Pepsi Center March 27, 2019. jokic missed the shot, but Nuggets went on to win 95-92. (Photo by Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images) /

The Detroit Pistons traded Stanley Johnson for Thon Maker in February. A swap of two young guys with potential, Maker is showing his here.

When the Detroit Pistons traded for Thon Maker, this writer right here was down in the dumps. They had just traded my favorite player, who I thought would be extremely important for us come playoff time.

I didn’t know much about Maker, outside of the fact his potential is high and he had not reached it.

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I had seen the highschool highlight tapes, I had seen the highlights that had people spazzing about him coming into the NBA. But, it wasn’t working in Milwaukee for Maker and I was praying it’d pan out in Detroit.

24 games played and three starts later, it has absolutely been a success for the Pistons.

One of the concerns with Maker, as told to me by fellow writer Joe Truck, was that he needed to be reeled in a bit when he’s on the court. It was going to be on head coach Dwane Casey to put him in spots where he succeeds and KEEP him there.

So far, Casey has done that and Maker has bought in.

Maker hasn’t been asked to do much at all with the ball in his hands. The Pistons have had him run dribble hands off, and spot up waiting for a catch and shoot three. They’ve kept it simple for him.

He’s shot 34 percent from downtown since arriving in Detroit. That isn’t spectacular, but it’s much higher than what Stanley Johnson was shooting for the Pistons (28 percent). The six percent increase is huge, and Maker being a reliable outside shooter has forced teams to pick their poison.

Help in on Blake Griffin or Andre Drummond, Maker gets an open corner three. Stay attached to Maker, you’re giving Reggie Jackson and Drummond room to run the pick and roll.

His overall numbers since arriving don’t do him justice. He’s averaging 6.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, and 1.1 blocks in 19.3 minutes per game off the bench.

When he first arrived, it was a bit of a struggle. Maker struggled on the offensive end and was a bit out of control on defense. But, that’s something Casey and any coach can work with. A player who is playing TOO hard on defense is a problem any coach would love to have.

Over the past 10 games though, you can see Maker is getting more comfortable with the system and his teammates.

The last 10 games, Maker is averaging 7.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks a game on 46 percent shooting from the field and 39 percent from downtown. He’s been lighting opposing teams on fire from beyond the arc, and this is a big reason the Detroit Pistons find themselves at the sixth seed currently.

Maker has also shown some off the dribble potential in these last 10 games. With Maker sparking it the way he has from downtown, teams have been giving him hard closeouts. Smartly, Maker has countered the closeouts with a pump fake and drive to the hole.

As you see in the clip above, it’s nothing fancy but extremely effective when you’re shooting well from downtown. Maker gives Zach Collins a simple pump fake and Collins bites. Maker attacks him immediately and uses his length to finish over a contest at the rim.

Like I said earlier, one of the concerns when trading for Maker was would you be able to reel him in a bit. Casey has done a great job at convincing Maker to buy in, and this is a good way to allow Maker to show his stuff every now and then.

Not feeding him in the post, not giving him set plays or isolations. Give him simple duties on offense such as catch and shooting, and if you shoot the ball well, other avenues will open for you. It’s easy in thought, but not as easy in play. I have to give Casey credit for this.

This clip has a shot to be play of the month for the Detroit Pistons. It starts with Drummond reading the defense, and instead of him going up for a tough layup like he would in recent years, he makes the tremendous read to kick to Maker in the corner.

Maker feeds Maurice Harkless a convincing pump fake, which has Harkless flying past him into the Detroit Pistons bench.

Maker drives and attacks Enes Kanter, forcing Kanter into a 2-on-1 situation with Drummond. Maker makes a beautiful dump off pass to Drummond, which leads to a highlight dunk for Dre.

This is a development the Pistons love to see and something they simply haven’t had over the years. Stan Van Gundy probably thought Jon Leuer would have this effect, but as we all know, a Leuer made three around here is celebrated like the second coming.

Johnson didn’t possess the shooting ability to force teams to respect him, and it often ended in him shooting a corner three that he would simply miss (that hurt to write).

Maker has brought a different dimension to the Pistons offense that has unlocked a new ceiling for them.

Oh, I haven’t even gotten to his defense.

As I said earlier, a player who plays too hard on defense is a great problem to have. It may lead to them being out of position sometimes, but you just have to reel them in.

That’s why I give Casey credit. Whether it was simply Maker getting more comfortable in the system or whatever else, Casey has a done good job allowing Maker to cause absolute havoc on defense while also reeling him in.

Specifically, I want to focus on the Dre-Thon lineups that we have been seeing.

This lineup has absolutely destroyed teams on defense.

Since the All Star break (21 games), the Detroit Pistons as a team have a defensive rating of 110.2. In lineups that include Drummond and Maker as your two big men, the Pistons defensive rating is 102.1 a whole 8.1 points better.

The Pistons net rating with this tandem on the court is +7.4, with the offensive rating checking in at 109.5. That’s 3.4 points better than any other 2-man lineup with Maker included. To give come context, the Drummond-Griffin tandem has a net rating of +5.5 with a defensive rating of 107.1.

The Detroit Pistons offense is of course better with Griffin and Drummond, with an offensive rating of 112.6, 3.1 points better than the Drummond-Maker lineup.

Now, the sample sizes are MUCH higher for Drummond-Griffin (1915 minutes) than it is for Drummond-Maker (206 minutes).

And no, the Pistons should not sit Griffin on the bench. The point is Drummond-Maker has been pretty effective on offense and is so insanely good on defense that they don’t have to be as good on offense as they are with Blake. The defense more than makes up for it, and it speaks volumes for Maker.

Giving Drummond a secondary rim protector allows him to chase shots more often at the rim, because he can trust that Maker has his back.

Maker’s hustle and “want to” to play defense is what I believe makes this lineup so effective. Maker actively searches to make the play at the rim, so much that he can find himself leaving his guy open on the perimeter.

But, once these guards get inside and up against the length and height of Drummond and Maker, it’s hard for them to even see the perimeter let alone make an accurate pass.

This play right here exhibits the hustle by Maker. Many players would give up on this play, but I promise you; I’ve never seen Maker NOT try to make this play. It’s like the dude has a never ending motor inside of him.

Tyreke Evans makes a nice move on Wayne Ellington and likely thinks he has an open layup.

Nah, Maker has other ideas.

Maker here completely hawks down

Michael Carter-Williams

. The guy Maker is guarding stands on the perimeter the whole possession, but you can see Maker’s attention is on Carter-Williams; ESPECIALLY when Carter-Williams turns his back to him, which likely was the biggest mistake here.

Lastly, Maker exhibits good IQ here. The shot clock is winding down, so he understands that he can go all out for this block without worry for a dump off pass.

Well, he might’ve went all out for it anyways, but we’ll award him some good IQ for this play.

Thon Maker’s arrival in Detroit started out a bit shaky, but now that he’s become more comfortable in the system has been smooth waters.

Maker still has a lot of things to work on, and MUST add some weight and muscle this off-season so he can successfully box out and guard bigger guys than him.

But, take this from a guy who whole went live on Twitter to say goodbye to Stanley Johnson…

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The trade has been an absolute success for the Detroit Pistons.