Former University of Wisconsin star Michael Finley was present at the Kohl Center, dressed in a suit and tie befitting his role as a rising front-office executive for the Dallas Mavericks.
Devin Harris was in the house as well. The former Badgers star didn’t play, having just returned to practice after offseason foot surgery, but he was there on the bench with his Mavericks teammates.
Former Madison Memorial star Wesley Matthews was in his customary position in the Mavericks’ starting lineup and, according to Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, is “cut and raring to go” now that he’s a full season removed from tearing an Achilles tendon.
But on a night when the best of Madison’s recent basketball history were everywhere at the Kohl Center, many eyes were trained on someone few people in Wisconsin had ever seen play.
Thon Maker, the first-round draft pick of the Milwaukee Bucks in June, made his NBA debut in the Bucks’ 88-74 victory over the Mavericks in an exhibition game Saturday at the arena that Finley helped build, Harris made famous and Matthews first made his name in while playing for the Spartans in the WIAA state tournament.
Maker, a mystery man selected with the 10th overall pick in the draft, missed the team’s exhibition opener with a wrist injury but was ticketed to play 20 to 25 minutes against the Mavericks. He played 21 and ended with nine points, four rebounds and a blocked shot.
From a Bucks standpoint, the night’s other big story was third-year forward Jabari Parker, who is poised for a breakout season. Parker showed spectacular athleticism en route to scoring 21 points on 9-for-14 shooting and a variety of powerful dunks.
“He’s a very talented scorer,” coach Jason Kidd said. “When he gets out on the break, he’s as good as anyone finishing. He showed that. I thought he let the game come to him tonight. He didn’t force anything.”
Meanwhile, the 7-foot-1, 216-pound Maker received a warm ovation from the 10,560 fans when he entered the game and immediately drilled an 18-foot shot. Perhaps most important, he looked like he belonged out there. The game wasn’t too big for him.
It’s way too early to tell if Maker can ever join Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo as long, athletic, cornerstone players for the Bucks. But at least he fits the description of the Bucks’ emerging stars.
Kidd said Maker has shown he can guard power forwards or centers on defense and step out to the 3-point line on offense. Since the Bucks are trying to be a position-less team with versatile players such as Parker, Antetokounmpo and others, Maker should fit right in.
“He’s a guy who can take it off the boards and go coast to coast and make plays like one of his teammates,” Kidd said. “And not just one, but a couple — like Jabari and Giannis, who can rebound the ball and go.”
The Bucks hope Maker becomes much more than that in time while cautioning that, not unlike Antetokounmpo three years ago, he remains a young work in progress. Against Dallas, Maker shot from the outside, drove to the basket, ran the floor and altered shots. He also failed to block out several times, got lost occasionally on defense and committed two turnovers.
You have free articles remaining.
“He’s a rookie, so his energy is at a high,” Kidd said. “He plays to the whistle. That’s cool to see. He doesn’t stop. He’s offensive rebounding. He’s a big who can put it on the floor. He’s a big who can shoot it. He works extremely hard, so he fits the culture of what we’re doing here. There’s a lot of positive things, but at the end of the day he’s still a rookie and has a ways to go.”
Right from the start, Maker showed flashes of why the Bucks selected him. The first time he touched the ball, he took an inside-out pass and drilled an 18-footer. Another time he soared high over everyone to grab a defensive rebound. And while guarding forward Harrison Barnes on the perimeter, he tipped an entry pass and wound up collecting the loose ball.
Maker also showed his extreme inexperience at times. Once, he failed to box out Barnes, who slipped in untouched for a tip-dunk attempt. Later, he lost Matthews on a back screen, leaving him wide open for a 3-pointer.
Maker’s best play during his second-half stint came when he outran his man down the floor, caught a lob pass from fellow rookie Malcolm Brogdon and slammed it home. On his next trip down the floor, he sank another 18-footer from the right side.
Maker was 0-for-2 from 3-point land, which might be out of his range at present. But his shot looked smooth from 18 to 20 feet, a sign that he should be able to expand his range at some point.
“I didn’t think he had any jitters,” Kidd said. “I thought he was pretty good as a rookie. He let the game come to him. He was a one-man press; he was guarding everybody. It was a typical rookie game. He was excited and made some shots.”
It’s hard to see Maker earning major minutes early on given the Bucks’ improved depth and experience. But after a night when all the stars came out — the UW men’s and women’s teams were introduced at the Kohl Center as well — it’s not hard to envision him as a major contributor at some point in the future.
Dallas 19 13 27 15 — 74
Milwaukee 20 22 25 21 — 88
DALLAS — Barnes 3-13 0-0 6, Powell 6-8 3-5 15, Bogut 0-2 0-0 0, D.Williams 1-3 1-1 3, Matthews 2-7 0-1 5, Finney-Smith 1-6 0-0 3, Brussino 0-3 0-0 0, Anderson 3-8 2-2 9, Acy 2-5 0-0 4, Warney 1-2 0-0 2, Hammons 0-0 0-0 0, Hornsby 0-1 0-0 0, Barea 0-4 0-0 0, Gibson 3-8 0-0 7, Curry 5-11 0-0 11, Collinsworth 0-1 4-6 4, C.Williams 2-4 0-0 5. Totals 29-86 10-15 74.
MILWAUKEE — Antetokounmpo 2-8 2-3 6, Teletovic 3-8 0-0 7, Parker 9-14 3-3 21, Monroe 4-9 4-4 12, Dellavedova 1-3 0-0 3, O’Brien 1-2 0-0 2, Beasley 1-5 1-1 3, Novak 2-2 0-0 6, Maker 3-6 3-4 9, Henson 2-6 1-2 5, Plumlee 0-0 0-0 0, Roberts 0-0 0-0 0, Carter-Williams 1-8 1-1 3, Brogdon 2-6 0-0 4, Johnson 2-2 2-3 7. Totals 33-79 17-21 88.
3-pointers — D 6-32 (C.Williams 1-1, Gibson 1-3, Matthews 1-3, Anderson 1-3, Curry 1-4, Finney-Smith 1-5, Hornsby 0-1, Powell 0-1, Barea 0-1, Collinsworth 0-1, Brussino 0-1, D.Williams 0-2, Barnes 0-3, Acy 0-3), M 5-16 (Novak 2-2, Johnson 1-1, Dellavedova 1-2, Teletovic 1-5, O’Brien 0-1, Brogdon 0-1, Carter-Williams 0-1, Antetokounmpo 0-1, Maker 0-2). Rebounds — D 50 (Powell, Barnes 7), M 47 (Beasley 9). Assists — D 16 (D.Williams, Bogut, Barea, Collinsworth, Curry 2), M 19 (Brogdon 6). Total fouls — D 18, M 23. Technicals — D defensive 3 seconds 2, Dallas coach 2. Milwaukee defensive 3 seconds 2, Milwaukee coach. Att. —10,650.