From the moment Thon Maker entered the NBA, the Sudanese-born Australian has spoken always about his determination to get better every day. The Milwaukee Bucks took a chance on Maker, drafting him with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2016 draft -- hoping to unearth another gem like they did with Giannis Antetokounmpo three years prior -- and he certainly displayed glimpses of his potential last season.
But the hard work towards getting better is put in through the summer, and Maker spent his time in the past off-season in a hot, sweaty gym with Antetokounmpo and his brother Thanasis, preparing for his sophomore season.
"We were doing three-a-days -- two basketball sessions, one weight room session -- for what was supposed to be a 21 day-straight schedule, and take Sundays off," Maker tells ESPN. "We did that, but I was in the Summer League for a little bit and when I came back they had already started going full speed. It was like a mini-camp. It was supposed to be his individual thing, but he wanted me to join him so I did."
Maker says the summer sessions, coupled with some private tutelage from retired great Kevin Garnett, have definitely helped to slow the game down for him this season. The biggest thing he learned during the off-season was to put the ball on the floor a lot more.
"I didn't really get a chance to do that early on this season, but I'm starting to get in the flow and do it right now," Maker says. "I try to use my shot to set that up, I put in a lot of work in the off-season.
"There's still a lot of bigs in the league that are not used to you putting the ball on the floor, so you got whatever you want as soon as you catch it."
Maker has appeared in 52 games so far this season -- well on the way to eclipsing last season's 57 appearances in the regular season. He's also averaging more minutes, improved his scoring -- albeit only slightly -- and almost doubled his rebounding averages from 2016-17. His shooting percentages are down, however, and the criticism leveled at Maker is that he has regressed in his second year after a promising end to his rookie season.
Maker tells ESPN that he isn't listening to any outside noise, and that he's focused on what the team is up to and what the team expects him to do.
"They're [critics] not playing -- we are," Maker says. "So, I'm just focused on getting better every single day and not worried about what anyone else is saying on the outside. Just continuing to focus on basketball, and the coaching staff does a really good job at the time."
Joe Prunty, who took over the Bucks' head coaching duties after Jason Kidd was fired in late January, has been with the team as an assistant since 2014 and spent time with Maker during his rookie season. He dismisses the notion that Maker has taken a step back this season, noting the limited minutes the player had during the first half of his rookie campaign.
"When you look at it, he's in his second year in theory but hadn't played much until later in the season when he started to get minutes and later into the playoffs," Prunty says.
"So he's learning. A lot of things are [still] new. He hasn't had the experiences out on the floor that everybody has had because he's only in his second year."
Prunty points to Maker's dedication to improving as a key instrument in his overall development.
"That's a sign of a good player, right? Somebody that wants to play better, do better. As coaches we're always going to demand more, and want guys to get better and improve themselves and help the team; ultimately, it's always about the team. I think he's done some nice things here recently."
The unforgiving nature of the NBA schedule means players often can struggle to work on certain aspects of the game as practices are limited while on the road, and a premium is placed on rest and recovery. Still, Maker has some individual goals he'd like to achieve by season's end.
"Just to get to a level where I'm really consistent. Recently it has looked like I've been getting better and better each game, so I want to maintain that and continue to be consistent on both ends of the floor," Maker tells ESPN.
"I feel like I'm that type of guy to continue to get better every single time. I never put a ceiling on myself or my game. I'm not ever satisfied with where I'm at. I always feel like there's more levels to achieve so I'm gonna continue to work on that."
The Bucks have gone 7-1 since firing Kidd, and they are primed to make a late season surge into the playoffs. The team goal, ultimately, is a championship, and Maker is doing everything within his capabilities to help to make that happen.
"We want to be better than last year," he says. "So far we're on pace for that [but] we're not satisfied; I'm not satisfied, so I have to continue to get better each day."