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Thon Maker's energy gives Bucks a lift

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Giannis leads the way in Bucks' 15th win (0:55)

Giannis Antetokounmpo drains 36 points, grabs 11 rebounds and dishes out eight assists in the Bucks' 116-113 win over the Bulls. (0:55)

New York -- There's an old adage about staying ready so you don't have to get ready. It's something you hear a lot when discussions about the Milwaukee Bucks' Thon Maker arise this season.

Now in his third year, Maker would not have been faulted for thinking his role would increase this season after showing signs of his potential over the past two campaigns, despite not playing regular minutes under former head coach Jason Kidd.

However, in the Bucks' first 14 games, Maker appeared in just six, and played more than 10 minutes just twice. Maker could have sulked and questioned whether he had a long-term role on a rising Milwaukee team, but he didn't.

Instead, he kept working hard; he watched and learned.

"Just staying in the gym, continuing to work, watching film, watching the games, obviously; taking notes on the sideline," Maker tells ESPN. " [I was] in the gym non-stop, at midnight, 2am ... whenever. I'm always in the gym.

"Taking care of my body is another [big] part as well - lifting, doing extra work just to stay ready. Conditioning is the toughest part outside of those because you can't get into game shape because you're not actually playing.

"Just staying in shape was anther tough part, I had to push myself extra hard in the drills. Even in shootarounds when guys are going through the motions, I can't do that. I'm not playing as many minutes as they are so I gotta go extra hard."

Then, as is prone to happening in the NBA, opportunity knocked, albeit at the expense of an injury to teammate John Henson, who was ruled out indefinitely after surgery to repair ligaments in his wrist. Maker hated that his chance to crack the regular rotation happened this way, but he's determined to make the most of it.

In his past seven games he's averaging a shade under 4 points per game in just over 12 minutes per game, but it isn't so much about the offensive numbers as it is the energy he brings to the team when he's on the floor.

"Thon's done a great job just staying ready all year," Milwaukee's superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo says. "That's the type of player Thon is, on any given night [he can] give energy to the team. If it's getting a rebound, blocking shots or hitting some threes, he can do all those. But his number one focus is bringing energy, so I think he's done a great job coming in and bringing energy and playing hard."

Maker fully understands what he needs to bring each time he checks into a game.

"Just to be extra special in terms of starting on the defensive end," he says. "Protecting the glass, if guys mess up, to help them out. Mainly, it's just to go full speed in what I do. There's no time to relax when I get out there. Come in aggressive on the offensive end - if I'm open, shoot it. If not, swing it.

"The biggest thing we need is ball movement on the offensive end and locking down on the defensive end."

The Bucks are currently second in the East with a 15-6 record and have played some inspiring basketball this season led by an MVP-caliber season from Antetokounmpo. They'll face a huge test when they play the Warriors and Raptors this weekend but Maker says there's a belief among the team they are on the cusp of greatness.

"Man, we're special," he tells ESPN. "That's how good we can be when we really lock in. We have to realise that we're like the Warriors now - teams are hunting us."

Antetokounmpo and Maker have formed a close bond since Maker first entered the league. They've supported each other, competed against each other in practice, and have seen each other grow and develop.

There's been one key takeaway for Maker that's going to hold him in good stead as he looks to cement regular rotation minutes.

"The biggest thing I learned from him is his mentality," Maker says. "It's kind of like, if I don't have this going, I can't make an excuse, I gotta find a way to get the 'dub'. I love winning and winning is addictive. It's something I keep inside me."