I celebrate in triumph as the Houston Rockets eliminate the Oklahoma City Thunder in a dramatic seven-game series. My arms raise in joy as Russell Westbrook steals a season-ending inbounds pass away from Steven Adams. I imagine a 2020 championship banner being raised in Houston, until reality sets in: the Rockets must now prepare for battle against the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers.
The analysts on ESPN’s post coverage show confirm my worries. The Rockets need a true big man, someone the rest of the league can take as a serious lob and defensive threat. Is there a Rockets’ defender who can secure rebounds and stop Anthony Davis and LeBron James from bullying their way under the basket? I immediately thought of my recent phone call with Matur Maker.
Matur Maker is a power forward/center for the Rockets’ G-League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. At only 22 years old, and standing at 6’11”, the sky’s the limit for this rookie.
Maker speaks confidently about his skills and is determined to achieve his dreams. He finished his high school career as a leader, sharpened his talents overseas, and is now working to climb the ranks in the NBA.
The self-improvement evident throughout Maker’s basketball career makes him a standout prospect for the future. During the 2019-2020 season, his first year with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Maker averaged 8.1 points and 7.6 rebounds in 20 minutes as a starter. This is a jump from his averages of 5.8 points and 3.8 rebounds during the month of November, his first in the G-League.
Throughout the pandemic, Matur has been working out six days a week at a private gym with his brother Thon Maker, a center for the Detroit Pistons, and his cousin Makur Maker, a five-star commit to Howard University. The vertically gifted Maker trio hope to continue their family bonding as teammates in the future, with Matur saying enthusiastically:
“We’re waiting on one team to say ‘alright, we want all three.’”
The greatest roadblock for Maker has been his lack of consistent playing time on the Rio Grande Valley Vipers roster. Maker’s been given anywhere from 2 to 20 minutes of playing time, or sometimes none at all. Sitting on the bench is typically a sign for many NBA hopefuls to give up, but Maker is not one to back down from a challenge. He said:
“Even though it’s going to be a challenge, you’ve gotta accept it. Continue to work. I’ve never missed a practice. I’m at practice every single day, working extra hard. If I’m not playing that day, I’m working out.”
Lack of playing time is a common reality for many young NBA players, even for future superstars. Maker recalls that Kobe Bryant spent the first two years of his NBA career as a bench player.
Maker is used to overcoming setbacks. During his time at Carlisle High School, playing alongside his brother Thon, Matur was benched for the state championship game. This moment hurt the freshman Maker, but encouraged him to continue working on himself.
By 2017, Maker would be leading his team, Asia Pacific, to the championship game at the Adidas Nations tournament, while being the leading scorer of the event. Despite losing the championship game to USA Red, Maker dropped 31 points and outscored Zion Williamson.
This was a proud moment for Maker, taking an underdog team to the finals and dominating the tournament offensively. This instance of self improvement is what Maker hopes to hone in the G-League and what he has already done internationally.
During the 2018-2019 season, Maker started his professional career in the Swiss Basketball League, averaging 5.8 points and 3.8 rebounds, then finished with an average of 12.9 points and 9.6 rebounds in the Slovenian Basketball League.
If Matur Maker were to be called up to the Rockets’ roster, he could serve as a good defensive asset. Houston needs a reliable rebounder and someone who can tighten their front court. With Maker’s height, defensive ability, and work ethic, he fits well into the team’s needs.
Coincidentally, Russell Westbrook is a player Maker has dreamed of playing with since his high school days. Maker admires Westbrook’s motivation to win, and his aggressiveness on the court. With offensive specialists Westbrook and Harden, Matur can help by rebounding, protecting under the rim, and adding defensive pressure. Along with height, Maker’s versatility and speed deems him a good fit for Houston’s small-ball strategy.
“I’m really a guy with guard skills in a big’s body. My three-point shooting has really improved during this pandemic. My goal is to shoot in the low to mid 40% next year from the three.”
To compliment his size, Maker strives to emulate traits from past NBA greats into his own playing style. He said:
“I watch a lot of old school ball. I love the defensive intensity of Gary Payton, the IQ and versatility of Magic, and the fundamentals and winning of Jordan. Put that in a 6’11” player and that’s where I’m going with my game.”
Whether Matur Maker is a good fit for the Rockets, only time will tell. There’s no harm in giving the big man a two-way contract, a chance to showcase his skills. One thing is clear, Maker will continue to try and climb his ladder to the NBA.