Henson Faces An Uphill Battle in Milwaukee
Bucks rookie John Henson was a long, lanky shot blocker during his three college seasons at North Carolina and showed the potential that NBA teams like to draft. Other than the apparent excess of big men in Milwaukee already, it wasn’t really a surprise when Henson was taken at the back end of the lottery by the Bucks in June.
“It’s going to be difficult,” said Bucks head coach Scott Skiles. “We have nine guys 26 or younger and that’s usually a recipe for disaster in the NBA, but I have coached young teams before. It’s just we have a lot of bigs and we have to find moments when we can get guys in the games right now and then going into the last week of preseason before the first game. We have a couple of tough decisions to make because it is impossible to play them all in the same game.”
Henson has impressed early and often since he was drafted. At the Las Vegas NBA Summer League, Henson was one of the top players averaging 18.3 points on 53.4 percent shooting, 6.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. Henson showed his range by hitting on two of three three-point attempts and shined in a four-block performance against the D-League Select team. In preseason, Henson also got off to a fast start averaging 7.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in just 17 minutes including another four-block performance against Detroit, but a knee sprain during his third game has put him on the shelf for about two weeks.
“(Henson has) a lot of athletic ability, good touch around the hoop, offensive rebounder, tremendous length,” Bucks veteran Drew Gooden said. “It’s the want to, the willingness to go out there and block the shots.”
“He is progressing every day and getting better,” Monta Ellis confirmed. “(Henson is) very lanky and very talented, offensively and defensively. He came in and put the work in and it’s paid off. As soon as he gets back on the court, I think he’ll be alright.”
The injury may be minor, but the timing couldn’t be worse. Skiles cannot evaluate Henson if he can’t play him.
“He is (making progress),” Skiles said. “I don’t know when it will be. We want to be careful with him, but he is definitely making progress. We put out two weeks initially (a week ago), but he looks good. The swelling is down. He is trying to learn our system and this is not helpful that he is out for a while. He needs the reps every single day, but obviously he has shown flashes already. You can see what his potential can be and what he may be able to do and then it comes down to can he do it consistently or not.”
One of the biggest question marks about Henson is his size. Standing 6’ 10.5” in shoes with a 7’ 5” wingspan, Henson only weighs 216 lbs. Strength and durability in the post at the NBA level are yet to be determined.
“I’ve heard it my whole life pretty much,” Henson said. “It’s nothing new. There are going to be some nights where there are bigger guys and some nights with smaller guys. I’ll be ready for it.
“All I’ve been working on is getting stronger. It’s a process, but I’m getting there.”
Getting stronger is the long term goal, but just learning enough to get into a game will be Henson’s immediate concern. Any rookie has a lot to learn and little time to learn it in.
“It’s tough for rookies,” Skiles said. “Every game he is checking in, guys are going at him. He just has to make sure he continues to learn what we are doing so when he does get in a game at least he has a foundation to work off of.”
“It’s just the consistency with how much stuff is being thrown at you every day,” Gooden said. “It’s new, and just when you think you got it down, there’s something new out there, so it’s just an up-and-down emotional rollercoaster.”
Plus, the Bucks have Samuel Dalembert, Gooden, Ersan Ilyasova and potentially Joel Przybilla, Ekpe Udoh and Larry Sanders ahead of Henson on the depth chart to start the season, so it isn’t going to be easy for the rookie to get minutes once the games start to count.
“It all depends on opportunity,” Gooden said. “When you’re out there playing, you never know what can happen. If he has the opportunity, I think he’ll do a great job.”
“(Henson) just has to continue to work,” Skiles said. “He is a talented kid. We are really high on him, but he just has to learn the NBA, learn our system and things like that.”
Even without the setback of a minor knee injury, the lanky and talented shot blocker from North Carolina was going to face an uphill battle for minutes on a Bucks team that is deep with big men. Missing half of the preseason is not helping Henson win any minutes once the games start to count. However, Coach Skiles is high on his potential and his teammates have noticed him as well. If Henson can convince Skiles that he has built enough of a foundation to work off of in a regular season game, he may just win that fight for minutes over some of his more experienced teammates.