This is the fourth in a 15-part series running Wednesdays and Fridays profiling each Milwaukee Bucks player leading up to the start of the NBA season.
After a rookie season in which he flashed signs of his tremendous talent, John Henson is expected to take a step forward in his second season. Henson is one of four players returning from last year’s roster and will likely be called upon to play a greater role this season.
The Bucks made it clear Henson is one of the franchise’s building blocks this summer by floating the power forward out to numerous different events around town. Long and athletic, Henson could form a scary inside duo with Larry Sanders if he can become more consistent.
Though he played for two different coaches, Henson’s rookie season was a productive learning experience. After dominating summer league, the 22-year-old is a prime candidate to break out during his second season in the NBA.
2012-13 stats: 6.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 0.7 BPG, 48.2 FG %, 53.3 FT % in 63 games
2013-14 salary: $1,905,360
Last year: After injuring his knee in a preseason game and missing the majority of training camp last season, Henson started off the regular season on the bench. Henson got major minutes for the first time in Miami on Nov. 21 and responded with 17 points and 18 rebounds. Milwaukee had an opportunity to upset the Heat that night but the rookie rushed a shot attempt in the game’s final seconds.
Former Bucks coach Scott Skiles inserted Henson into the starting lineup after his monster game, a move the coach would say he regretted making a short time later. Henson wasn’t ready to start at power forward in the NBA and was back to playing sparingly by early December. He got a shot to play major minutes against San Antonio and scored 20 points with nine rebounds on Jan. 2.
Jim Boylan took over as coach shortly thereafter and Henson played more consistently, but the minutes were still sporadic. No matter how long he went between playing, Henson usually produced when he got major minutes. Another signature game came April 10 against Orlando when Henson grabbed 25 rebounds, the most by a rookie since Shaquille O’Neal in 1993. He also scored 17 points and blocked seven shots that night, becoming just the fourth player in NBA history with that stat line. Getting 44 minutes in the regular season finale, Henson scored 28 points and pulled down 16 rebounds. Those are big numbers Henson’s game can lead to, but he wasn’t strong enough to play inside against the league’s more powerful interior players.
Boylan sensed frustration from Henson in late March and called the rookie into his office for a meeting. What was the message? If you are going to make the progress necessary to play in the NBA, certain things had to change. Henson heard his coach loud and clear and began to change his work ethic habits and started focusing his energy and effort in the right direction.
This year: Where Henson stands coming into this season is still unknown. He’s likely to see increased minutes and more consistent time on the floor, but whether that comes as a starter or off the bench has yet to be determined. Ersan Ilyasova returns as the incumbent starting power forward, while Larry Sanders is a lock to start at center.
New Bucks coach Larry Drew could shake things up by starting Henson and Sanders inside with Ilyasova serving as a scorer off the bench, but the Turkish forward did not play well as a reserve last season. Henson will likely be a bench player to begin the season, but that certainly could change as the season wears on. How big of a role Henson plays is up to him. He spent this summer focusing on getting stronger and Henson appears to have put on some weight. Time will only tell how much it will help him this season.
Regardless if he starts or comes off the bench, Henson will have a chance to be a major contributor to the Bucks. Milwaukee does have a good bit of depth inside, so Henson will have to earn his minutes, but that shouldn’t be an issue. Don’t be surprised if Ilyasova starts with Henson serving as his primary backup.
From the front office: “We know we have to get John on the floor and we have to find some minutes for him. It’s not easy because we also have Ersan Ilyasova and Ersan is a guy who is a specialist as a stretch four. We have a delicate situation, but I think John is just waiting for the opportunity and I think given the opportunity he will perform and play extremely well and could be another bright future piece for us.” — Bucks general manager John Hammond