ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — With the shot clock running down at the Bucks scrimmage last Thursday, the ball landed in John Henson’s hands as the Bucks rookie stood at the top of the key. There was no time for another pass. He had to shoot.
Just inside of the 3-point line, this wasn’t the range Henson was used to when he played at North Carolina last season. The Tar Heels had Harrison Barnes to shoot out there or Kendall Marshall or Dexter Strickland. Even Tyler Zeller usually took deeper shots than Henson, while the power forward was left to clean up the glass, block shots at will, and drain the occasional hook shot in the post.
But as a Milwaukee Buck, more was expected of Henson in a different offense. He squared up for a deep jump shot — the shot clock running down — and buried it.
Skiles said after the scrimmage that Henson had shown him on plenty of occasions that he could hit that deep of a jumper. In practice this past weekend, Henson hit a few more from the same range in a live scrimmage — a potential sign that Henson may be more than just a lengthy, shot-blocking rim defender, something he acknowledged at media day.
“Offensively, I think I can do a little more than people expect,” he said then. “Hopefully I get a chance to showcase that. Defensive is my calling card, and that’s how I’ll get on the floor quicker.”
Whether he’ll get on the floor at all may rely on a number of factors, including his performance during the Bucks’ exhibition schedule this month. He’ll certainly get the opportunity to show something, as will the other six big men lobbying for time at two spots.
As a rookie though, Henson may have a longer ways to go than the rest of his fellow frontcourt-mates. He explained that the game is still slowing down bit by bit for him, and Bucks coach Scott Skiles said on Monday that his rookie big man has a long way to go.
But that’s to be expected for a prospect that was still an unfinished, raw product when the Bucks drafted him 14th overall in June’s draft.
“He’s got a lot to learn — an awful lot to learn,” Skiles said. “He was very good in rookie league of course, but this is a different level. We’ve got a lot of big bodies out here. His focus, his energy, he’s got a lot to learn.
“He is a very talented guy. It’s just, some guys have talent and the game has come relatively easy to them, and all of a sudden, they get up here where everybody has talent and guys are going hard and it’s a different level of intensity. It’s just something you’ve got to get used to.”
Henson will have his first shot at getting used to that NBA-level intensity on Tuesday when the Bucks take on Cleveland in the team’s first preseason matchup. It’s an experience that Henson admitted he’s nervous for. But as a whole, he has been pleased with how training camp has gone so far.
“It’s been a little tough, but that’s to be expected,” Henson said. “I’ve made it through so far, no injuries. … It’s not necessarily tough to get used to, but the speed of the game is quicker. I’m getting used to it now though, and I’m ready to play.”
And now, with more expected of him, Henson’s game has had to take a few new turns since arriving in Milwaukee. He’ll be expected to contribute more shots from past 10 feet, and he also may have to focus less on blocking shots and more on being in the right position—at least until he gets his bearings.
It’s something that he said has taken some getting used to.
“To be honest, I’ve blocked a few shots, but I’m still trying to be in the right spot, not worrying about blocks right now,” Henson said. “All that will come.”
As will the rest of Henson’s game. Because, like most any other rookie, Henson will need time and plenty of it before the Bucks can see his true long-term potential at their power forward position.