This is the fourth profile in a 16-part series running Wednesdays and Fridays profiling each Milwaukee Bucks player leading up to the start of the NBA season.
From a pure statistical standpoint, John Henson’s first two NBA seasons were productive. But there’s a longing for more from the talented power forward.
Henson will be facing a critical season in 2014-15, as additions to the roster plus a couple of others returning to health will increase the competition for playing time in Milwaukee’s frontcourt.
The Bucks have two more seasons to find out what they have in Henson. Is this the type of player he’ll always be or can he realize his vast amount of potential?
2013-14 stats: 11.1 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 53.8 FG %, 51.4 FT % over 26.5 MPG in 70 games
2014-15 salary: $1,987,320
Last year: Due to injuries to Larry Sanders and Zaza Pachulia, Henson spent most of last season playing out of position at center. That didn’t go very well, as the stronger players at the position pushed around the former first-round pick.
Henson averaged 15.2 points and 10.1 rebounds while playing 33.8 minutes per game as a starter in December, but his playing time and production slipped as the season wore on. He was dreadful from the foul line all year (51.4 percent), including hitting just 9 of 35 free-throw attempts in January and February.
As the only rim protector healthy for most of the season, Henson blocked 87 shots before the All-Star break but just 29 shots in his final 30 games.
Henson had impressive per-minute stats in his rookie season, which led to expectations of a breakout sophomore campaign. The opportunity was there for the former University of North Carolina star to cement himself as a building block in Milwaukee’s rebuilding project, but Henson was average at best.
Despite his time on the floor doubling in his second season, Henson’s per-36 minute averages were slightly worse than they were during his rookie campaign.
This year: Because the Bucks control him at a relatively low salary for the next two seasons, Henson isn’t facing a make-or-break year. But that’s not to say 2014-15 isn’t important.
Henson will be playing for his fourth coach in his third NBA season. How he fits into Jason Kidd’s plans will be something to watch, as Ersan Ilyasova and Jabari Parker also are in the mix at power forward. Although it didn’t go well last season, Henson could also see time at center. He’s not strong enough to bang in the post with certain centers, so Kidd may have to pick his spots to use Henson at the five.
The crowded frontcourt will force Henson to have to get better at defending opposing centers to see the court as much as he’d like to.
Henson has the potential to be one of the best rim protectors in the NBA. He limited opponents to a 46.3 shooting percentage at the rim in 2013-14, good for 13th-best in the league. The Bucks never got to use Henson and Sanders on the court together last season, but Kidd could utilize the defensive ability and the scary length of the duo at times in the coming year.
Offensively, Henson is essentially a one-trick pony. The left-handed hook shot is his go-to and only post move. That’s on every team’s scouting report, and he has yet to develop a counter move for when his left hand is taken away from him. Opponents are only going to be further aware of this in the coming season, making it essential that Henson develop something else offensively to counter.
Milwaukee has assets at the center and power forward position and now must determine who its core players will be for the future. Parker will undoubtedly snatch a good portion of the playing time at one of the forward spots, while Ilyasova will be healthy again at power forward. The Bucks will want to allow Larry Sanders an opportunity to bounce back at center, and Pachulia can better defend bigger centers than Henson. Second-round pick Johnny O’Bryant will also compete for time at power forward, so it is easy to see why this season will be important for Henson.
Henson reportedly has gained 16 pounds since the end of the season, something that should help him in a variety of ways. The competition for playing time will be intense, making it imperative that Henson shows improvement on the court in his third season.
"Hopefully we can look back on this and say this was the turning point in what we did in this organization. That’s all you can hope for." — Henson on the Bucks bouncing back from a franchise-record 67 losses.