John Henson has always been a big time basketball star, wherever he was playing. Henson was 6th in the 2009 ESPN Top 100 rankings of high school basketball stars, just one behind current Washington Wizard John Wall. At the time he was 6’10″ and 195 pounds, and excited about the opportunity of rebuilding the Tar Heel basketball program after the departure of Tyler Hansbrough and the majority of the 2009 National Championship squad. Henson excelled at UNC, never quite living up to his top ten ranking in the ESPN reports, but never disappointing Coach Roy Williams and the Tar Heel faithful. Henson and his front-court friend Tyler Zeller would both be picked in the lottery of the 2012 NBA Draft after successful stints in Carolina blue.
Scouts were never quite sure how Henson would project in the NBA, due to his skinny and lanky frame. He did put on a couple extra pounds over his time in Chapel Hill, raising his weight to around 215, but he still projected to be to skinny to battle with NBA vets down low. Back in 2012, nbadraft.net had Henson’s first seven weaknesses somewhat related to his lack of strength or weight. But that same source raved about Henson’s length and ability to protect the rim, an attractive quality for any NBA prospect. You can teach post moves, tell a skinny guy to eat 5000 calories a day, or explain an NBA defense to a young college export. But you can’t teach length, size, and shot blocking. Henson was going to need a lot of teaching, but Milwaukee decided to take a chance and selected Henson 14th.
Apr 17, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Milwaukee Bucks center John Henson (31) handles the ball against Oklahoma City Thunder guard DeAndre Liggins (25) during the second half at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Fast forward to today, and Henson has learned a lot and crushed some of his biggest weaknesses assigned to him before the 2012 draft. Henson has continued to gain weight and grow stronger, and his offensive and defensive games have come along as well. He has seemingly put it all together this summer in the NBA Summer League, averaging 14 points, 13 boards, and three blocks a game. These numbers are flat out dominant; Henson is tied for the lead in blocks per game and close to the top in rebounding. But everyone knew he would be a good rebounder and rim protector, so even more impressive is the development of Henson’s offensive game. Henson has been super efficient in the restricted area, scoring at a high rate via dunks and putbacks. All of this success for Henson is great, but this is still the Summer League. He still has a long road to climb before seeing NBA starts or All Star game invites.
Henson’s current employer, the Milwaukee Bucks, are suffering through poor management and roster building tactics. The Bucks already have Larry Sanders, Zaza Pachulia, Ersan Ilyosava, and Ekpe Udoh signed to play in the post. That doesn’t leave much room for second year player Henson, even if he plays out of his mind this summer. Ideally for Henson, he could skip Pachulia and Udoh in the rotation, at least battling the pair for their minutes. However, Henson doesn’t really fit with the Buck’s other young big man Larry Sanders because they both struggle mightily outside the restricted area on offense. In the summer, Henson is only 1-6 from outside that restricted area, and that lack of success holds up in the regular season for both Henson and Sanders. Along with their similar offensive struggles, both fill the role of tall lankly shot blocker on an NBA roster. Down the road, this could lead to one of the two being traded to another NBA team, especially since the Bucks backcourt is paper thin. He could bring a return similar to what the Clippers got for Eric Bledsode this offseason- some quality shooters or an established veteran if the Bucks decided to continue their seeming endless and thoughtless quest for the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. Despite all of Henson’s production this summer, and his progress since he left Chapel Hill, Henson still has some climbing to do before he conquers the NBA.
I've been the biggest fan of Carolina football and basketball since I can remember. I have so many memories of great times sitting in Kenan and watching the chain of quarterbacks in Carolina Blue over the last 15 years, from Ronald Curry to Darian Durant to Matt Baker (forgettable) all the way up to Renner and Williams now. I love covering the Heels, and I am grateful for this opportunity that Keeping It Heel has given me.