John Henson is averaging a relatively pedestrian six points and four rebounds per game for the Milwaukee Bucks.
But that’s only one side of the story.
Henson’s PER is just under 18 — good enough to be in the company of Kevin Love and OJ Mayo. PER is a detailed measure of a player’s statistical impact on the game in each minute played, so playing time isn’t a factor. John’s rating is in the top 15% in the NBA, and—while he’s on the court—Henson has been ridiculously productive for the Bucks.
Henson is simply falling victim to what happens to 95% of rookies in The League: coaches and GMs are protecting their investments. These guys have never experienced anything remotely similar to 82 games in six months, and in Henson’s case with recent injuries at UNC and over the summer, his GM is going to be even more conservative.
What’s key to measuring a rookie’s progress is not necessarily raw averages or playing time but looking at how he plays when he does play. Henson’s outrageously high PER for a rookie is one thing, but he’s also had games of 19 & 6, 11 & 15, 20 & 9 and 17 & 18 (the last being against the defending champs).
Henson fits into Milwaukee’s needs almost perfectly, and as their rotation evolves he should settle into a pretty serious role. The Bucks have plenty of size on paper but most of their front line tends to play face-up and stretch rather than stay on the low block. Henson offers the rebounding/block stats of a normal post player, but remains quick enough to disruptive offense outside the paint.
John isn’t going to be guarding anyone on the perimeter full-time, but in today’s small-ball NBA, having a rebounder/shot-blocker who is versatile enough to defend the perimeter off pick-and-rolls or move with other stretch-fours is invaluable.
Defender/shot-blocker is an easy trope to place on Henson, especially since that’s his role on this team at the moment, but you have to be impressed with Henson’s offense so far. His footwork is solid — still sporting a particularly lethal drop-step he developed as a sophomore at UNC. He finishes consistently with either hand, as well as with a hook that’s almost impossible to defend once in motion.
Henson’s jump shot (on display below) may not be Sheedian, but it’s a legitimate threat. Also, check out his long looping lay-up that is as effective as it is weird:
Henson still — strangely — refuses to jump much more than a few inches off the ground, but this habit does keep him out of foul trouble and bad spots. If he can add even the slightest amount of weight he’s going to be a solid contributor in The League for a long time.
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