A day after trading down two spots in the draft to acquire shot-blocking center Samuel Dalembert, the Milwaukee Bucks added yet another shot-blocking big man by selecting North Carolina junior John Henson with the 14th overall pick.
Many had expected the Bucks to draft a guard--namely Terrence Ross or Jeremy Lamb--but the Raptors surprised everyone by nabbing Ross with the 8th pick and the Rockets selected Lamb with the 12th overall pick....yes, the one that they acquired from the Bucks just yesterday. It was a scenario that the Bucks had to have considered when they made the deal on Wednesday, and with the guards off the board they were left to choose from Henson, his North Carolina teammate Tyler Zeller and Kentucky forward Terrence Jones.
The good news: Henson leaves UNC with a pair of ACC Defensive Player-of-the-Year awards and projects as an elite shot-blocker and solid rebounder at the power forward position. That owes mostly to his freakishly long frame (7'5" wingspan and 9'4" standing reach, the longest in the draft), though he's also extremely light for a big man at just 216 pounds. And therein lies the problem. Henson doesn't bring a whole lot that the Bucks don't already have in Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh, which raises immediate questions about how the Bucks will juggle all of them going forward.
That's the major reason why this pick likely won't be terribly popular among Bucks fans, many of whom were hoping for a bigger shooting guard to complement (and eventually replace) Monta Ellis or an upside play like Terrence Jones or Perry Jones III. It comes with a fair bit of hypocrisy as well. That same group was probably also clamoring for the Bucks to take the "best player available" a week ago when there was concern that Milwaukee might reach for a center out of need, and that's obviously what the Bucks were trying to do with Henson.
So will Henson prove to be the best player the Bucks could have picked? As always, we'll probably need a couple years before we have our answer, and the odds are always against the best player actually being picked at every position. Some Bucks fans will no doubt keep an eye on Jeremy Lamb wondering what might have been. That's just reality, and at the end of the day we should still hold the Bucks accountable for picking good players that can help them win.
On the one hand, Henson's elite defensive abilities and character make him a fairly safe pick, but it comes with downsides: his offensive efficiency was poor throughout his career at UNC, his lack of strength will make it difficult for him to be anything but a power forward in the short term, and as a junior he doesn't have the perceived superstar upside that gets casual fans excited.
But the Bucks clearly liked Henson and did surprisingly little to hide their interest in him, staying true to John Hammond's vow yesterday that they would "draft for talent, trade for need." Director of Scouting Billy McKinney was effusive in his praise of Henson after his pre-draft workout, going so far as to suggest that Henson would never be available at 12 (much less 14), and even this week there was talk of the Bucks trading up to get a shot at Henson. As a result, the Bucks' brass will likely be exceptionally pleased that they got their guy despite trading down.
Now they just need to figure out how he fits with the rest of the roster. Ersan Ilyasova's potential departure would certainly make it easier, though Henson and Ilyasova have little in common aside from playing the same position. Among players under contract, Sanders parallels Henson on many levels and would be the most obvious player to shop, though they're not as identical as their scouting reports would suggest. Sanders is capable of and perhaps even best-suited to playing center, but he's been a poor rebounder who has struggled with focus and on-court immaturity through his first two seasons. The Bucks will hope Henson's strong pedigree collegiate rebounding numbers translate to the NBA, though his lack of strength could be an issue there.
Offense: Henson's offensive numbers are underwhelming for any lottery big man, though it's not his raw numbers (13.7 ppg in just under 30 mpg) that worry me so much as his ugly efficiency numbers (50.0% fg, 51.1% free throws and just 50.5% true shooting). A long, fluid big man playing in a complementary role for a great team really should be better than that, especially when you consider that he does seem to have some skill: he's an ambidextrous finisher around the hoop with a decent lefty hook and he appears to have a workable (ahem) face-up jumper. Those are good starting points, so the hope is that he can still become a serviceable offensive player as he matures. But a go-to post scorer? Forget about it.
Given the talent at UNC, DX's Synergy analysis suggested Henson had a surprisingly high usage in the post (42% fg) and on jumpers (35% fg), both of which would tend to lower his efficiency compared to a guy operating purely as a garbageman. That said, he rarely turns it over...so there's that.
Defense: There's not much to dislike here from a statistical standpoint. Henson blocks a ton of shots (4th among DX 100 in blks/40p), cleans the defensive boards (5th among DX 100 in DRebs/40p) and almost never fouls (just 2.0 pf/40p), a rare combination that speaks to his combination of both length and savvy. He projects as terrific help P&R defender and weak-side shot-blocker right out of the box, but the big question is how his lack of bulk will impact his abilities as a post defender and rebounder.
He's said he expects to get up to 230 pounds eventually, which would be impressive considering he added 20-30 pounds in college, but it's still on the light side for a guy with center length. In that sense the more things change, the more they stay the same: the Bucks are still searching for their center of the future, and in the meantime they'll once again have to figure out how to balance all the young power forwards of the present.