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Hook’s Hot Start: How John Henson Broke Through (Again)

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Let’s give credit where credit is due, shall we?

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

John Henson has awoken. Although we’re only fourteen games into the season, the change in Henson is worth noting – and yes, it’s worth celebrating. There’s been an undeniable change in his attitude and effort, and his production has improved since the Greg Monroe trade. The sample size is vastly different than an entire season’s worth of games, but let’s look at how he has fared so far.

Captain Hook got his hook shot back, and has sprinkled in some jumpers too. So far this season, Henson is shooting a career high field goal percentage of 56.9% on an average of 2.9 makes on 5.1 attempts. Sure, we’d all prefer Henson to get those points in the paint, but if he can hit a FEW midrange jumpers every game, we’ll take that too! It’s fun to be both amused and terrified when he releases the ball from 10-15 feet away from the basket.

Offensively, it can easily be argued that Henson’s greatest impact (and improvement) so far has been his passing. There have been some particularly crafty passes made that highlight his increased court awareness and ability to find the open man. He’s embracing his role as an extra facilitator; in the fourteen games he’s played so far, he’s averaging a career high of 2.9 assists per-36 minutes.

One teammate he’s been clicking especially well with is Khris Middleton. Postgame, Eric Nehm asked Henson what it’s been like for him to get more time on the court with Khris and build a connection. A smiling Henson replied:

What people don’t know is me and Khris worked out for predraft together in Houston. I’ve been knowing Khris since — he was more of a passer back then, but now he’s a scorer. You know, we’ve played with each other for a long time. It’s been five years now so we build a little rapport and it’s working for us.

I’d certainly agree:

Henson has also stepped it up on the glass. His offensive rebounding numbers mirror that of his 2014-2015 season, coming in at 1.9 a game. Last night, he grabbed five offensive rebounds – something the Bucks have given up too many of. Those second chance points that come off an extra possession are huge.

He’s also grabbing a career high of 4.9 defensive rebounds per game, bringing his total to that of 6.7 total rebounds per game. That’s the most proficient he’s been since the 2013-2014 season, when he averaged a career high of 7.1 rebounds per game. Last night in his battle against Andre Drummond and Eric Moreland, he secured 10 total rebounds.

In regards to blocks, it seems to me that Henson might be getting shorted on the stat sheets. Last night, he was credited with only two total blocks. There were a few occasions last night that Henson and Giannis Antetokounmpo performed a beautiful double block — I’m assuming Giannis got credited for those — which would explain the difference between how many blocks fans witnessed during the game and how many were officially counted in his box score.

An effective block is all about the timing, and Henson has been demonstrating his ability to wait until just the right moment to go up — and making it look easy while doing so. Check out his downright rude block against the glass on Portland guard Shabazz Napier:

Hook is currently averaging 1.6 blocks per game. For reference, that’s up from last year’s 1.3 blocks per game, but not as good as 2014-2015 season (2.0) or 2015-2016 (1.9). There is one main difference I’ve noticed in his defensive efforts: passion. John Henson is playing angry. He’s mean-mugging, he’s hyping himself and his teammates up, and he’s playing with a fire that’s been burning all too dimly the past few seasons.

Check out how frustrated he was over a foul call in the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was actively chirping at the refs about the call and was animated on his walk back to the bench. Behold, a passionately angry Captain Hook being calmed by Matthew Dellavedova:

It’s easy to point to the Monroe trade as the catalyst for this reigniting his desire to put the extra work in that’s needed to win. Henson may have simply realized that he needed to step up and make the most of his fifth year in the league. Maybe it’s his workout sessions with Kevin Garnett that created an evil Kermit the Frog version of himself.

No one is going to argue that John Henson is consistently playing at the level the Bucks need him to. He can be frustrating to watch; he’s been sub-par the past few seasons, and he clearly has plenty of room for improvement. Many Bucks fans are still conflicted on whether he should even be considered a “good” NBA player. He’s taken a lot of criticism from fans — deservedly so — and I think it’s important to shed some light on the many positive glimpses we’ve seen of him so far this season. The key that I’ve taken away so far from Henson’s play is simple: he’s trying harder, and his efforts have been paying off. We’ll revisit his progress later in the season, but for now, let’s at least recognize how Henson’s play has improved and give credit where credit is due.