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Season Review: John Henson, Thon Maker, Tyler Zeller

Milwaukee’s trio of big men went through their ups and downs this year, but the team is still searching for their long-term man in the middle.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

After Mitchell Maurer bravely went through each player on the Bucks roster with this Three B’s series, we’re following it up with the rest of the staff’s thoughts on Milwaukee’s player performances this year. Each installment will include a trio of players with a synopsis of their season, the staff’s collective grades for their season and some follow-up thoughts. Before the coaching chatter took over, it kicked off with the backup guard spots. Today, it’s the centers.

John Henson finally won the starting job for the Milwaukee Bucks, but it came at the expense of Thon Maker turning into a pumpkin this year. How do they both fit in alongside Tyler Zeller’s steadiness? Our thoughts on their season’s lie below.

John Henson

Henson Stats

John Henson MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
John Henson MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
Per Game 25.9 3.8 6.6 0.572 0 0.1 0.143 3.8 6.5 0.578 1.2 2.1 0.57 2 4.8 6.8 1.5 0.6 1.4 1.1 2.7 8.8
Per 36 1970 5.2 9.2 0.572 0 0.1 0.143 5.2 9 0.578 1.6 2.9 0.57 2.7 6.6 9.4 2.1 0.8 2 1.5 3.7 12.2
Advanced G PER TS% 3PAr FTr ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% STL% BLK% TOV% USG% OWS DWS WS WS/48 OBPM DBPM BPM VORP eFG%
76 15.7 0.582 0.014 0.315 9 21.5 15.3 8.6 1.1 4.7 12.8 15 2.8 2.2 4.9 0.12 -1.4 1.8 0.4 1.2 0.573

Synopsis

John Henson’s first chance at a starting role for a full season paid dividends for him, as he at least appeared like a competent big worthy of minutes. Whether those are starter’s minutes remain a mystery, but if Milwaukee could find someone with a more all-around skillset, Henson showed he could be the kind of impact player worthwhile off the bench. He shot 68% around the rim, ranked in the 58th percentile for bigs per Cleaning the Glass. Fans malign his midrange shooting, as they should, but his 41% on all midrangers is actually in the 54th percentile for his position.

Facing 5.6 shots at the rim per game, Henson held opponents to 57% shooting. That was relatively close to some of the league’s better rim protectors, with Anthony Davis at 55% and Rudy Gobert at 55.8%. Despite more minutes though, his block percentage was the lowest since his rookie season at 2.9%. Still, his length is clearly intimidating to folks at the rim, and while he was liable to get bodied by anyone with a semblance of girth to work with, his long-limbed body was a serviceable deterrent. His best shooting year (57.8% effective field goal percentage) combined with some savvy passing that made for delightful playmaking at points made for a relatively fruitful year for the long-tenured Bucks big.

Staff Grades

Henson Grades

Henson Offense Defense Improvement Fit Going Forward Overall Season
Henson Offense Defense Improvement Fit Going Forward Overall Season
Results 6 6.4 6.4 5.4 6.4

Adam: John Henson looked gassed as the year went on. His few Playoff games seemed to mirror that narrative too, with his first halves often looking far more energetic than his languid second halves. While he’s certainly overpaid in the current center market scrap heap, he’s at least a neutral to slightly positive asset at this point. I think a more adept coaching staff could get more out of him protecting the rim and eliminate the midrange shooting that every team views as a possession they win. Henson’s passing remains the most underrated part of his game and a sneaky way Milwaukee can sneak spacing into the offense by utilizing him in the high post.

Kyle: For the first time in forever, John Henson actually looked like a solid NBA player for an extended period of time. He did have trouble staying healthy, which could have affected his performance late in the season. It would still be best if Milwaukee can find a way to package his deal but at least his value now is not a giant negative.

Greg: Henson’s hamstring injury really set the tone for his dwindling performances down the stretch of the season. He was solid at the center position, but not the kind of center this team needs to make a run at a Central Division title or a deep playoff run. It will be interesting to see how the new coaching staff uses him. Will we continue to see a plethora of elbow touches, or will his offensive game be utilized differently?

Thon Maker

Maker Stats

Thon Maker MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
Thon Maker MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
Per Game 16.7 1.8 4.3 0.411 0.4 1.4 0.298 1.3 2.9 0.467 0.9 1.3 0.699 1 2 3 0.6 0.5 0.7 0.6 2.2 4.8
Per 36 1238 3.8 9.2 0.411 0.9 3 0.298 2.9 6.2 0.467 1.9 2.7 0.699 2.2 4.4 6.5 1.3 1.1 1.5 1.3 4.7 10.4
Advanced G PER TS% 3PAr FTr ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% STL% BLK% TOV% USG% OWS DWS WS WS/48 OBPM DBPM BPM VORP eFG%
74 10.2 0.499 0.329 0.294 7.1 14.2 10.6 5.2 1.5 3.7 11 14.6 0.3 1.1 1.5 0.056 -2.7 0 -2.7 -0.2 0.46

Synopsis

Thon Maker’s sophomore season went all sorts of wrong, sending him into a tailspin he swooped out of for really only a two-game stretch in January where he scored in double digits in back-to-back games. All of the progress and potential Maker seemed to flash in last year’s playoffs disappeared, before it miraculously reappeared for the final Playoff run. He looked slow defensively after being able to hang with Kyle Lowry, his defensive rebounding was as abysmal as last year (ranked in 6th percentile for bigs), his 3-point shot dipped to 31 percent and the Bucks were horrendous with him on the court. Milwaukee was -161 for the season with him on the court and +136 with him off. There’s no mincing words here, Thon was horrendous in all facets of the game, brief postseason renaissance aside.

He seems to have literally no capability to finish around the rim, hitting just 51 percent from that area, ranked in the 3rd percentile according to Cleaning the Glass. Yikes. His one appreciable skill, the fact he could space the floor, was mitigated by the fact he couldn’t shoot from deep and Jason Kidd told him halfway through the season to instead take one step in for a more inefficient shot. He was actually competent on long twos (45 percent), but that also means he’s cramming up the halfcourt offense more by allowing his man to stick closer to the paint. This year represented a far larger sample size for Maker, with over twice as many minutes to work from. The results weren’t promising, despite the potential talent seeming like an obvious fit with this roster. Believing in Playoff Thon is a dangerous game, but it did demonstrate his usefulness when slotted into the proper scheme. Whether that will be applicable to the new head coach remains to be seen, but the preponderance of evidence still points to a lost season. Whoever takes over will need to mold this man from clay, because right now he’s just a pile of mush.

Staff Grades

Maker Grades

Thon Offense Defense Improvement Fit Going Forward Overall Season
Thon Offense Defense Improvement Fit Going Forward Overall Season
Results 1.8 2.1 1 5.8 1.8

Adam: Color me dubious of Playoff Thon, even with his spectacular emergence as the catalyst for the series shifting from the destruction of Games One and Two. There are still numerous holes, from his shoddy rebounding, uncoordinated mini hands and lack of ability finishing at the rim. Still, the Celtics series carved out a canal for him to trudge through en route to becoming a useful NBA player. He needs to continue down that narrow path for now.

Kyle: My grades were before Playoff Thon was a thing as he looked lost in the regular season. Thon still needs to show any ability to rebound, but the tools and skills are there to talk you into maybe giving him one more year.

Greg: Playoff Thon is a mirage, do not be fooled by him. All I want to see out of Thon is for him to have better lower half coordination than a newborn fawn. I like that he continued to pull the trigger on three-point shots, everything else though was uninspiring.

Tyler Zeller

Zeller Stats

Tyler Zeller MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
Tyler Zeller MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
Per Game 16.9 2.6 4.4 0.59 0 0.1 0 2.6 4.3 0.602 0.7 0.8 0.895 2 2.7 4.6 0.8 0.3 0.6 0.5 2 5.9
Per 36 406 5.5 9.3 0.59 0 0.2 0 5.5 9.1 0.602 1.5 1.7 0.895 4.2 5.7 9.8 1.7 0.6 1.2 1.1 4.3 12.5
Advanced G PER TS% 3PAr FTr ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% STL% BLK% TOV% USG% OWS DWS WS WS/48 OBPM DBPM BPM VORP eFG%
24 17.1 0.622 0.019 0.181 13.6 18.4 16 7 0.9 2.9 9.6 13.9 1.1 0.3 1.4 0.163 0.3 -0.4 -0.1 0.2 0.59

Synopsis

A midseason acquisition from the Brooklyn Nets for a second rounder and the cooking skills of Chef ‘Shad (RIP), Tyler Zeller may’ve been the most pleasant surprise of this Bucks roster. Showing a deft touch around the rim, Zeller had the lowest usage of any of Milwaukee’s bigs, often able to swoop the ball into the hoop in one swift motion rather than lollygag or take an extra dribble like John Henson. Indeed, his efficiency at the rim was serviceable too, ending the season at 67%, which ranked in the 48th percentile among all bigs according to Cleaning the Glass.

While he didn’t offer a ton of support on the defensive end, either rebounding or deterring players at the rim, his dependability was something Milwaukee sorely needed behind Henson this year. Thon’s rapid regression made almost every second he touched the court a net negative at the center position. Zeller eating into those minutes was frustrating initially, but he was clearly a more positive influence for the Bucks within just a few games. Zeller’s cheap contract next year makes him a quality backup big, Milwaukee needs to not get overzealous, Plumlee this situation and pay him afterwards though.

Staff Grades

Zeller Grades

Zeller Offense Defense Improvement Fit Going Forward Overall Season
Zeller Offense Defense Improvement Fit Going Forward Overall Season
Results 5.9 5.1 2.2 6.7 6.3

Adam: Zeller is a cheap, serviceable third big. That’s about it.

Kyle: Milwaukee basically gave up a second round pick for Zeller; it could have been worse.

Greg: Zeller was a great addition and helped keep the center position ship from sinking when Henson was hampered by his hammy. He played well enough to keep Regular Season Thon on the bench, which is not saying much, but it helped down the stretch!