John Henson’s Future: Proceed With Caution


Throughout his career thus far, John Henson seems to have won over both casual fans and NBA writers across the country.

And why wouldn’t he? A former McDonald’s All American, Henson’s numbers throughout his career have been nothing but impressive thus far.


In his first three seasons, he seems to have confirmed his talent for rim protection that he was touted for out of UNC. He’s averaged 2.6 blocks per 36 minutes and will most likely finish in the NBA’s top ten in blocks per game for the second time once this season finishes out. He also seems to have proven to be more than just a rim protector, averaging 15.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per 36 minutes with an efficient 53.0 FG%.

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In fact, it goes further than just raw numbers. Henson has caught the eyes of writers time and time again throughout his tenure with the Bucks. They love what his length can bring to the table and the potential he adds to a Bucks team that seems to be loaded in that department.

But there’s a giant elephant in this overcrowded room of Henson fans, and it needs to be addressed.

Despite his incredible intangibles, despite his efficient scoring, and despite his proven shot blocking ability, Henson has only proven to have done so in a limited role or in short spurts. Up until now, John has yet to put together a full month of solid play on consistent minutes.

In fact, to the close observer, John really hasn’t noticeably improved his game much at all other than his free throw percentage this year. It could actually be argued that he’s taken steps backwards in an area that he was at least competent at in college – his jump shooting.

% of FGA by DistanceFG% by Distance
SeasonAgeTmGMPFG%Dist.2P0-33-1010-1616 <33P2P0-33-1010-1616 <33P

After 20.8% of his shooting diet consisted of mid-range jump shots in his rookie season, this allotment has plummeted throughout his career down to a mere 3.2% this season. To add to that, his TRB% dropped from 19.3% in his rookie season to 14.3% this season.

If that isn’t enough to curb the enthusiasm that has surrounded John, consider this: On a Bucks team that has lost its starting center, overachieved for most of the year, and that uses a crashing defensive scheme that should presumably thrive on the length and athleticism of a young center, Henson is still only averaging 18.2 minutes per game.

It gets to a certain point where no matter how much the numbers excite observers, his playing time doesn’t lie. If Jason Kidd and his staff still have trouble starting or even giving consistent minutes to a young, lauded big in his third year on a team that claims to #OwnTheFuture, one has to question the potential of that player and whether or not he should be included in a championship “core”.

So what exactly does this mean for his future? Maybe he’s just carved out a niche for himself in the NBA as a unique and valuable energy bench player. Maybe he concurs with his former mentor in Larry Sanders that basketball just isn’t his top priority (though hopefully to a lesser degree). Or, maybe, he really is as good as his numbers suggest and is on the verge of a breakout season.

But one thing is for certain: After this season is over, he will have spent the first three years of his career under four different head coaches and, barring a massive shift this year, will have averaged less than 20 MPG. That metric would come down even further when you consider his outlier of 26.5 MPG last year during a season where he played for the worst team in the league and, for a majority of the season, had only Zaza Pachulia and Ekpe Udoh to compete with for minutes.

When considering his playing time, it’s hard for even Henson’s biggest fans to defend him. At some point, a player has to start getting consistent minutes if they really are to be a valuable piece of a contending core going forward. They need to eventually earn a coach’s trust enough to give them consistent starter minutes.

And even if John never completely reaches that point, he’ll still be valuable. Most contenders would love to have a long and energetic big to bring off the bench that can rebound and score efficiently when needed. However, recent history seems to suggest even those completely embody this role can tend to be completely expendable to title contenders.

Next: The Magic of Zaza Pachulia

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