After the recent re-signing of Miles Plumlee, we take a look at John Henson‘s role with the Milwaukee Bucks.
It seems like John Henson may never get his chance. The list of players who have started at center for the Milwaukee Bucks during his tenure with the team is extensive, including Larry Sanders, Zaza Pachulia, and Greg Monroe, and it appears as if Miles Plumlee may soon be added to that list.
Plumlee’s recent 4-year, $52 million extension is just the latest in a series of blows to Henson’s career prospects, and leaves him with an unclear role amid a front court logjam consisting of himself, Monroe, Plumlee, and to a lesser extent the rookie Thon Maker.
For a variety of reasons, Henson has never seen extended time as the Milwaukee Bucks’ starting center despite signing a 4-year, $44 million extension last October. Following the extension, comments from head coach Jason Kidd seemed to convey faith in Henson as part of a young core that the Bucks would look to build around.
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"“You look at the core of our team, keeping him here, securing that just shows the direction we’re trying to go.”"
Now, Henson’s role as part of the core seems less solid, as the Plumlee signing was justified mostly on the basis of fit – specifically the ability to mesh playing styles with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, and Khris Middleton, the very core Henson was presumed to be part of.
Even though Henson may no longer be seen as an integral part of the Bucks core, there is still plenty that he brings to the table that could earn him minutes on the floor or serve as value in a trade should the Bucks decide to explore the market.
As we’ve detailed in the past, Henson is one of the best rim-protectors in the NBA, even in limited minutes, racking up a career-high 4.1 blocks per 36 minutes last season and blocking nearly one-tenth of all shots taken with him on the floor.
Beyond simply stuffing shots at the rim, Henson grades out as one of the better defensive centers in the league, and may very well be the best point-preventer on the Bucks, leading the team by holding opponents under their given field goal percentage by 4.2 percent. Per NBA Math, only Giannis Antetokounmpo saved more points defensively for the Bucks last year than Henson.
Beyond his defense, the case for Henson to receive more floor time also centers around his lack of demand for the ball. Although he has shown capable touch around the rim (netting him the nickname “Hook”), Henson’s offensive value-adds come across in the form of effective screening, offensive rebounding, and general clean-up duty around the basket, as seen in even his highest scoring outbursts of the season.
Without a low-post guzzler (a la Greg Monroe) demanding the ball on the low block, skilled slashers like Antetokounmpo, Parker, and to a lesser degree Michael Carter-Williams will be given increased room and opportunity to practice their craft.
However, these qualities are many of the same that made Miles Plumlee so attractive as a restricted free agent, leading the Bucks to shell out $52 million to retain his services.
Common sense would surmise that Plumlee has leapfrogged Henson in terms of both favor and fit in the eyes of head coach Jason Kidd, and if last season is to be any example, it is Plumlee, not Henson that would receive the starting nod should Monroe be traded or benched.
Efficiency numbers show the clear discrepancy in specialties between Plumlee and Monroe and further point to Henson’s lack of traditional offensive game, although he does rank favorably in terms of off-ball cuts.
|Points per Possession
Although Plumlee’s efficiency greatly bests both Monroe and, less significantly, Henson on post-ups, it’s important to note the low frequency with which Miles actually received a back-to-the-basket touch, just 37 times to Monroe’s 407, so his numbers in this category must be taken with a grain of salt.
Although still only 25 years old, Henson has failed to improve upon many of his weaknesses in recent years, whether that be a result of frequent injury troubles or having plateaued in terms of potential.
Offseason wish lists going back years have often included a desire for Henson to bulk up, but that may not be possible for his frame, as he has gained only six pounds since entering the league. This lack of mass leads to struggles defending larger centers and rebounding, as Henson garnered the lowest percentage of available defensive rebounds on the team at just 45.1 percent.
Reports have suggested for weeks that the Bucks are trying desperately to find suitors for the erstwhile Monroe, but finding the market bare, perhaps John Hammond would do well to float Henson’s name to opposing GMs.
I myself would hate to see Henson go; his smiling personality and demeanor have made him a favorite among fans and his community engagement is a big boost to the Bucks PR department, but if it becomes clear that there is no way to utilize all three of the Bucks’ highly paid centers effectively, Henson could fetch more than expected from other franchises.
Hassan Whiteside, whose game feels very similar to Henson’s, recently received a guaranteed $98 million from the Heat, representing a culture shift among the NBA’s big men.
Gone are the days of plodding, low-post behemoths such as Monroe whom teams would run their offenses through. Quote-unquote “modern” bigs must be able to space the floor or defend, and Henson certainly fulfills the latter.
The very best teams last season often started at center a big man who did not shoulder a particularly large load on offense, such as Steven Adams (Thunder), Tristan Thompson (Cavs), or Andrew Bogut (Warriors). Former Raptors center Bismack Biyombo made headlines and eventually a $72 million contract with the Orlando Magic largely on his ability to rebound and block shots at a high level.
Although Henson wouldn’t be in line for this type of money, this knowledge does justify his level of salary and should make him an even more attractive option for other teams needing a capable defensive presence.
If a trade deal is not reached with either Henson or Monroe, it is almost a certainty that at least one of the three players will not be given the minutes their talent merits.
None of Plumlee, Henson, or Monroe can play power forward with much effectiveness, mostly due to a lack of floor spacing and perimeter defensive ability, so slotting them on the floor together seems like an ill-fated proposition.
In the Bucks’ current state, it simply appears as if there is not an ample opportunity for John Henson to contribute, and the shot-blocking maestro may find himself on the bench at the start of next season.
It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.