NBA Draft 2012: Breaking Down John Henson—Should He Have Stayed at UNC?
UNC's John Henson is headed to the pros and there is nothing we can do about it as fans, except root him on. In Part 2 of my series on the North Carolina Tar Heels' 2012 NBA Draft Prospects, I'll be breaking down the game of Henson and answering whether or not he should have stayed in Chapel Hill.
Everyone knows Henson as the tall, lanky guy that wears a t-shirt under his Carolina threads. Not everyone knows he was 6'4” just four years ago—forcing him to make the transition from guard to power forward.
This transition hasn't been completely seamless. As we look more into the nuances of his game, we can see where his past life as a guard is both a help and a hindrance in his performance on the hardwood.
As I did with Harrison Barnes' NBA prospects, I'll be grading John Henson's actual skill set—not just how much he used all of them at the college level.
Much like Harrison Barnes' ability to shoot off the dribble, John Henson's ability to score in the post is sometimes obscured by bad decision making.
Most likely due to his years as a guard, Henson displays surprisingly good footwork for a player of his size and build. It's not that all tall, lanky players don't have good footwork—I have just come to expect bigs to be slow and goofy. Henson is definitely not that.
It still surprises me every time he breaks out a spin move in the post. He has quick feet and will use his long stride to get to the basket—without losing his pivot foot. (Refer to the 3:03 timestamp of the video on the final slide.)
Henson's combination of athleticism, length and footwork allow him to get a shot off against just about everyone he faces one-on-one in the post.
The problem is when he gets double or triple-teamed. He has a tendency to shoot it up anyway, rather than dish it away. This always has an ugly ending.
At midseason I would have graded him a little more harshly in this area of his game. However, as the season went on, he did this much less and his possessions in the post became much more efficient. Another year at Carolina would've solidified this facet of his game, but I was impressed with his progression this year.
The NBA loves its power forwards to have range, and that's another thing scouts are finding intriguing about John Henson. He has a an excellent stroke and I expect his range to increase over his years at the pro level.
Henson didn't attempt a three-pointer this season, but the Tar Heels were shooting bad enough from that range as it was. Where he shines is the 14 to 19-foot range.
I heard many commentators say that Henson should quit shooting the long-range shots. I had no problem with it and I'm glad he didn't listen to them. I saw development as the season progressed and he seemed to make these shots more consistently.
Will that continue in the NBA? Only time will tell, but my bets are on "yes."
Henson's repertoire could become much more potent if he can extend his range to the three-point line over the spring and summer. It can be done. Never underestimate a good stroke.
After all, look at Kevin Love. He was 2-of-19 his rookie year. This year, Love has already made more than 100 three-pointers..
Even without the three-ball, Henson has a range that will fit in just fine among NBA power forwards.
Again, this may be a result of playing most of his basketball life as a guard, but John Henson has a very keen eye for passing. His only issue is that he doesn't use it as much as he probably should.
Thirteen NBA power forwards average over two assists per game. Henson finished the 2011-12 season with an average of 1.3 assists. He could easily boost those totals if he decides to pass out of bad situations in the post.
I've also seen plenty of great passes from Henson in transition. He reads the development of a play very well.
He will throw the occasional errant pass, however, and that's the main area in which he loses some points with me. Henson did bring his turnover average down to 1.3 per game from his 2.1 average in 2010-11.
Overall, John Henson is a gifted passer at the 4. He needs to work on his decision making, but that will be covered in the “Con” portion of this slideshow.
Henson's position and vision are the reason why he scored much better than Harrison Barnes in this area—I expect more from a 2 or 3.
John Henson has an uncanny feel for where the ball will end up on a miss. What he lacks in strength and positioning, he makes up for with length and instinct.
Henson averaged 9.9 rebounds per game this year alongside Tyler Zeller, who sucked up 9.6 per game himself. Round those numbers up and they are both in double-digits. The only NBA team seeing the same phenomenon is the Los Angeles Lakers, with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.
My point being, Henson's average will go up in the NBA if he doesn't have another rebound hog in his way. Considering only 12 teams have a player averaging 9.6 or more, his chances are pretty good.
I understand rebounds are harder to come by in the NBA, but I feel Henson will be among the few that average a double-double through the course of a season—especially if he continues to strengthen up and add weight.
John Henson finished his junior campaign with 18 double-doubles in 35 games.
His strength is the only place I can really critique him in the area of rebounds. Until he can add more bulk to his thin frame, he will get knocked around positioning for a rebound in the NBA.
Henson's instincts will still serve him well, but his length may not make up for poor positioning as much as it did at the college level. Time to get tough, Henson.
John Henson has been one of the top shot blockers in all of college basketball for the last two years—averaging three per game over that time.
Defense is where his 7'4” wingspan really comes into play.
Even when Henson gets muscled out and backed down, his quick feet, long legs and Stretch Armstrong frame allow him to recover quickly and get a hand in the face of the defender—or send the shot into the fifth row.
The best part of his blocking shows his basketball IQ. He actually doesn't send it into the stands very often, unless someone made him angry. Henson tends to pop it up to himself or a teammate, which has led to quite a few fast breaks.
Not only is he a prolific blocker, but he will swipe a ball every once in a while, too, and doesn't hesitate to take it to the rack. Again, it's those long arms getting in there.
John Henson still needs a little work on his initial positioning and needs to bulk up a bit, but he has a great base to work from.
John Henson's hands can really go either way, but I look at them as more of a pro than a con. Rarely have I seen Henson drop an alley-oop or a rebound he gets both hands on.
Henson loves to slip in the back door, snatch the ball out of the air and slam it home. I don't think any play excites him more than the alley-oop. If he ends up with the proper point guard, Henson may help turn his NBA home into Lob City, too.
In my opinion, we didn't see near enough lobs to Henson this season.
As soft as his hands are on lobs and rebounds, they tend to become rocks on hard passes in the post. He will have to work on this because he is going to get the occasional hot pass in the NBA. If he doesn't control it immediately, the defense can crash in on him before he gets a chance to make a move.
This is where we would normally see him end up double or triple-teamed, putting up a bad shot.
Again, this is something he improved upon as the season progressed. I'm still not completely sold, though. There is still some work to be done in this area, but Henson is off to a good start.
What? His size is a Pro?
Yes, it is.
Henson was listed at 6'10” earlier this season, but ESPN has him at 6'11” now. I don't know if that was an error or he actually grew an inch this year. If that's the case, I wouldn't be surprised to see him break 7' in a year or two. Some people just keep growing.
That would mean his 7'4” wingspan could get even longer. For now, it's still long enough to cause all sorts of havoc in the pros.
At 6'10” or 6'11”, Henson fits right in there with the rest of the top power forwards in the NBA. But his 220-pound frame falls below the standards by 15 to 30 pounds.
Bulking up in the offseason will give him more weight to throw around in the post and improve his strength—which I am about to cover as his first true Con.
The area Henson could have the most trouble adapting to in the NBA is strength. He might have been able to cut it about 15 or 20 years ago, but the 4 and 5 positions just keep getting bigger and stronger.
John Henson can't just make a living from 14 to 19 feet out. As a power forward, he is going to have to find a way to dominate the post, too. As I said before, his length will only get him so far with his back to the basket.
Though he is more of a finesse player, Henson does get angry every once in a while and he needs to channel that anger into strength on the block.
He has a tendency to get the ball knocked out of his hands pretty easily. Improved strength will not only help him back his defender down and improve his positioning on rebounds, but it will also help him keep a grip on the ball when defenders are swiping at it.
The good news is that Henson was only 183 pounds coming into Chapel Hill. He was 220 pounds at the start of his junior year and he may have put on a few more pounds since.
He knows this is an area he needs to work on and Henson has been working hard with his trainer to alleviate this issue.
Con: Decision Making
I mentioned John Henson's decision making earlier in this assessment. It has improved, but to what degree is hard to tell. His late-season injury hindered us from seeing his development in this area.
Henson has great vision at the 4 and is a skilled passer, but sometimes he just lets a pass go out of the post that bewilders..
When he doesn't throw an errant pass, he likes to just put it up, whether it's a quality shot or not. Is it because he is afraid to throw another pick? I don't know.
It seems the post is the only area he has trouble with these things. Between that and what I think has been improvement over the course of the season, I didn't grade him too harshly in this area.
Con: Free Throws
This is another area in which Henson made a marked improvement as the season went on. It's also about the only facet of the game that flawlessly translates to the NBA level. It's the same distance and nobody is guarding you.
John Henson finished the season shooting 51 percent from the charity stripe. Even as a power forward, that will not cut it in the NBA. Blake Griffin is the only power forward in the top 29 that shoots under 60 percent at the line.
In his last 12 games, however, Henson did manage to shoot 68 percent from the free throw line, but that's still 20 percent off Dirk Nowitzki's average.
We have seen Henson improve his free-throw shooting throughout his career at Carolina. From his freshman to junior year, he has increased his accuracy from 44 to 48 and now to 51 percent.
Henson has a smooth stroke and doesn't look like a clumsy big at the line. Because of this and his marked improvements, I'm sure he will continue to get better from the stripe. But for now, he has to be scored where he stands.
Overall Score: 86
Overall, John Henson scored an 86 in my assessment of his NBA readiness. That's actually two points better than Harrison Barnes.
I'm pretty pleased with how that turned out because I believe Henson is more NBA-ready than Barnes.
Would he have benefited from another season at North Carolina? Of course! Experience is experience.
However, when a player injures himself like Henson did in the final stretch of the season, I can't blame him for jumping to the NBA. No matter how much I would have liked to see him in a Carolina uniform for one more year, I completely agree with his decision to enter the draft.
John Henson is still a work in progress, but a little improvement here and a little improvement there will have him standing out among the league's best power forwards. Staying idle will have him in a reserved parking spot on the pine.
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