Hope, Henson and the struggle to balance minutes in Milwaukee
I don’t live far from the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Thus, I walk to games. In the winter, the walk ranges from annoying to nearly unbearable, depending on wind, snow and slush. I hate slush. With snow you get the possibilities of sledding or snowboarding or skiing, whatever you’re into. At the very least, there’s some aesthetic appeal to snow, even if you’re not one for outdoor fun.
But slush is the worst. It’s dark. It’s wet. It finds its way into your shoes about 99% of the time if you don’t wear boots, almost like it knows and exists only to punish you for not wanting to wear uncomfortable and bulky footwear.
The spring typically isn’t such a bad time to be walking to and from the arena. It’s often warm enough to go without a coat and the light rains mixed with improved temperatures remind me of Milwaukee’s last playoff appearance and meaningful season. It was fun walking to the BC in late April and early May in 2010. I thought it would be 80 degrees and sunny forever.
It was 40 degrees and raining on Monday when I stepped out of the building and began my trek home.
This is Spring in Milwaukee this year. When the garbage truck comes to run into the many dumpsters directly outside my window between six and seven every weekday morning, I glance up towards the outside world, see an absence of sun, evidence of strong winds, assume rain is coming and ruin my morning by laying my head back down in an attempt to get one more hour of sleep. It’s hard to be optimistic to start the day when a day starts like that.
Believe it or not though, I felt good about the Bucks Monday night as a light rain fell on me. I was glad it wasn’t pouring. I was pleased that the Bucks kept things interesting against the Nuggets. Sure, they lost late, but Denver’s a very good team, Milwaukee’s offense played well and I got to say that I called it, so that’s all pretty fun for me.
There was more that had me intrigued, something specific.
Over the last four games, John Henson has often looked like a prospect and sometimes looked like a rookie. More often the former than the latter though. With Larry Sanders having injured his back on a hard fall in Orlando, opportunity opened up for Milwaukee’s rookie big man. As he’s done when presented with some opportunity this season, Henson responded well. He’s averaging 11.8 points and 14.8 (!) rebounds in 31.5 minutes.
Not that this should really be much of a surprise. Whenever Henson has been given minutes this season, he’s produced.
|Less than 20||50||437||8.7||205||4.1||142||2.8||18||0.4||40.75%|
|More than 20||12||317||26.4||147||12.3||139||11.6||24||2.0||49.05%|
Henson’s averaging 12.3 points and 11.6 rebounds when he’s played more than 20 minutes in a game. The obvious caveat here is that Henson wouldn’t be pulled out of a game if he were playing really well, so naturally his numbers are going to be inflated in games where he plays more minutes. I recognize that. But what’s bizarre about the last couple months, when considered in context with something Jim Boylan said upon taking the reigns of the Milwaukee Bucks, is how often Henson was pulled out of games where maybe he wasn’t playing well. Here’s Boylan on Henson in January:
“I just know what he can do and if he is sitting on the bench, he can’t do it. We want to get him in there. He is going to make some mistakes and we will live with that so we can develop him. I said this earlier in the week that come April and we are playing these really important games, we want John Henson to be a part of that because we want him to get that kind of experience and we want him to develop into the kind of player that we think he can be. If we don’t play him now, we don’t get that in April.”
Henson played 9.6 minutes per game in March. He did not play, per coach’s decision, on seven occasions.
The natural reaction is probably to heap scorn upon Boylan. HOW COULD YOU NOT PLAY JOHN HENSON HE’S THE FUTURE ESPECIALLY WITHOUT TOBIAS BUCKS COACHES NEVER PLAY YOUNG GUYS AND WHY ISN’T SAM DALEMBERT PLAYING EITHER I HATE THE TOBIAS HARRIS TRADE JJ REDICK MISSES TOO MUCH LOL BUCKS!?!? But it isn’t that simple, because if there’s one thing that’s good about these Milwaukee Bucks, its their power forwards and centers.
As Boylan surely looked to distribute more minutes to John Henson, he had to look down his bench and see both Ersan Ilyasova and Larry Sanders. Ilyasova and Sanders have played 879 minutes together in 35 games since Boylan took over, 25 minutes per game together, by far the most popular purely front court duo the Bucks have used. Both of them have played well too. Larry’s success has been well documented and Ersan averaged nearly 20 and 10 in the month of March.
As far as the other 23 minutes a game have gone? Boylan has to find a way to work in Ekpe Udoh and Henson, occasionally Gustavo Ayon and Sam Dalembert too, along with his starters. The occasional small ball lineup has even left Mike Dunleavy, Luc Mbah a Moute or Marquis Daniels up front as well.
The minutes have been tough to manage. Maybe that’s no excuse for ignoring your own words of wisdom spoken just months ago, but I can see how the hunt for the final playoff spot has occasionally clouded Boylan’s judgement and perhaps forced his hand. Coaches will default to whoever they feel they can trust the most. That’s how guys like Dunleavy, Daniels and Dalembert get minutes, regardless of performance.
But it should not be lost that Henson has played well, even if he hasn’t played enough, whatever the reasons may be. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume a larger role will be in store for him next season. His play could even make Ilyasova, who I’m often told is paid quite fairly and is an asset, available. Maybe the Bucks don’t need to be trading good players at this point, but if they can trade from a position of strength, rather than a position of weakness, that might be a fun switch. Perhaps Ilyasova could land Milwaukee a piece that could help the team going forward at a spot where they aren’t quite so strong.
Ayon, Dalembert, Dunleavy and Daniels all seem unlikely to return next season. But Mbah a Moute is at his best as a small four and Milwaukee would be wise to grab another backup big on the cheap. Perhaps Ilyasova could bring in a guard or shooting small forward that could defend. There is some hope that has sprung out of these last few days of what’s been a long, arduous Bucks season.
Things have to turn around eventually. Maybe Henson will be apart of that.
That’s what I thought to myself as I hit the door of my apartment building and pulled out my phone. The weather app predicted another week of rain. Maybe things would clear up after that. Maybe around the 26th or 27th, the sun will shine again and temperatures will rise. We’ll all be able to move past both this weather and this season onto brighter days.