John Henson and the Milwaukee Bucks commitment to the post-up

With the left. Always with the left. (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
With the left. Always with the left. (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

Where virtually everyone else on the roster of the Milwaukee Bucks has failed, John Henson has succeeded. Opportunities have been readily available for the likes of Brandon Knight, Ersan Ilyasova, OJ Mayo and everyone else looking to either establish an NBA career or move that career in a new direction, yet, the Khris Middleton success story aside, each of those players has underwhelmed.

Knight still hasn’t played with any of the rhythms of a point guard. Ilyasova has been as inconsistent and unproductive as he’s ever been as a Milwaukee Buck. Mayo hasn’t been a number one scorer, the kind he was advertised to be coming out of college, maybe the kind he once dreamed of being, but a roller coaster ride of a shooter. Each of those three has been far more role player than building block.

But Henson, he’s been good. He’s been reliable. He’s been fun.

With Larry Sanders out and everyone else struggling, the Bucks have looked to Henson to anchor the team’s post-up offense and largely act as a top scoring threat. While he’s no finished product, Henson hasn’t shrunk from the role. He isn’t a dominant post-up player by any means, but he’s given Bucks fans reason to be optimistic that he could eventually be a reliable scoring option when catching the ball in the post. The mere ability to create optimistic thoughts for Bucks fans this season, makes Henson something of a hero.

“I’m happy with it,” Larry Drew said when asked about Henson’s development as a post-up scorer. “I think, in watching John play, he’s one of those players who has to be at his sweet spot, right off the bat. We try to do thing to get him there, to where, he doesn’t have to spend a lot of time where he’s dribbling the ball, trying to maneuver into the post. We try to get him in there on movement. Chances are, if he catches that basketball where he wants it, his length will allow him to get a high percentage shot.”

Henson’s sweet spot seems to be the right block. When he gets planted there, with a foot right outside the paint, he can take a dribble or two to get the feel for the defender and either launch one of his increasingly reliable left-handed hook shots or, if the defender allows for it, turn all the way inside and get to the rim for a layup.

Henson in his sweet spot.

Typically the Bucks like to run Henson off a screen to free him up for an entry pass from the point guard. A common occurrence in Milwaukee’s offense is Henson standing at the high post before running to the opposite block to set a screen for Milwaukee’s other big, who flashes to the free throw line. After Henson sets that screen, whoever is in at the two will then screen Henson’s defender, allowing Henson to either get a mismatch against a guard in the post or get position on a big who has fought through a screen.

“That’s what we try to emphasize with him, really work to get to your spot,” Drew said. “Don’t settle for being bumped off. Really, really work to get to your spot. we try to put a lot of emphasis on that and show him game after game as far as tape is concerned things he could have probably done differently. Most teams that play against him, they’re going to try to push him off. Because they know, once they get him out of that post, he’s not a strength guy, as far as backing a guy in to get to a spot. So it’s up to us to try to get him to his sweet spot so he can maneuver.”

A few screen shots show this:

Henson spots Udoh and goes to set the screen.
Henson spots Udoh and goes to set the screen.
After Henson sets the screen, a half-hearted John Henson screen as usual,  OJ Mayo already has one ready for him to run off.

I really can’t emphasize enough here how lazy Henson’s screen attempt was on this play. He made a general motion as if he intended to be an obstacle for Jared Sullinger, but really was just focused on coming off his own screen. Henson’s screens have been terrible this season. I know that seems like a small detail, but for a big man, that’s an important aspect of being a complete player.

Brandon Bass can’t get through and Henson has a mismatch on Avery Bradley.

Of course, some of Milwaukee’s offense issues are apparent, even in this simple play. Is it really much of a threat to have Ekpe Udoh free at the free throw line? Do defense respect that? It looks like Sullinger gave a token effort, but by the end of the play was much more focused on Henson.

And you see Bass has committed to Henson as well, yet Mayo ends up fading into the corner, behind the 3-point line, where Henson doesn’t have much of a passing angle. He didn’t look for the backdoor cut on a helping Bass, so Henson couldn’t look to drop it off. Not that Henson has been a very willing passer once he’s committed to a post move, but the movement would still be nice. As he continues to develop, to increase his efficiency in these possessions, Henson will need teammates to be cutting and the ability to find them in stride. We haven’t seen much of either of those things just yet this season. At least no where near as often as we’ve seen rainbow left-handed hook shots.

It’s a bit more difficult to spin to the baseline and launch a lefty hook than it is to turn to the middle of the court and do it though, so it hasn’t been all chicken wings and Wild Cherry Pepsi (I wrote that instead of gumdrop and sunshine or whatever metaphor is often used … because I really like chicken wings and Wild Cherry Pepsi) for Henson though. When teams have forced him to catch on the opposite block, he’s been hesitant to trust his right hand the way he does his left. Shocking. He’s more apt to face up and attempt a short jumper or try and drive by bigger opponents, but that’s led to a couple of ugly misses and a rough shooting chart from 8-16 feet.


Despite some of his struggles, this is a season about development and Henson’s getting a lot of opportunity to develop down low. The wins and losses aren’t what the Bucks organization is looking for, but the rest of us can take solace in an aggressive movement to see what Henson can do. He’s had nearly as many plays out of the post this season as he had all of last season.

Year Plays FG FGA PPP
2012 72 23 63 0.68
2013 61 19 48 0.70

And it sounds like Drew is committed to him in the post going forward. I piggybacked on some recent debate over at Grantland on the efficiency of post offense and asked Drew for his thoughts on the matter.

“It’s important, it’s important,” Drew said of post-up offense. “When you talk about teams that are successful, they play inside out. And certainly we want to establish an inside game to open up our outside game. We need him, we count on him to get the ball down low, so we can operate offensively where we can focus on playing inside out. The pick and roll game is the NBA game, everybody is doing that, but you have got to have some type of inside presence to open up your perimeter.”

The numbers back up Drew’s statement about relying on Henson getting the ball. He has 60% more possessions out of the post than Milwaukee’s next most used post threat, Zaza Pachulia and is shooting a much better percentage. But it’ll be interesting to see how the Bucks use Miroslav Raduljica going forward.

Player Plays FG FGA PPP
Henson 61 19 48 0.70
Pachulia 37 8 27 0.70
Udoh 25 5 18 0.60
Butler 14 6 10 1.14
Ilyasova 10 3 6 0.70
Mayo 8 2 6 0.50
Raduljica 7 4 7 1.14

The rookie out of Serbia is a huge target and has shown touch and a willingness to get a off a quick shot if he catches deep in the paint. And his strength has allowed him to establish a very deep target a few times this season. We make fun of his foot speed on the defensive end, but his size and slow feet haven’t burdened him on offense when he’s been around the hoop.

But ‘Slav would probably serve to compliment Henson rather than take away his precious minutes. Henson has been the only above average two way player on the Bucks this season and he’s improving in an area where the Bucks could use a reliable threat. Sure, the team may be 5-19, but that lottery pick at the end of this dark, dreadful hallway of a season paired with a version of Henson that’s even better than the one we watch nightly right now sounds pretty good.

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  1. Been saying this since the beginning of the season — feed Henson the ball down low on the block time and time again so that he may develop his offensive game because he’s the key developmental project of this season; outside of him, the other major task is to find out whether or not Brandon Knight can be the Point Guard for the Bucks going forward. On the side, I’d hope that another important aspect of this season would be the coaching staff getting OJ.Mayo and G.Neal to model their offense role off of Rip Hamilton in that they’d be mostly focused on moving without the ball in order to get open catch and shoot opportunities; then, working P&Ps and P&Rs with E.Ilyasova and K.Middleton (though, Middleton could also be given opportunities to make plays with the ball in his hands as well as find himself in catch and shoot opportunities like OJ.Mayo and G.Neal). Lastly, C.Butler should be looked at as more of a relief bench player who gets limited minutes and Giannis.A should be giving between 15-20 minutes on average every game to develop his game too. All other players except maybe Nate Wolters are simply depth and nothing more.

      • True; forgot to add him in that comment… simply put, Larry Sanders needs to become the defensive anchor for this team again. Outside of that, the coaching staff shouldn’t be focused on developing his offensive game at the cost of developing J.Henson’s, but his offensive game should be centered around aggressively going after offensive rebounds and being used to screen defenders off of moving shooters such as OJ.Mayo, G.Neal, and K.Middleton, plus he could also find uses in setting up some P&Rs.

        • In Jeremy’s schematic above, put Sanders in the Ekpe spot, work on Larry’s free throw jumper and pump-fake-and-go game, make that a threat. Or run him up top on P&Rs and cuts to the hoop. Eschew a back-to-the-basket game entirely in favor of something more dynamic that takes advantage of his speed/athleticism and frees him to chase down boards/resets in addition to whatever he can find off cuts and free throw jumpers.

          Party time.

          You know, if Knight isn’t the PG of the future, he could be the SG of the future, and a fellow named Marcus Smart could slide into the open spot quite wonderfully…

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