Henson, battling Jonas Valanciunas. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Henson, battling Jonas Valanciunas. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

A text came through my phone around 9 PM Wednesday night:

Henson might be softer than Drake


A friend of mine was at the Milwaukee Bucks – Indiana Pacers game and she had seen enough out of John Henson. To be fair, she’s probably attended more games than any other friend of mine, so she’s working with some experience. And she had enough. It was time for her to take a stance on John Henson, one much more firm than any I can remember her taking before.

With her words in my head, I decided I needed to ask Larry Drew about Henson after the game. He had played only 20 minutes, despite logging 39 minutes and producing 23 points, nine rebounds, six assists and three blocks in his last game. If this guy is something of a core player for the team moving forward, how is it that he’s unable to consistently grab more minutes than … Jeff Adrien and Zaza Pachulia?

“Well … he’s just gotta keep playing hard, for one thing,” Drew said after Wednesday’s game. “And he’s gotta bring … I don’t want to say a total physical presence, but he’s gotta let it be known that he’s out there besides on the offensive end.”

One thing everyone has said about Adrien, from the moment he stepped on the court for Milwaukee is that he has a “presence”. What does that mean really? I think it’s the way most of us say that he’s out there knocking everyone out the way on his way to get the ball. He is one of the most physical big men the Bucks have had in quite some time. When cutters are moving by Adrien, he’s bumping them. When a shot goes up he isn’t watching for where it’s going to hit on the rim, he’s looking for someone to grind into the ground. He’s far more concerned about other players on the court and how he can make them uncomfortable than he is about where the ball is.

That’s a huge difference between Adrien and Henson. Not that Adrien is a perfect player by any means. Early on against the Pacers Wednesday Evan Turner a spindly sort of guard with a fair amount of craft in his game took on Adrien, who was slow to react in a pick and roll. He got Adrien off balance and used his body to push the big man under the hoop, allowing for a layup. A play or two later, Adrien again was slow on a rotation and it left Ian Mahinmi open for an easy dunk. As physical and intimidating as Adrien is on the offensive glass, he isn’t always the quickest or best reactor on defense.

But he always seems to be going as hard as he can. He doesn’t seem to quit on plays. Coaches love that sort of thing. It’s what kept Jon Brockman in the league for as long as he lasted, despite his lack of skill and size. Where Adrien always looks like he’s running on 10, Henson often looks like he’s laboring up and down the court on cruise control. Fair or not, that could bother a coach or a teammate that’s committed to running through a wall with his effort level.

Drew understands they are different players and will have different experiences on the court. That being said, he still wants Henson to be more physical.

“You know, I think, with Jeff Adrien, I think everybody sees that when he’s out on the floor, you know he’s out there and it doesn’t have to be on the offensive end,” Drew said. “He plays with a tenacity when he’s out there. I know they are two totally different players, but still, presence has to be felt when you’re out on the court when you’re a big man.”

Larry Drew doesn’t expect Henson to turn into Adrien. It didn’t sound like he wanted that either. But he wants Henson to be more of an intimidator and an embodiment of intensity, the way that both Adrien and Pachulia are. Those guys slap people around, while Henson seems more hesitant to knock a player off the block or focus on boxing someone out.

“I talk a lot about the culture and I talk a lot about, even though we are a young team we can still carry ourselves in a very professional manner in a very veteran manner,” Drew said. “And guys who are playing the minutes and guys who I am relying to be leaders of our team, I want those guys to make sure every time we step out on the floor that we go out there and we play hard. I want those guys to be mad at one another if they see one of their teammates not playing hard. Loose ball or have an opportunity to take a charge or a missed blockout, I want those guys to be upset with one another and hold each other accountable.

“That’s how the culture is built. With four games left, we’ll continue to try to keep things moving in a positive direction as far as us stepping on the floor and competing.”