Bucks frontcourt of the future looks promising


by Andrew Coughlin

If you are Bucks' GM John Hammond, it must be very stressful to think of the uncertainty staring back at him with regard to his starting back-court.  Brandon Jennings is a restricted free agent and Monta Ellis is an unrestricted free agent with an $11 million player option sitting on the table waiting to be picked up. 

On the bright side, however, the foreseeable future of Milwaukee's front-court looks to be very promising, depending on who you ask.

If you ask me, I think the Bucks are sitting on two very talented, very young future stars of the NBA. 

Both were mid-first round draft picks.  Larry Sanders was the 15th pick in the 2010 draft and John Henson was the 14th pick in 2012. 

Most experts agree that it takes "big men" three to four years to adjust to playing in the NBA.  Some promising college standouts never pan out and some take longer than others to grasp the game down low.

Sanders, whose coming-out party this past season, is making Hammond look very good by taking him in the middle of the first round.  Sanders' first two years in the NBA were below average at best for a first round pick.  It was starting to look like Sanders was a bust.  He averaged 4.0 PPG, 3.05 RPG, 0.5 BPG in just under 13 minutes/game in his first two seasons.

His third season in the NBA saw a dramatic spike in his numbers across the board.  He also established himself as a defensive presence near the basket as he finished seventh in the Defensive Player of the Year voting.  In the 2012/13 season, Sanders averaged 9.8 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 2.8 BPG in 27.3 minutes/game, quieting the critics and establishing himself as a key piece for Milwaukee moving forward.

Last summer, he was trying to get more reps by playing in the Las Vegas Summer League.  This summer, Sanders recently confirmed he was asked to try out for the U.S.A. Basketball Team.  If that doesn't tell you what kind of jump he made from year two to year three, I don't know what does.  Look for him to be Milwaukee's starting center when they begin the 2013/14 season.

Please stand up, John Henson. 

He could be a diamond-in-the-rough pick the Bucks and Hammond desperately needed.  In last years draft, Henson was projected to go anywhere from 5th to 11th in the lottery.  He not only fell out of the lottery, he dropped to the Bucks at pick #14. 

The big knock on the junior PF out of UNC was that his body was too small for the physically demanding NBA and he lacked a consistent jump-shot.  Both of these deficiencies are correctable on the professional level. 

The NBA is a career.  Gone: are the classes and distractions of collegiate life.  Enter: a professional, intense NBA training regimen.  Trainers and nutritionists, strength and conditioning coaches, assistant coaches, summer leagues, training camp and hours upon hours of practice.  Not only are players assisted by all of these other assets, but they are also expected to go about their lifestyle in a businesslike manner on their own.

Henson showed flashes of his potential in his rookie year, most notably his outburst in a loss to the Orlando Magic on April 10th.  He scored 17 points, grabbed 25 rebounds and blocked 7 shots in a little over 41 minutes on the court. 

It may take Henson a few more years to adjust to the speed and aggressiveness of NBA play, but there is very little doubt that he will add muscle and weight to his frame.  Before last years draft he said, “I’ve improved my weight and strength in each of the last three seasons, so I think I can put on about 15 more pounds over the next few years."

Fans may not know this, but in high school Henson was recruited at first as a guard. His freshman year of high school he was a little over six feet tall and was a decent combo guard.  From his freshman year in high school to his freshman year at UNC, Henson grew about ten inches!

I'm a huge fan of NBA "bigs" that learn basketball as guards.  Their instincts of playing quickly in open spaces stays with them when they have to transition and play in tight spaces down low.  They may be bigger, but they never forget the skill set they learn as guards and are still able to move smoothly and fluidly and in rhythm in the open court.

Both Henson and Sanders should be in the long term plans of Hammond and the Bucks.  If they can keep these two together long-term, I believe Milwaukee could be a defensive juggernaut for years to come.

Note: Other notable players that had significant growth spurts from high school to college: Marcus Camby, Joakim Noah and #1 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Anthony Davis.


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