LAS VEGAS — It’s a breakout moment for John Henson at the NBA Summer League this week.
The Milwaukee Bucks 6-foot-11 center-forward is making a major impression while dishing up some sensational plays, showing he should be a main contributor to the team next season.
A tip-dunk here. A massive rejection and an emphatic rebound there. Hello, Vegas.
And if Henson and shot-blocker Larry Sanders are playing together on the Milwaukee front line, they should be an extraordinary eraser duo.
“Limitless” was the word Bucks assistant coach Scott Williams used to describe Henson’s potential impact.
“I love the fact that he patrols the paint like a big man should,” Williams said. “He’s not just a long guy with no athletic ability. He gets off the floor. He’s got good timing.
“Two areas of improvement. First, motor. He needs to be able to play at a high level for longer stretches. That will come with maturity. The other thing is getting on that (free throw) line with some confidence and knocking it down.”
Henson started the summer session with 19 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks in the Bucks’ 88-74 victory over Denver late Saturday.
At one point he blocked successive shots by guard Quincy Miller, who had the boldness to challenge Henson not once but twice in the paint.
“It’s funny because I know Quincy and I knew he was going to try to shoot it again,” said Henson, who sat out Sunday’s game against New Orleans for precautionary reasons with a sore right groin. “He just played right into my hands.”
Henson played in 63 games as a rookie and showed flashes of brilliance, including a 17-point, 25-rebound, seven-block game against Orlando in April. But he also spent plenty of time on the bench, something not likely to repeat itself in his second season.
The Bucks are committed to building around their young core including Sanders, Henson and power forward Ersan Ilyasova.
“Certainly the game plan is to build what we do out here, both ends of the floor, around him,” said Bucks assistant Bob Bender, who is directing the summer league team.
“He took advantage of the opportunity (against Denver). Unbelievable. He completely dominated the paint. Guys were looking for him on dribble-drives; they were very reluctant to throw the ball inside and attack.
“On the offensive end his teammates did a great job. They looked for him and he went quickly, which is how he has to play.
“He’s not going to pound it with somebody. Make your move and go.”
In the opening round of summer league play, the rules are relaxed and players do not foul out until their 10th foul. In the tournament portion later this week there is a six-foul limit.
“We want him to be more aggressive,” Bender said. “In a regular-season game he’d pick up that second foul and we’re probably going to take him out.
“We can play through all that, which is the great thing about summer league.”
Henson is excited to be able to work closely with Williams, the Bucks’ new big man coach, and the two already have a bond thanks to their University of North Carolina ties.
Williams said he is studying Henson’s free throw stroke to see if a mechanical adjustment is required.
“And it’s repetition, that’s all it is,” Williams said. “Do I want to change a lot of things? No. Do I want to tweak a few things? He has a tendency to flip (the ball), from what I see. But we’ll work on his stroke.”
Henson can play both center and power forward, so he can back up either the 6-11 Sanders or 6-10 Ilyasova.
But will there be a chance for all three to play together? It means Ilyasova has to slide to small forward, which is a challenge for him defensively against quicker players.
Bender said it’s not so far-fetched.
“They all complement each other,” Bender said. “Ersan is a stretch big. Larry is a pick-and-pop and roll man. John is a roll man and one of the dump-out guys.
“The matchups would not be (a concern) offensively. It would be if we feel comfortable with the matchups defensively. That would put more on Ersan because he would be guarding the 3.
“But if we’re playing zone, that’s a great zone lineup, because the back line is so big. We play zone. We don’t spend a lot of time on it, but we do play it.”
Henson repeated his summer league goals are “to stay healthy and come out here and win.”
“We’re here; we might as well win it,” he said. “Seven games is a lot of games. We played five last year. We’ve got a deep team so I think we’ll be fine.”