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Steve Aschburner

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Big man John Henson might not be who the Bucks needed most, but it is who they picked.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Bucks have to hope Henson helps stave off seller's remorse


Posted Jun 29 2012 10:10AM

MILWAUKEE -- Drafts are always ripe for second-guessing. But there's a special place in hindsight hell reserved for those general managers who get creative -- maybe too creative -- before it's their turn to select.

It's one thing to sit right where the inverse standings or the lottery balls stick you. Hey, them's the breaks. It's quite another to move up, move down and package real, live players or other picks for a switcheroo in draft position. That's what the Milwaukee Bucks and GM John Hammond will face going forward -- good or bad -- with John Henson, their first-round pick from North Carolina Thursday in the 2012 Draft.

Not only is Henson the latest slender power forward in the Bucks' stable, joining Larry Sanders, Ekpe Udoh, Luc Mbah a Moute and Ersan Ilyasova (until he leaves as a too-expensive-for-Milwaukee free agent). Henson also is The Guy Who Could Have Been Jeremy Lamb.

Lamb is the smooth, athletic 6-foot-5 shooting guard from UConn with the 7-foot wingspan who could have brought size and versatility to a Milwaukee backcourt built around smallish Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and Beno Udrih. He was the 12th pick in the first round Thursday, which is where the Bucks were slated to select -- until Hammond swung his deal Wednesday with the Houston Rockets, acquiring center Samuel Dalembert for Jon Leuer, Jon Brockman, Shaun Livingston and a swap of the Nos. 12 and 14 picks.

Henson, of North Carolina, is who Milwaukee wound up with two spots after Lamb came off the board (Phoenix selected Tar Heels point guard Kendall Marshall, no factor in Milwaukee's draft plans). He is a 6-foot-11 rebounder and shot blocker, lacking in strength and with an unrefined offensive game.

He left Chapel Hill as the school's all-time leader in blocked shots per game (2.56) and was the ACC's top defensive player last season. Henson wasn't called on to score much for the Tar Heels (13.7 ppg) and it's not clear he'll do much of that for the Bucks, either.

Hammond said Wednesday, after swinging the deal for Dalembert, that he expected Lamb to be gone by No. 14. Had he been gone by No. 12, of course, the Bucks would be off that particular hook. Now, they either missed out on a player they could have used and will regret losing ... or they got luckier still that Henson dropped into their laps.

Henson was another guy Milwaukee expected to be gone before it picked. That's what Billy McKinney, the Bucks' director of scouting, had said after Henson worked out for the team prior to the draft. And that's what Hammond said again Thursday after his first-round work was done.

"We sat there with our fingers crossed," Hammond said. "When [No. 9] hit, I kept saying, 'There's no way he's going to be there.' I knew Detroit really liked [Andre] Drummond and I'm sure they're really thrilled to have that guy. But I knew that was [Henson's] range -- we thought he was [Nos.] 5 to 10."

Five? Really? If Henson had been widely projected at No. 5 and still was available at No. 14, that should have raised more red flags than expectations among Bucks faithful.

Remember, for every GM delighted a certain player still is available, there are two or three who didn't like him enough to grab him earlier.

Did Hammond start to wonder what other teams didn't see in Henson that he and his staff did? Nope -- though one Milwaukee insider indicated the Bucks would have gone a different way, possibly Lamb's, at No. 12.

"I think things just broke right for us," Skiles said. "People ahead of us, maybe a guy fell to them they didn't think would be there."

Best-case scenario: The Bucks have added a legit starting center, drafted the first-rounder they wanted anyway and picked up a scorer named Lamb (Kentucky's Doron, with the No. 42 pick) way later than they imagined. Henson's impact will dictate how close they get to that outcome.

Said Hammond of Henson: "Not really questioning why he was there. Just thrilled that he was there."

By taking Henson, the Bucks completed a two-step process designed to shore up their interior defense. They felt exposed there last season with Andrew Bogut absent, first with a foot fracture and then via the trade with Golden State for Ellis. They had been built, and maybe even had gotten into some bad habits, knowing that Bogut -- when healthy -- was back there to clean up penetration and mistakes.

Udoh, Sanders, out-of-position Drew Gooden and the others simply weren't long enough to match up with the league's true centers (scarce as they are). Skiles -- known for making it difficult for opponents to score -- had trouble stomaching the reversal in his team; the Bucks went from 30th in offensive rating in 2010-11 to 13th last season but from fourth defensively to 16th.

So in a span of less than 48 hours, Hammond plugged that hole with Dalembert, then caulked alongside him with Henson (who admits he has to get stronger to play in NBA paint).

"At the end of the season, we had a very difficult time protecting the basket," Hammond said. "Now there's no reason not to have a quality shot blocker out there at all times."

Hammond said that Henson's arrival doesn't seal Ilyasova's fate, in terms of a possible return to the Bucks. That's probably true -- the lanky, inside-outside threat from Turkey who finished second in balloting as 2012's Most Improved Player likely will prove too rich for Milwaukee's budget in free agency, with or without a ready replacement. Ilyasova averaged 13.0 points and 8.8 rebounds in 27.6 minutes, with his 45.5 percent 3-point shooting and 78.1 percent foul shooting particularly hard for the new guy to match.

That will keep the Bucks' points coming outside-in and backcourt-first, with Jennings, Ellis and swingman Mike Dunleavy providing most of the production.

It will keep a lot of eyes on Jeremy Lamb's splash and development, too, down in Houston, lest it become known as hindsight hell.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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