Defense. Defense. Defense. That is what they preach at Michigan State and that is what Aaron Henry is all about. Henry declared for the draft following a junior season that saw him struggle from behind the three-point line, but continued to grow as a defender. Henry worked out for the Nuggets last week and was asked about his defense:
“I feel like every Spartan in the NBA knows how to play defense... I take pride in that too, it’s personal for me and I can't wait to do it at this level.”
Henry discussed his struggles from three last season as he shot a career-low 29.6 percent from distance. One positive that provides optimism regarding Henry’s three-point shot is that he’s been working with former Nugget Mike Miller throughout the pre-draft process. Nuggets fans might remember that Miller worked last offseason with R.J. Hampton and we saw the improvements he made throughout last season.
In a draft loaded with options at 26th overall for Denver, Henry is another player you can add to that list. If the Nuggets are looking to add another small forward who also possesses the ability to play shooting guard, Henry could most certainly be their guy.
Aaron Henry, Forward, Michigan State
Wingspan: 6’10 3/4”
Age: 21 (8/30/1999)
Henry’s per game stats for his junior season (2020-21)
Henry was the Spartans go to man offensively this past season and he did fairly well in that role averaging a career-high 15.4 points per game. Even though he struggled to score from three (29.6 percent), Henry did shoot 49.3 percent from 2-point range to make his field goal percentage 44.9 percent for the season. Henry also hauled in 5.6 rebounds, dished out 3.6 assists per game, and put up some pretty impressive defensive numbers forcing 1.3 steals per game and blocking 1.3 shots per game.
This is by far Henry’s greatest strength as he can be a lock down defender at the next level and has the ability to guard positions 1-3. For a team that could use more defense out on the wing, Henry would certainly provide that from the moment he walked in the building.
Aaron Henry last 7 games: 19.3 points, 5.6 boards, 3.7 assists, 1.1 blocks 50% FG, 47.4% 3PT— Jonathan Wasserman (@NBADraftWass) February 24, 2021
20-6-5 in win over Illinois last night while helping to hold Ayo to just 6-18 pic.twitter.com/UdrRVn3kuF
Henry was named to the Big Ten All-Defensive Team this past season and was also named Third-team All Big 10. Pretty high praise for a conference that has a ton of good defenders as Henry lost out of defensive player of the year to Darryl Morsell of Maryland.
His main job this past season was to lock down the opposing teams best player and Henry often rose to the occasion. Henry uses his long wingspan and quickness to his advantage in slowing down not just forwards, but guards as well. Because of the energy he constantly plays with, Henry could get on the court pretty soon at the next level based off his defense.
Even for a player that struggled to score from three, Henry was able to have a positive impact on every other part of the game offensively. Henry is a great player in transition who possesses the ability to get to the rim and score, make a midrange jump shot, or make the perfect pass to his teammates for an easy bucket.
Pocket pass between the two defenders isn't there on the side PnR, so Xavier Tillman extends his roll to create the baseline passing window for Aaron Henry. High feel player pic.twitter.com/XvFpQplYBJ— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) April 22, 2020
Henry was the focal point of Michigan State’s offense last year and he basically did everything from scoring to passing when plays were there to be made. The creativity in which Henry plays offense is spectacular as he was the lead ball handler in pick-n-roll sets and always seemed to be in control when running the Spartans offense.
We touched on it a little above, but Henry is a dynamic player in transition which is a spot he instantly could have a positive impact on at the next level. Henry is a really good rebounder for his size, which helps him get out in transition a lot easier because he starts the run as soon as he gets the ball in his hands.
Aaron Henry (@hennny11) is dominating in transition early for @MSU_Basketball. pic.twitter.com/HtXBKVy4Ax— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) February 26, 2021
Henry is also a strong athlete in transition who often gets to the rim and throws down unreal dunks, like he did against Michigan this past season:
Aaron Henry punched it in pic.twitter.com/bAMQA7YqNI— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 5, 2021
It’s plays like that where Henry really flashes and shows his worth as a potential first round pick. There is no question Henry’s greatest impact on the game is his defense, but his offensive creativity and transition play is something he put on display during his three years at Michigan State. If he can grow on that at the next level, Henry should be able to make an instant impact for whatever teams drafts him on both ends of the floor.
If there is one part of Henry’s game that holds him back it has to be his three-point shooting. Henry really took a step back this past season averaging just 29.6 percent from three after shooting 38.5 and 34.4 percent his first two seasons at Michigan State.
So what changed this past season? Henry was asked to do most of the playmaking for Michigan State and sometimes just tried to do to much. Henry’s field goal attempts per game went up to 13 a game this past season, which is almost five more shots a game (8.5) than what he attempted his sophomore season.
The number of three point shots he put up this past season was the same amount he shot during his sophomore season, but his usage went up everywhere else which affected his shot from distance. With a lesser offensive role at the next level there is no doubt Henry could get back up to that 35 percent average from three.
Michigan State's Aaron Henry in the NBA Combine shooting drills. pic.twitter.com/cLLvv9t5V4— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) June 22, 2021
It’s not like Henry’s shot is broken as he actually has a pretty nice stroke from distance. The fact that Henry has been working with such a prolific three-point shooter like Mike Miller is also incredibly encouraging for his growth at the next level.
Henry is one of the oldest players in this years class, which is weird considering he is still just 21 years old. His birthday is at the end of August, so Henry will be 22 once the season begins which may cause teams to pass on him for players that are younger and present more upside.
The ceiling just isn't there with Henry like it is with other players who will be selected late first/early second round, which is where Henry most likely will be drafted. Even though his game continued to get better over the course of three seasons at Michigan State, the player we saw this past season might just be who Henry is.
Where Henry can prove the upside theory wrong is if he develops a more consistent three-point shot to give him that 3-and-d potential in the NBA. He’s never going to be an all-star, but Henry could easily be a contributor on a championship level team, which is why he certainly has to be an option when the Nuggets are on the clock if they stay at 26 overall.
This came with the territory of Henry being the Spartans main offensive playmaker this past season, but his 2.9 turnovers per game is a little worrisome. Even when he didn't have the ball as much as a sophomore Henry still had two turnovers per game and it’s a part of his game he will certainly have to clean up at the next level if he wants to stay on the floor.
The more I went back and watched Henry the more I was impressed with him. He certainly lays it all out there defensively and the Nuggets could certainly use a guy that can guard positions 1-3. His offensive ability also surprised me and if he can develop a more consistent three-point shot he can be a guy that gives you 10 points a night in the NBA.
For the Nuggets, I still would like to see them target a guard with their first round pick, but if they decide another forward is what they need Henry is a nice option. Another possible outcome is Henry slides down into the second round and the Nuggets might be able to swing a deal to acquire him that way.
I think that is the best possible outcome for the Nuggets is adding Henry to pair him with a guard selection in the first round. That way Denver would be getting two contributors instead of one that could make an impact as early as next season.