In part three of the NBA draft preview series (see my earlier pieces on Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman), given his decision to declare for the NBA draft, I take a look at Aaron Henry’s game from an NBA perspective: what will teams think of him when they see his film? How will he do in interviews? How will they evaluate him as a fit in the NBA? And, if he stays in the draft, which teams might view him as a fit?
NBA scouting report for Aaron Henry
General info and initial scout:
6’6”, ~210 pounds, DOB: August 30, 1999 (~21 years old and one month at the start of 2020-21 NBA season)
Wingspan ~6’11” (+5), not an explosive athlete, but has NBA-level athleticism, solid, positional strength, can hold up against bigs, but that is not a strength at this point. Henry has very quick feet, and excellent technique both in his slide and drop-step and in his turn-and-run and shows a good understanding of when to use which technique. Good at getting skinny over picks, and good in trailing around screens.
Has plenty of scoring talent from all over the court, but can be tentative on both ends, which you can see when he gets in early foul-trouble (not being up-to-speed at tip-off) or when he floats through games on offense (14 games in single-digit scoring, including seven games of six or fewer shots). He had very few of either instances down the stretch of the season and appeared primed for a huge post-season.
Henry projects as a rare plus on-ball defender at the next level. He has terrific feet, hands, length, timing, and understands when and where to use his physicality. This will be his calling card initially as a professional. His shooting form is quirky: much smoother and more natural dip and release off the dribble in the mid-range. From three-point range his form is more of a set-shot that begins in-front of his face and can be a bit inconsistent (as seen by his conference shooting numbers and his “big-game” shooting numbers this year). Not broken, but needs to be tweaked given his need to be a catch-and-shoot three-point guy at the next level.
Good-not-great slasher from the wing, excellent and confident finisher with both hands on a variety of reverses, off-foot finishes, push shots, tear-drops, and hooks. Only had four dunk attempts this season (after 19 as a freshman), but finishes solidly around the rim when he isn’t dropping off passes, which is one of his underrated skills - a terrific paint-area passer through and around help.
Has a tendency to exhibit passive body language — sometimes does not sprint in transition, sometimes fails to fully explode in plays where he has clear opportunities to do so, sometimes shuffles when he runs instead of using his full speed. When locked-in, he can be a terrific transition player: reads the court well, understands best angles to attack, and finds open teammates on the perimeter. These skills also serve him well when attacking close-outs, but he often fails to take full advantage of his physical gifts and tends to shy away from contact as evidenced by his poor free-throw rate.
Good-not-great advanced stats on both sides of the ball under-sell his defense a bit, but essentially reflect his inconsistency over the course of the year. Stepped into a much bigger role this year than was anticipated, which may have contributed to his inconsistency (along with team tragedy). By the end of the year he was playing his best basketball on both ends of the court. Very smart, very engaging, cerebral, humble, and highly teachable.
Shooting (particularly from three-point range), ball-handling, improving his strength and explosion, and “killer” mentality are his swing-skills in the NBA.
Offense: Percentages predictably dropped with an increase in role and usage, but, significantly, he did dramatically improve his three-point attempt rate and increased his assist rate (while lowering his turnover rate slightly). Clearly a smart operator, he needs to improve as a finisher at the rim - often settles for crafty finishes when he can explode to the rim and draw contact.
Terrific finishing with both hands, great interior passer, and confident and effective from mid-range off the dribble. His three-point shooting left him a bit largely due to his mechanics, which need some attention. But Henry is a great role-playing wing at the college level who can contribute more than he did over the balance of the past season. He has great touch inside the arc, which should eventually translate to his three-point shot, and helps him on his interior passing as well.
His lack of willingness to use his explosion and strength to get to the line is, however, an indicator that he likely will not become a starting-level option early in his career. He just is not aggressive enough when he has opportunities and doesn’t create enough chances for himself on the glass or by running harder in transition.
Henry is solid off the bounce attacking close-outs, but is not a consistent or prolific initiator at this stage in his development. His passing acumen and ambidextrous finishing ability indicate that he may become a very capable pick-and-roll player in the future, but he has exhibited almost no ability in this area due to lack of reps at Michigan State.
Despite his impressive finish to the season, offensively, his conference-only numbers are pretty dire. He had a major offensive slump for this extended part of the season (Ortg sub-95, FG percentage sub-40, nearly 5 percent drop in FT percentage), which has to give evaluators pause when considering the weekly grind of the NBA.
Defense: Henry is one of the top defensive wings in the country, and profiles as a plus point-of-attack or wing specialist. Excellent in every facet of defense and would have better numbers in terms of steals and blocks (stocks) if he were more aggressive, which his role will likely allow him to be in the NBA.
His last five games of the regular season this past year are a showcase of his high-level defensive talent and potential as he completely shut down his cover in each game. Doesn’t have the leg strength at this point to hold up well against bigs, but has the frame to add weight and strength, which will help him to potentially have the flexibility to play on the wing and as a small-ball four.
Shows good timing on blocks, active hands on steals, and uses his length well to affect passing lanes. Projects as a high-level NBA defender.
Between-the-ears: Henry is extremely bright and thoughtful; a candid, open, and engaging interview. He is clearly smart on the court, though, at times, it almost seems to hinder his game. When he is locked-in and playing instinctively then he is terrific on both ends. When he over-thinks, hesitates, or is unsure of his game he can really disappear; a natural place to be in as a developing player.
The biggest concern I would have as an NBA coach/GM is about his aggression and mentality. Often failing to play like one of the best players on the floor and a bona fide NBA talent, Henry will be facing extremely talented players every night and may get eaten alive if he doesn’t raise his compete factor to be ultra-high at all times. He does fare well against top-competition, and has risen to big occasions multiple times over his two years in college, but this has to be a concern in a way it never was with wings like Miles Bridges, Bryn Forbes, Denzel Valentine, Gary Harris, Alan Anderson, Shannon Brown, Jason Richardson, and Mo Peterson who have all demonstrated the ability to play mentally-tough enough to stick in the NBA after coming out of Izzo’s program. Henry appears to have all of the physical and skill tools to do so, but has the most questionable mentality of the bunch.
NBA prospects & comparisons
There are many recent wings that Henry appears to compare favorably to including, at least, Alan Anderson, Garrett Temple, Jarrett Culver, Dwayne Bacon, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jacob Evans, Keldon Johnson, Josh Okogie, Torrey Craig, Thabo Sefolosha, Kenrich Williams, Jae Crowder, and, maybe my favorite comp for Aaron Henry: Josh Richardson.
Richardson was a four-year player at Tennessee, who has blossomed into a very capable three-and-D wing currently playing for the Philadelphia 76ers. Richardson, as a junior and senior, became a very good, but not great, three-point shooter, he was always a solid defender, and those two traits have served him well in the NBA. Henry is further along as a defender, ball-handler, passer, and shooter than Richardson was as a sophomore, which stands him in good stead for the comparison over all, but Richardson didn’t really take off as a draftable prospect until his last two years at UT, when his efficiency spiked and his usage and role increased dramatically, particularly as a senior when he used 25 percent of available possessions. [I have another favorite comparison for Aaron (on defense only), which I mention below.]
Henry will likely never be a high-level shooter (>40 percent ) in college or the NBA, but he simply must get above 35 percent as a three-point shooter to be a truly viable role-playing defensive-minded wing in the modern NBA. For his career, Henry is just at that threshold, which will give NBA teams something to consider when looking at him as a prospect. But his projection and fit seem clear long-term. The question is when Henry will play in the NBA, not if; which brings us to his draft context...
NBA fit, draft context (position-ranking), and potential landing spots
Every draft these days sees guards and wings, increasingly, prized over bigs because of the valuation of switch-able players who can shoot, handle, and pass. This year’s draft is no different. Though this year’s draft is lighter on the top-end talent, every year good NBA players get drafted, even if some get taken earlier or later than their “true” value.
This year’s draft is full of guards and wings: Anthony Edwards, Lamelo Ball, Deni Avdija, Killian Hayes, Tyrese Haliburton, Isaac Okoro, Cole Anthony, Devin Vassell, Tyrese Maxey, Saddiq Bey, RJ Hampton, Josh Green, Jaden McDaniels, Aaron Nesmith, Theo Maledon, Tyler Bey, Jahmi’us Ramsey, Tyrell Terry, Leandro Bolmaro, Immanuel Quickley, Robert Woodard II, Desmond Bane, Cassius Stanley, Jared Butler, Joel Ayayi, Isiah Joe, Elijah Hughes, Skylar Mays, Ayo Dosunmu, and Grant Riller, among others.
If you broke these players into tiers, they would look something like this (approximate order):
Tier 1 (likely lottery picks): Anthony Edwards, Lamelo Ball, Deni Avdija, Killian Hayes, Tyrese Haliburton, Isaac Okoro, Cole Anthony, Devin Vassell, Aaron Nesmith
Tier 2 (likely first round picks): Tyrese Maxey, Saddiq Bey, RJ Hampton, Josh Green, Jaden McDaniels, Theo Maledon, Tyler Bey, Jahmi’us Ramsey, Tyrell Terry, Leandro Bolmaro
Tier 3 (likely drafted or un-drafted free-agent (UDFA), signed to a team): Immanuel Quickley, Robert Woodard II, Desmond Bane, Cassius Stanley, Jared Butler, Joel Ayayi, Isiah Joe, Elijah Hughes, Skylar Mays, Jordan Nwora, Naji Marshall, Kristian Doolittle, Ayo Dosunmu, Jay Scrubb, and Grant Riller
Phew! That is 34 names! And does not include some European wings and off-guards who likely will have great chances to get drafted.
Playing around with some different thresholds on Barttorvik.com yields the following comparisons for Henry who played in college this year. Obviously some of the names listed above did not pass the thresholds (either height, or defensive or offensive thresholds), but you can clearly see a healthy set that are in the draft in various tiers, and some who are either unlikely to get drafted or who are returning to school.
As one might expect having seen Herny’s stats above, and my comments (or one’s own assessment of him), Henry certainly fits in this group, but at the lower end of the offensive spectrum. Henry’s usage, though middle-of-the-pack yields an interesting assist and turnover story - where many of the other players in this group were pure finishers (which explains their low assist rates and low turn-over rates), Henry, as more of a secondary creator, finishes third in assist rate (though his assist:turnover ratio (A:TO) clearly still indicates his need to refine his play-making and shot-creation). All told, however, Henry is clearly an “average” offensive player in this group statistically except in terms of his free-throw rate, which is low, as discussed earlier.
[for some reason the column-headings are a bit wonky above on the right side - “dunks” refers to the first ratio after “FTR,” “close 2” refers to the second column and the first decimals (shooting percentage for “close 2”), the next column indicates “far 2” (mid-range) and its percentage, then “ft” numbers and its percentage, then “2pt” overall, “3PR” (3pt-rate), and, finally, “3P” for three-point numbers and percentage]
On defense, Henry stacks up far better, which accords with his tape/film, but is still not a stand-out, statistically. I do believe, however, that Henry does have better defensive potential than most of the players on this list, and realistically has a clear first-round defense ‘grade.’
The fact remains, however, that Henry’s statistical profile did not take a significant enough jump this season to really put him on teams’ draft-boards until the final stretch of the season. But by this time, other players had already cemented themselves as clear draft-worthy prospects meaning that Henry would have had to really separate himself in individual and group work-outs. In this aspect, Michigan State is fortunate: most MSU players do really well in work-outs, and Henry likely would have had many good showings against the other guards and wings in his cohort. As it is, and even with his stellar interviewing, it seems like an uphill battle for him to really differentiate himself from players with better numbers, better and more consistent film, and without a clearly translatable offensive skill-set that will fit his role.
As for what teams he best fits onto? Every NBA team is looking for versatile wings who are plus defenders, so his value should get a boost from that fact alone. His possible draft range appears to be the back of the second round, where teams like Golden State, Atlanta, Sacramento, the LA Clippers, Charlotte, Brooklyn, Toronto, Philadelphia, and New Orleans are picking. Of those teams, Golden State, Atlanta, Sacramento, and Philadelphia would seem like the best fits:
Golden State: Golden State needs cheap young bodies to fill out their roster behind their four huge contracts. They have a top-five pick incoming, a traded-player exception, the tax-payer mid-level exception, and veteran minimums to work with outside of their drafted players. They may very well trade for a veteran, which may involve moving their top-five pick, in which case they will likely keep and use both second round picks this year. Henry would seem to be an excellent fit as a player who can confidently defend most wings, and some smaller fours. The Warriors love smart, good-passing, unselfish players, and have shown a willingness to draft guys with questionable three-point shooting. It would also be incredibly fun to see Henry on the Warriors, and I can really see the fit — oh and my second-favorite comp (on defense only) for Aaron Henry? Klay Thompson.
Atlanta: Atlanta needs wings, they have been stock-piling them for the last couple of drafts, and will likely take another one or two wings in this year’s draft. Neither Cam Reddish nor DeAndre Hunter quite landed as hits last year, and with Hunter, especially, profiling as a bigger, slightly-stiffer version of Henry, one wonders whether they would take a look at Aaron. Trae Young is taking most of the shots in this offense, so Henry’s unselfishness and comfort as a secondary and tertiary option fit well. They need defensive talent, Henry has that, and there are minutes to be taken in the Hawks rotation — this is a team where work-outs might have really served Henry well.
Philadelphia: The 76ers love defense, and Aaron has that in spades, but they also desperately need shooting, which Henry is less clearly excellent at. But the fact that Philly already has Josh Richardson on the roster, with a chance to get a cheaper clone of him in a draft where Philly will likely want to make a trade (possibly moving Richardson who has a desirable and movable contract and the quality to draw interest) might seal the deal.
Sacramento: Kent Bazemore comes off the books, Bogdan Bogdanovic is about to get a huge extension, Buddy Hield’s extension kicks in after next season, and Harrison Barnes is still playing significant minutes. But in the division they are in, the Kings need as many competent wing defenders as possible, and the fact that Henry is a good passer, and capable transition player, is another boost. Henry would slot in as the sixth body in the back-court/wing, and would be a great reserve addition for the Kings.
I do believe that, even now, Aaron Henry is an NBA-level player, with NBA potential. But I would be surprised if he got drafted anywhere inside the top 45-50 picks, and, frankly, a bit surprised if he got drafted at all. With another year of playing in his larger, more ball-dominant role, Henry’s efficiency, raw-numbers, and advanced stats should all improve. While the next NBA draft will feature an even better crop of wings than this year’s, the most important aspect of sticking in the NBA is a clear role-skill-set pairing, the smarts and work-ethic to be a professional, and the mentality of a killer who will take minutes and a roster spot from other prospective pros. Right now, I don’t see all of the above for Henry, which is why I believe that he will ultimately come back to Michigan State for one more year, with a chance to solidify himself as an NBA player. Whatever he decides to do, Aaron will find success and will always be a Spartan.