In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Dozens of prospects will be profiled in this space and, in this installment, we glance at Michigan State wing Aaron Henry.
Prior to the 2019-20 college basketball season, the buzz was real with Aaron Henry. Though his freshman season at Michigan State wasn’t overwhelming in terms of statistical production, Henry was a trendy first-round sleeper, based heavily on a skill set that is easy to project and tools that are exceedingly intriguing for the modern NBA. While there were positive signs, the ship never took off for Henry, and the 6’5 wing now has an interesting decision to make with regard to the 2020 NBA Draft.
Like many prospects, Henry has collegiate eligibility remaining and, because of the bizarre nature of this particular draft cycle, he has extra time to make his decision. A lot of chatter centers on Henry as a candidate perhaps more likely to return to school than some others but, if he does choose to stay in the draft, teams in the back half of the second round — including the Atlanta Hawks — may want to keep a close eye on Henry.
At 6’5, Henry isn’t exceptionally big for a wing and, without firm information at this juncture, reports on his wingspan range from 6’8 to 6’11. That, of course, is a substantial difference, but Henry does have enough size and physicality to project well in the NBA. From there, Henry is a very strong athlete, even if not an elite one, and that combination of size, strength and burst is immediately interesting for an NBA projection.
There are questions about Henry on the offensive end, though, and he stagnated in his second season at Michigan State. To be fair, the Spartans were heavily reliant on the two-headed monster of Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman, leaving Henry in a small role, but he did not jump off the screen on a consistent basis. This would not be the first time that a Michigan State prospect (see Jackson, Jaren) was deployed strangely in East Lansing, but Henry was seemingly pulled from action and hidden at times by head coach Tom Izzo, leaving a difficult task for professional evaluators.
All told, Henry enjoyed strong per-possession metrics in spot-up situations and when acting as a cutter, both of which are positive indicators for a supporting role in the NBA. Still, questions about his jump shot are important for Henry to answer, as he converted only 34.4 percent of his three-point attempts as a sophomore.
Because he shot 38.5 percent (on smaller volume) as a freshman, his career numbers are a bit better and that helps. However, Henry is just a 70 percent career free throw shooter, which doesn’t necessarily bring additional confidence about his shooting projection. With Henry’s profile as a projected role player, he will need to prove himself as an average-or-better marksman from beyond the arc to find a niche in the NBA, and that is the cruel reality.
In an encouraging trend, Henry saw his assist percentage rise to 17.8 percent as a sophomore and, while his turnover rate is still too high (17.7 percent), it declined from his freshman benchmark. From a decision-making perspective, Henry has a lot to learn but, at the same time, he flashes play-making ability that can’t be overlooked when evaluating him as an overall prospect with tangible upside.
Defensively, there is a lot to like with Henry. He isn’t a Matisse Thybulle-level defensive play-maker, but he does make things happen with solid numbers in steal rate (1.7 percent) and block rate (2.2 percent). Henry isn’t likely to be a game-changing on-ball defender but, because of his size and general feel, his defense seems likely to be a positive overall, and that is where a lot of his appeal lies as a prospect.
Though there is considerable uncertainty as to whether the Hawks will actually make their scheduled pick in the early 50’s, Atlanta could look in the direction of a prospect like Henry with that selection. Henry has been far too passive at times, as evidenced by a low usage rate and a propensity to generally disappear within games, but that becomes less of a concern at the NBA level where he will almost certainly be in a pure supporting role. Teams drafting in the second round should be looking for players that could potentially help on the margins and, quite honestly, it isn’t difficult to see Henry carving out a role as a versatile wing with two-way appeal at the NBA level.
Henry may choose to return to Michigan State for another run in the Big Ten but, if he doesn’t, he would be a perfectly reasonable investment for any NBA team outside of the first round. In 2020, the Hawks have a pick that just happens to fall in that range, and he would check a lot of boxes for a potentially valuable future piece.