How did the Bucks respond when their four-year, $44 million investment in shot-blocking specialist Larry Sanders ended poorly? By making a four-year, $44 million investment in shot-blocking specialist John Henson.
Milwaukee's expensive do-over is a reminder that reliability often trumps ferocity. Sanders was one of the league's most intimidating interior defenders, but he had trouble staying on the court. The Bucks bought him out less than one year into his deal after multiple drug suspensions and a battle with depression.
While Sanders was caught on a surveillance camera throwing liquor bottles during a nightclub brawl, Henson, 24, can be found on video on the team's website flinging fishing lines into Lake Michigan with schoolchildren. He spent his first three NBA seasons growing into his 6'11" frame, and his baby face sports a wide smile more often than a scowl. Behind that sunny disposition is an accomplished rim protector who blocked a league-best 5.3 shots per 48 minutes last season, helping Milwaukee's defense become the stingiest in the East. Nicknamed Hook for his signature post move, the 230-pound Henson sticks to what works on offense: A whopping 97% of his shot attempts come from inside 10 feet.
By paying off Sanders and ponying up for Henson, second-year owners Marc Lasry and Wes Edens demonstrated their commitment to improving a team that has languished for more than a decade. The message behind their move: Talent plus low-maintenance likability are our core values.
A rival scout sizes up Milwaukee
Jason Kidd does a great job. They're young and athletic, they figured out a plan, identified their top guys and built a culture. They still have question marks, but I think they'll progress and win a playoff series.... Giannis Antetokounmpo is ready to take the next step. There's so much to like: He puts his wingspan to good use on defense, he converts plays in transition and he's a great kid. His shooting isn't quite where you want it to be, but he gets away with it thanks to his activity level. He's like a young Scottie Pippen.... Their biggest question is Michael Carter-Williams. He creates no space on the floor, and he's not a high-energy player. Given his lack of shooting, it's hard to keep him on the court if he's not doing something else at an elite level, and I don't know what that would be.... I could absolutely see Greivis Vasquez beating out Carter-Williams. He can run a team and he's started before. It might be better if Kidd turns Carter-Williams loose on the second unit.... They basically chose to pay Khris Middleton instead of Brandon Knight, and I like that thinking a lot. Shooting is at a premium, the highest it has ever been in the league, so Middleton was a must; he's an elite three-and-D guy. He's right there with Danny Green.... It will take some time for Jabari Parker to find where he fits on the totem pole, with Giannis and Greg Monroe. None of those three are great shooters, so it's tough to keep them on the court together. Monroe will give them a post-up presence. But I'm in wait-and-see mode with him. Kidd likes to play up-tempo, and Monroe isn't an up-tempo guy.
COACH JASON KIDD
(2nd season with Bucks)
2014--15 RECORD 41--41
(3rd in Central)
PG MICHAEL CARTER-WILLIAMS
14.6 PPG; 6.7 APG; 39.6 FG%; 23.5 3FG%
SG KHRIS MIDDLETON
13.4 PPG; 4.4 RPG; 46.7 FG%; 40.7 3FG%
SF GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO
12.7 PPG; 6.7 RPG; 1.0 BPG; 49.1 FG%
PF JABARI PARKER
12.3 PPG; 5.5 RPG; 1.2 SPG; 49.0 FG%
C GREG MONROE*
15.9 PPG; 10.2 RPG; 2.1 APG; 49.6 FG%
PG GREIVIS VASQUEZ*
9.5 PPG; 3.7 APG; 40.8 FG%; 37.9 3FG%
SG O.J. MAYO
11.4 PPG; 2.8 APG; 42.2 FG%; 35.7 3FG%
PF JOHN HENSON
7.0 PPG; 4.7 RPG; 2.0 BPG; 56.6 FG%
Steals per game by Michael Carter-Williams after he was acquired from the 76ers last February, the most on the team. Under new coach Jason Kidd, the Bucks went from 28th in the league in steals to first, and from 30th in defensive rating to fourth.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED