Aaron Henry – Film Study

Film is second to none when it comes to really being able to take a deliberate and nuanced look at a player’s game. When you really dig into the details of Aaron Henry’s game you find an extreme amount of value that might not have been noticeable at first glance. His offense is budding, headlined by consistent spot up shot making, and his defense clearly separates him from every wing defender in the draft. Below we will dig into some specific plays that highlight Aaron Henry’s game.

In the first clip Henry uses his terrific recovery ability to get the on ball block against JaVonte Smart. In the next clip, he does a good job forcing Amir Coffey to his right while getting over the screen. While Coffey does get back to his left, Henry stays on his hip and uses his strength to get Coffey off balance with a bump and without fouling. After clips defending the 6’4” Smart and 6’8” Coffey, Henry shows his defensive versatility by containing the speedy 5’10” Tremont Waters. Aaron Henry is the best on ball defender in this draft.

Henry is also a very good team defender, consistently making smart rotations and impacting the game as a help defender despite Michigan State’s conservative defense.

The possession begins with Henry tagging PJ Horne and denying him the ball after Horne is able to back cut Cassius Winston. Immediately after the ball is kicked out to Hunter Cattoor and Henry closes out under control with a hand up – ready to contest against the deadly shooter. When Cattoor elects to drive, Henry allows the smaller Winston to pick him up (therefore getting Winston out of his match up with the bigger Horne) and on the fly switches to Wabissa Bede at the top of the key. With the shot clock running down, Henry executes another switch, ending up back on Horne. He gets into good position and grabs the defensive rebound after Bede is forced to settle for a difficult contested runner. 

The next play is not quite as impressive as far as displaying versatility but it shows Henry’s basketball IQ. Henry is matched up against Marlon Taylor (28.7 percent three-point shooter in LSU career) but he seems to anticipate almost right away the purpose of the set that LSU is going to run and decides to sag well off Taylor and stay in the paint. This decision pays off when Kavell Bigby-Williams slips the pick and rolls hard to the paint. Henry is able to rotate and strip Bigby-Williams. While a foul gets called and it is difficult to tell whether Henry got the ball cleanly or had a piece of the big man’s hand, it shows Henry’s basketball IQ and recognition.

On the final play, Thomas Kithier and Rocket Watts have a miscommunication on the perimeter which Henry immediately recognizes and makes an on the spot, quick decision to rotate inside and get the block from behind on PJ Horne’s layup attempt. He directly saves two points for Michigan State on this possession. This is especially impressive for how aware Henry was despite Michigan State’s conservative scheme which does not require a huge amount of roaming and rotating from the team’s perimeter players.

One of Henry’s best defensive traits is his ability to quickly recover after an opponent suddenly changes their speed or direction of movement. It is particularly apparent in his ability to close out on opponents with gusto, taking away their spot up opportunity but then also containing them and staying in front when they decide to drive to the rim. This is seen in a couple of plays above.

Henry was not a primary option as a freshman and sophomore for the Spartans. In both seasons, Michigan State had extremely talented college rosters. Veterans like Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman and Nick Ward were given most of the team’s offensive opportunities. However, Henry still found ways to contribute offensively, whether as a passer, a spot up shooter or by providing extra possessions for his team. One category that Henry saw a lot of success in is early offense on drives and dribble drive attacks against closeouts.

While Henry is not an elite quick twitch athlete, he does a great job of using mid-body agility, core strength and balance to get defenders off balance and smoothly but sharply turn corners to get into driving lanes. Henry quickly recognizes opportunities to attack the defense and uses his fluidity to get downhill and finish. 

His efficiency with both hands is notable, as well. The first play is impressive for his hip power as he pushes off his back foot and sharply turns to get downhill right after he comes off the pick. The next two plays are very similar attacks in early offense, with Henry showing his impressive fluidity and flexibility again. The latter one is slightly different in that Henry gives a subtle hip and shoulder fake toward the baseline as soon as he catches the ball, then immediately changes gears to go middle. This sharp change of body momentum shows why Henry is such a successful on ball defender as well, with his ability to quickly change his motion in any direction, allowing him to recover against almost any move. The following play is a nice pump fake and drive against a close out, as Henry once again contorts his body at the rim to complete the finish and this time uses the left hand to lay it in. Henry is slightly better with his right hand than his left hand finishing in close but he is equally comfortable with both. The last play is a quick post up – something Henry is capable of using his strength and balance, especially when a smaller player is matched up on him. This ability to attack the basket in early offense is a way that Henry can contribute offensively without taking up unnecessary time off the shot clock or having to run plays especially designed for him in the half court.

Although Henry had to carry the burden of question marks about his shooting, by the end of his freshman campaign he had become a fairly proficient spot up shooter. In fact, in his second year, Henry was one of the better spot up shooters in the country statistically. His pull up shooting is where he has some shortcomings. More particularly in his tendency not to follow through and snap his wrist on dribble jumpers. Henry has identified this issue and is currently working on adding consistency to his shot. Perhaps the reason he pulls back and does not flick his wrist is the power he generates at his base when going up with a shot directly off movement. If Henry can work on getting his feet down and on fluidly going from dribbling into wind up, he can prove to be a much better shooting prospect.

In the video above, a few clips of shots where Henry actually follows through on his shot and fully bends or “snaps” his wrist. 

Below is a photo of a shot off the dribble when he pulled his arms back toward himself after the release.

This can also be seen in the video below, that exemplifies some of the things he needs to work on in his game. First, he passes up the open look, possibly due to lack of confidence on his jump shot when his feet are not set. However, immediately after he changes his mind and tries to go up with a pull up. The shot is decent quality since the defense is not in the ideal position.  However, Henry pulls his arms back and does not hold his follow through after release.

In fact, in almost all the shots he missed in the three games that film was taken from in order to create this analysis, Henry pulled his arms back instead of holding his follow through. Alternatively, whenever he “snapped” his wrists, he hit almost every shot. Another minor issue with his mechanics that can be adjusted is the tendency to have his elbow poking out a little too far away from his body, which creates a somewhat awkward shot pocket. Here is a photo of it:

Henry’s form looks solid overall but his left elbow is pointing a little too much toward the baseline and not enough toward the floor. This is a relatively minor issue and it is questionable whether it is even something that needs fixing. However, it can be another tweak that perhaps changes his shooting projection in a positive manner. Henry’s mechanics need some slight adjustments that should not be difficult to overcome with some time in the gym but he clearly has the accuracy and hand-eye coordination to get the ball softly on the rim and through the net. 

With either hand, in short range and on high arching floaters around the rim, Henry shows very good touch. Both the ambidexterity and the soft bounces have been useful indicators for future shooting development of NCAA players in past years. 

This is why other ways of contributing like defense and passing are so important to look for when projecting young players. Henry’s defense is inarguably excellent while his passing is sometimes overlooked. Despite not being given much opportunity to run offense and create, Henry consistently shows the ability to find open teammates and set up good shots for them. 

The first few possessions show Henry’s ability to quickly read the defense, find the open man and move the ball. He understands the miscommunication between two LSU defenders in the first play and quickly recognizes who the open man is and the best way to get him the ball. He is unselfish when he draws and collapses defenders on drives and recognizes when the trailer is open in early offense. Perhaps the most underrated play is in the second to last clip in the video. The clip begins with 12:31 left in the first half of the game against LSU in last year’s NCAA Tournament. Winston misses the shot and the pass itself is a relatively easy one to execute but it is actually fairly uncommon for players at the college level to recognize when the open player is the one standing directly behind their back where they cannot see them. 

This play shows Henry’s awareness of everyone on the court and his understanding of schemes and defenses. As mentioned, Winston misses the shot but Henry gets the offensive rebound and kicks it out to him again, this time getting the assist as Winston drains the three. In the final clip, Henry shows his ability to run Pick-n-Roll, as he uses his eyes to add deception and freeze the defense before throwing a perfectly placed ball to Xavier Tillman inside. Henry still needs to improve on his consistency as a ball handler and his ability to accurately execute some more difficult, long range passes; however, his vision, awareness, mental approach and creativity is in place already and those are the things much harder to teach than basic half court reads and/or skip passes directly off the dribble etc.

Aaron Henry is clearly a highly intelligent basketball player with a great understanding of the game and the instincts to make winning plays on both ends. This can be seen throughout the clips above but is further showcased by his nose for the ball and motor. He finds ways to get his team extra possessions and does a great job of being an unselfish, high effort teammate. 

Henry is consistently moving without the ball and getting himself in a better position to create passing lanes for easy baskets or extra opportunities for his team. He shows his nose for the ball, passing vision and even cutting ability in the clips above. His awareness and instincts are apparent when he relocates to more advantageous spots around the court or when he uses a quick pass fake to open a driving lane to get all the way to the rim. 

Aaron Henry is a versatile wing with the ability to impact the game on both ends in a variety of ways at a high level and should prove to be an impactful player at the next level even if he is not utilized as the offensive focal point for his team.