Aaron Henry has the frame, passing ability, and defensive chops to come into the NBA and immediately be able to contribute. Compared to 13 of the most physically similar NBA players, he shines as a passer and a defender when comparing his most recent season at Michigan State to their last season prior to making the NCAA to NBA leap.
|Player||Age on 6/25 of Draft Year||Height (in)||Weight (lb)||Wingspan (in)|
|Glenn Robinson III||20.5||78.75||211||82|
|Tim Hardaway Jr.||21.3||78.25||199||79|
Aaron Henry physically is coming into the league with great physical tools for a player at the large guard or forward position. His height is just below average compared to this group of similar NBA players (78” vs an average of 78.6”) while his 82” wingspan is and 210-pound frame are just above average (81.5” and 207.1 pounds, respectively). Poised to be 20.8 years old on what is the scheduled date of the 2020 draft, below the average of 21.2 years old for this group of NBA players, Aaron lines up physically very well with this group and they make for an ideal baseline comparison of each player as prospects to him.
|Glenn Robinson III||14.3||56.2%||30.6%||75.7%||53.2%|
|Tim Hardaway Jr.||15.5||48.3%||37.4%||69.4%||51.6%|
Looking at shooting volume and efficiency by general range in their last year in college before the draft, the first thing that jumps out is how much smaller of a role Aaron had compared to these physically and positionally similar players. Only Chandler Parsons at Florida in 2010-11 had fewer shooting possessions per 40 minutes before entering the league with the average player being compared to having 16.8 per 40 minutes, nearly 30 percent more volume than Aaron had at Michigan State. That being said, he was on the lower end of offensive efficiency in this group ranking 10th and 11th in terms of efficiency for two-point and three-point efficiency respectively.
With improving shooting mechanics as a key point of emphasis and the existing ability to finish with either hand around the basket, Aaron is continuing to improve as an individual scorer as he showed in February and March of the 2019-20 season when he was playing some of the best basketball of his collegiate career. Specifically given his demonstrated ability to shoot off the catch where he shot 40.0% over his two years in college, the continued focus on a one motion shot and smoother release is an important area of growth for him going forward to becoming a more versatile perimeter scorer and floor spacer.
|Player||AST/40||TOV/40||AST to TOV||AST per Shooting Possession|
|Glenn Robinson III||1.5||1.5||0.96||0.10|
|Tim Hardaway Jr.||2.8||2.1||1.31||0.18|
Where he excels as an offensive player is with his secondary creation ability, specifically when considering his role size. His raw rate of 3.9 assists per 40 minutes is 5th among the group, but his 0.30 assists per shot to control for role size is 3rd making his passing relative to role even more impressive than even the raw rate. All the while his 1.41 assist to turnover ratio demonstrating his passing accuracy is 6th best as well. As a strong secondary creator, whether adjusting for role size or not, Aaron has shown the ability to not only keep the ball moving but find high value passes and really create shots for teammates no matter what he is asked to do on offense.
As a growing scorer and already proficient passer, Aaron’s offensive game is well tailored for the modern NBA as he can space the floor, push the pace with his ball handling and consistently find and make the smart passes to keep the ball moving to the right places. Aaron compares favorably without even bringing his biggest strength into the discussion – on-ball defense.
The box score always undersells great defenders because there is so much going on that purely steals and blocks could never capture. On top of that, Aaron plays in a conservative defensive scheme at Michigan State that prioritizes smart defenders instead of gambling out of position for steals or highlight blocks. Evidence of their conservative scheme can be found in that Michigan State has not ranked among the top 300 NCAA teams in defensive turnover percent in the last six years despite consistently being an elite defense. Instead they rely on elite defensive talent like Aaron brings to play smart defense that can generate stops by playing the right way. Every game Aaron is asked to guard the best opposing perimeter player, from the quickest point guards to bigger and stronger wings, and consistently he comes out on top in matchups.
Over his two years at MSU he was in the 93rd percentile of all-players via Synergy, an imperfect measurement system to be sure but still a strong indicator of his value when paired with hours of tape of him locking down. Other all-in-one statistics, such as Player Impact Plus-Minus and Box Plus-Minus, also concur with his defensive impact rating in the 95th percentile of D-PIPM for all NCAA players over the last two years.
Evidence of his lock down defense is found looking at a few match ups in which he was tasked with being the primary defender against a capable perimeter scorer. The first is against Geo Baker of Rutgers. Baker averaged 10.6 points per game in conference play last season. While he was the second leading scorer on the team (behind Ron Harper Jr), he was the team’s top half court self-creator. Aaron held him to just 4 points, almost 7 below his conference average, in this game.
The first two possessions are signature defensive stands for Aaron. First, he forces Baker baseline and, while the Scarlet Knight is able to get to his strong hand, Aaron stays completely draped over him and heavily contests the shot, perhaps even getting a hand on it. Notice also how quickly Aaron gets around the pick at the beginning of the play and how balanced and under control he stays immediately after going over the screen. The pick does not slow him down.
In the next play Aaron stays right on top of and in front of Baker, despite a pretty in and out dribble executed by Baker that would likely allow him to create significant separation against lesser defenders. Aaron perfectly mirrors him and takes away his ability to turn the corner and get downhill, finally forcing Baker to go up with a difficult, contested fade away jump shot from about 16 feet. Any basketball mind knows that this is one of the least efficient shots in the game of basketball and is obviously a net positive for Michigan State’s defense.
Off balance long two-point shots and heavily contested runners from the baseline are the two shots Aaron most often forces when defending on ball. He is also very good at funneling opponents into Michigan State’s interior shot blockers. On the last play against Rutgers, Baker haplessly puts up a difficult fade away out of a dribble hand off, as he seemingly gives up on trying to beat Aaron off the dribble.
Aaron also defended Marcus Carr of Minnesota for the majority of their two match ups in conference. Carr ended up shooting with an effective field goal percent of 28 in the two games between Minnesota and Michigan State. Overall, between Baker and Carr, Aaron held them to a 25 eFG percent on 10.7 field goal attempts per game in their three matchups. In their other 34 conference games, Carr and Baker shot a combined 49 eFG percent on 10.7 attempts per game. While the attempts stayed the same, their efficiency was almost cut in half. Surely Aaron’s teammates deserve credit but not counting free-throws, Carr and Baker scored 11.7 points per game on just field goal attempts in other conference games. Against Michigan State, both players scored 5.3 points per game on field goals. That is a 6.4 point difference JUST through Aaron’s defense in these matchups.
In the first clip, Aaron takes away Carr’s right hand but still stays on his hip going left and bodies him up while pulling away at the right moment so as not to foul at the end of the play. In the second clip, we see Aaron’s awareness funneling Carr into Marcus Bingham’s lengthy arm reach inside. Once Bingham commits to Carr, Aaron immediately switches over to Bingham’s man to make sure everyone is covered and Carr is not able to drop a pass off for an easy finish.
After that Aaron sticks right with Carr around a screen cutting off any angle to get to the rim. Rocket Watts aggressively reaches in leaving his man open and forcing Carr to pick up his dribble and pass. This leads to an open spot up three but Aaron’s defense on Carr here was still very good. He then sticks with Carr at a near perfect angle, bodying him up and cutting off any angle to drive while being under control and not fouling. Carr dribbles himself up behind the back board and turns the ball over while nearly stepping out of bounds.
The next two clips show him defending against Minnesota’s forwards/wings. First, Aaron aggressively closes out against Payton Willis. Last year, Payton’s offensive output consisted of 71 percent of his attempts coming from beyond the three point line. His aggressive closeout allows Willis to get some separation against him; however, Aaron stands out for his ability to quickly recover and put himself back in position to contest the shot after the opponent is able to gain separation or create space. Immediately after Willis begins his drive, Aaron is able to recover from moving toward the half court line into sliding alongside Willis. When Willis stops on a dime and goes up with a midrange jumper, Aaron goes right up with him to contest the shot.
The next clip shows Aaron defending 6’7″, 220 lbs Michael Hurt, a good example of his strength and versatility. He is able to continue sliding and stays with Hurt’s drive despite catching some contact from Daniel Oturu’s screen. When Hurt goes up trying to use his body to finish through Aaron, he goes straight up and down despite physically colliding with and getting a stiff arm from Hurt.
The final clip is one of just three baskets that Carr managed to score in this game. It is reminiscent of one of the plays Aaron made against Baker. He takes away Carr’s ability to either get in the paint or otherwise force any help rotation and forces the Minnesota guard into a difficult fading long two. Carr makes the shot and creates some space with his dribble but, overall, it is still inarguably a good defensive possession.
With the traditional frame for an NBA wing and the passing ability of a large guard, Aaron is able to provide value by filling multiple roles depending on the lineup he plays with while his defensive versatility make that two-way fit even easier with all manner of teammates. A key emphasis going forward is tightening his handle. Also, improving his shot mechanics will only make this glue ability for lineups more valuable as he improves throughout his career.