Early in the second quarter of the Milwaukee Bucks’ game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 6, John Henson and Malcolm Brogdon executed a perfect pick and roll.
Henson set the screen then darted unimpeded to the hoop, prompting Brogdon to throw him an alley-oop. As he ascended to the rim, Henson felt Portland center Zach Collins to his left, so he knew he would need to throw the dunk down hard to ensure no one would have the chance to break it up.
That’s exactly what he did. But there was an unexpected complication.
Henson immediately felt a pain in his left wrist, and he let it go limp as he ran back on defense. He finished the game and even played in the next four through lingering pain, but upon further examination, Henson and the Bucks learned that the problem wasn’t going to go away on its own. He was going to need surgery to repair a torn ligament.
That surgery, Henson told the Journal Sentinel and The Athletic Wisconsin before Wednesday’s rematch with the Trail Blazers, is scheduled for Tuesday in New York City.
“I didn’t think much of it obviously,” Henson said. “I just taped it up and the doctor looked at it and said, ‘Hey, maybe you should go get an MRI.’ And that’s kind of when we found out it’s going to be something that has to be fixed. It kept bothering me, so I knew it was going to be something like that.
“When I got the initial test before everything, I kind of saw the faces and I was like, ‘Uh oh. What’s going on?’ But it’s part of the game. I’m blessed. It could be a lot worse, man. So, I’m just going to go through the process and go from there.”
In the week since the injury became public knowledge, Henson has visited doctors specializing in wrist surgeries in Colorado and New York before deciding on the latter to perform his procedure. It’s clear he’s going to be out for a while – with a report from The Athletic estimating a 12-week recovery – but as of right now the Bucks center isn’t ready to set a timetable.
All he knows is that with the rest of his body healthy, he plans to stay physically and mentally prepared so he can return to action as soon as he’s cleared.
Henson will still be able to run and do some strength training to stay in shape. Considering the injury to his non-shooting hand – although he put up plenty of left-handed hooks over the years – he’ll still be able to shoot to some extent while sidelined.
“The good thing about it is when it’s time to go, I’ll be ready to go,” Henson said. “There’s no minute restrictions type things where I’m working back in. It’s kind of like, ‘All right, is your wrist fine?’ OK. Then you can go play.”
The timing of the injury injury is especially frustrating for Henson and the Bucks. The veteran center had been off to a strong start as a core reserve, reinventing his game over the first month of the season.
The lefty hooks that had been a prominent part of his game were essentially replaced by three-pointers. After going 1 of 13 from three-point distance in six seasons, Henson made 11 of 31 (35.5 percent) during the first 14 games of this season. During that time, he averaged 5.6 points and 5.1 rebounds in 13.4 minutes per game.
“It’s tough, but I think I showed enough initially to show I can play in this system and be effective,” Henson said. “I think it’s only going to bode well for when I come back. I’m going to be stronger. Core’s going to be better. Shot’s going to be better. It will be a good process.”
With Henson out for the foreseeable future, the backup center minutes will go to Thon Maker. Over the past week, Henson has been in Maker’s ear, building him up and trying to guide him for the challenge of being a consistent contributor.
That’s a role Henson will continue to play while he’s not actually on the court. Coach Mike Budenholzer welcomes that type of mentorship.
“Coach Bud was like, ‘Hey, we want you around, we want you engaged, we want you to be around the team. We’ll give you a whistle for reffing the practices,’” Henson said, joking that he would give the team’s centers all the calls while making the guards work for everything.
“That’s kind of a good culture type thing. Anything I can do to help, if I can give my piece of advice, I will.”
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