Wednesday, April 23, 2014
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Las Vegas NBA Summer League, Day 2: C.J. McCollum shines, Ben McLemore falters

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C.J. McCollum, John Henson and Jonas Valanciunas were among the standout performers at Day 2 of the Summer League. Meanwhile, top draft picks Otto Porter and Ben McLemore played poorly.

LAS VEGAS -- There are a select few times in a Summer League game where one player just doesn't belong. He's too good for the game, rising above his opponents even without playing fundamentally sound.

You normally see it with high draft picks that are only there for show. On Saturday, you saw it with John Henson, a second-year player that was taken late in the the lottery in 2012.

The Milwaukee Bucks' big man dominated the Denver Nuggets, towering over them with his length and tickling the twine with his soft touch around the basket. Henson's 19 points, 13 rebounds and three rebounds came in 20 minutes, as he made the backboard his personal playground in an 88-74 win. He was so good inside that he ruined his own plan to work on a key element of his game.

"On offense, I'm working on different mid-range jump shots," Henson. "Today, we were pounding it on the inside, so the jump shot wasn't necessary, but I'm sure I'll work on it in game situations."

Henson may need that jump shot to play more often in a crowded Bucks frontcourt that also features Larry Sanders, Ersan Ilyasova, Zaza Pachulia and Ekpe Udoh, but he's probably knocking on the door regardless. Henson's minutes were jerked around last year, as he played over 20 minutes a game 13 times, under 10 minutes a game 27 times and was a DNP-Coach's Decision 18 times. When he played, he produced, averaging 16.5 points and almost 13 rebounds per 36 minutes.

The challenge, of course, is getting him those minutes without giving away other qualities. While his length is intoxicating, the Bucks often worried about his lack of strength and perimeter game, particularly next to a similar player in Sanders. Long term, Milwaukee will either need to live with the deficiencies of a Sanders/Henson frontcourt or trade one for more value. That day may soon be coming.

"They said I have an opportunity to play next year if I get ready and work hard this summer, so that's what I'm doing."

One thing that'll help: more strength. Henson has gained 10 pounds since the end of the season and hopes to begin the year at 225 or 230 pounds, he told reporters after the game. You saw the effect of that increased strength during the Nuggets' game, where Denver bigs tried desperately to push him away from the rim and failed. Henson was able to maintain his base long enough to let his long arms do the rest. If Henson can grow into the kind of player that can hold his position inside, it allows Sanders to roam more for blocked shots.

"I'm not getting moved off my spot as easily, and that's going to help me at all times," Henson said.

There's still plenty of time for Henson to gain more strength and improve his touch. There isn't nearly as much time for the Bucks to delay the quest to find him more minutes. At this point, he's too good for Summer League. The next step is to get him a spot in their rotation.

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This article originally appeared on SBNation.

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