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John Henson vs. Meyers Leonard: The battle for the direction of the Pistons

The Pistons will work out several big men today, and there’s always a chance Andre Drummond slips, too.

But according to every indication, Detroit’s first-round pick is coming down to John Henson and Meyers Leonard. Today, Leonard is favored. Yesterday, it was Henson. Tomorrow? Who knows.

It’s a matchup that will be a focus of today’s workout and a battle that could extend all the way to draft day.

Light vs. height. UNC vs. we’ll see. Defensively sly vs. Fighting Illini.

In a broader sense, present vs. future.

And a very important sense, Arnie Kander vs. Lawrence Frank.

Present vs. Future

John Henson, as long as you’re willing to accept the limits that come with players in this range, is the perfect fit for the Pistons. They need a help-side defender to pair with Greg Monroe, and as the two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Henson would provide the rim protection required to make Detroit’s below-average defenders look competent.

Meyers Leonard, if all goes well, replicates Andrew Bynum. He’s big and athletic and coordinated, but he hasn’t quite figured out how to impose his will. He might not make Detroit better right now, but if the Pistons’ other pieces blossom, Leonard might take the them from good to great some day.

Which of those profiles is preferable for the Pistons? I have no idea. When I ranked Henson and Leonard within a single draft tier – at which point the exercise becomes assessing which player is a better fit – I was stumped.

Not only are Henson and Leonard similar in value, they’re extremely different in style – yet, in a way that still makes ordering them on a draft board difficult.

Henson would help more in the present, but should that matter for a team that is still years from contending for a title? Leonard might help more in the future, but should that ever matter when its so difficult to project so far ahead?

There are no easy answers to these questions, but ultimately Joe Dumars and his advisors must ask themselves, what direction does this franchise want to go? Perhaps, to answer that question, they must ask, whom do they trust to get them there?

Arnie Kander vs. Lawrence Frank

In his end-of-season press conference, Joe Dumars said he needed to get Lawrence Frank more players who fit the coach’s style, and that’s definitely true. Frank does not have enough defenders thanks to Dumars tying up so much money in Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.

Drafting Henson would be an easy solution. Skills-wise, Henson could fit in Frank’s system today. But the 6-foot-10.5 Henson weighs just 216 pounds, so the key question becomes, can Arnie Kander bulk him up?

Drafting Leonard probably won’t immediately solve anything. At 7-foot-1 and 250 pounds, Leonard has the frame to play in the NBA today. But, skills-wise, he’s not very polished, so the question becomes, can Lawrence Frank groom him?

Draft Henson because you like Frank and want to see the coach succeed. Draft Leonard because you trust Frank and know the coach will succeed.

Picking Leonard would show a huge amount of trust in Frank’s long-term future in Detroit, especially for someone like Dumars, who might be best know for firing coaches. Picking Henson would give Frank a better chance to prove himself, if he hasn’t already.

The battle for the direction of the Pistons

The Pistons have wandered aimlessly for the last couple years as the championship core has aged and departed, the team has been sold and Dumars has mistakenly shifted his philosophy.

Thursday’s draft present an opportunity for the Pistons to plant themselves firmly on an upward arc.

Maybe one of the super six (Anthony Davis, Thomas Robinson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Andre Drummond, Harrison Barnes and Bradley Beal) falls to Detroit, and the pick will be easy. But that’s a longshot.

The pick will likely be hard, and it very well could come down to John Henson and Meyers Leonard. If not those two per se, the other candidates – Terrence Jones (Leonard), Tyler Zeller (Henson), Perry Jones (Leonard) and Arnett Moultrie (Leonard) – still represent one side of the debate or the other.

It’s not an easy call, and I don’t know what the Pistons should do. But their choice will say a lot about where they want to go and how they want to get there.


  • Jun 25, 20122:26 pm
    by Mark


    I think its the opposite. Henson is the one thats going to need at least 2-3 yrs to bulk up enough to play PF consistently. Leonard is NBA ready right now, physically.

    And I’d also argue that skill-wise Leonard is further ahead of Henson.

    tbh, aside from shot-blocking, in which he only avg 1 more block a game than Leonard, I don’t see any skills at all in Henson.

    To me he would be a terrible fit next to Monroe. He does nothing to help Monroe on offense, and he does nothing to help Monroe defend the post against bigger Centers.

    Henson avg 1 more block and 2 more rebs than Leonard. Thats not worth all you give up physically on defense with Henson, and Henson’s limited ability on offense and FT shooting.

    It makes no sense to me why they are even considered this Henson guy.

    • Jun 25, 20123:37 pm
      by Rodman4Life


      I can’t say I’d be upset with Meyers Leonard, but that’s some doobie you’re puffing on Mark.  I understand the exposure you see in Big Ten country, but you must not have watched much of Henson in college.  He will run the floor, hit the 15 foot spot up, set screens, and not clog the paint for Monroe.  He is very bright, and he understands spacing, especially on Defense.  He will trap well outside of the paint (like Rasheed did so well) and he will be an EXCEPTIONAL help side defender.  
      Leonard could also be a steal in this draft at 9, but don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s so one-sided.  Stop seeing his weight, it’s blinding your judgement.

  • Jun 25, 20123:00 pm
    by bugsygod


    Saw an article over the weekend, where they said Henson’s dad is 6’9 240.  So if genetics are involved Henson should be able to bulk up! 

  • Jun 25, 20123:24 pm
    by John V


    Great, we get to chose between Branden Wright and Cole Aldrich.

  • Jun 25, 20124:03 pm
    by Coach_Ackley


    Dan you hit the nail right on the head.. We all know the Pistons aren’t ready to win now and I agree that drafting Leonard will show trust in Coach Frank and I believe that is the way we should go.. When it’s all said and done I still believe that Leonard will be the better player than Henson and don’t get me wrong I do like Henson but how long will it be before he can bulk up??? We none know and that’s a risk I’m not willing to take to find out when we can draft Leonard and with his size he can play right away even if he needs to be polished a bit….

  • Jun 25, 20124:25 pm
    by Marvin Jones


    Henson to me is a longer Amir Johnson, who the Pistons traded because he was too light to defend the post and not nibble enough to defend the perimeter. He was a good energy guy. No matter what you think about Leonard, he’s a legitimate center and the Bynum comparison is a good one. If we develpe him properly and he really wants it, then in a couple of yrs when we’re ready to take off, he will be too.   

    • Jun 25, 20124:46 pm
      by rick


      Yeah ok. I’m glad you saw enough of him at Illinois to make that very peculiar assessment. He will in no way,shape, or form emulate Bynum. You can book it. The height thing is killing me if for no reason other than him not even being the best big in the Big Ten. Cody Zeller was better than him and I would not be mad if Detroit had a chance to pick him. He actually has game and would be great with Detroit. It’s just he chose to go back to school. This kid is the same as Henson, three years away. Will Monroe and company stick around for him to develop? Putting a lot faith in height along with forecasting the future. I’d rather have a defender who knows his role as soon as he steps on the court. Not someone everyone is banking on. Joe D does not have time like that to be wasting on a project. Folks need to stop linking future draft picks to old ones when we compare. Austin Daye is not John Henson and the comparison is awful because they play two different positions. Last time I checked Tayshaun and his skinny frame had a pretty solid run for the Pistons when they were winning. Oh how people forget. Daye was suppose to be a poor mans Rashard Lewis/ Kevin Durant. He’s just not hungry enough and doesnt get it. I do not know if you can say the same for Henson, as he is a defender first and foremost. Why not draft the defender and go grab someone like Daniel Orton is a free agent in Orlando? He is still relatively young, and has a big body. Im not all for Myers Leonard because I saw him play and he looked nowhere near intense. Please dont tell me about his team the guards we jacking up shots as reason why he didnt get to showcase his skills. He just is not the player in my opinion everyone thinks he will be. If so he would be getting drafted in the top 3, hell if hes that good number 1. The truth is he is’nt and his body of work does not scream Deeeeeetroooooooit Basketball !

      • Jun 26, 20128:21 am
        by gerdz


        agreed with you rick. Leonard’s game doesn’t scream of Pistons basketball! He is soft and has no any defensive instincts at all. He appears lost on defense too often.

  • Jun 25, 20124:49 pm
    by rick


     Oops.Please dont use the guards jacking up shots as a reason why he didnt get to showcase his skills.

  • Jun 25, 20125:22 pm
    by vic


    this is a very good insight.

    There was a nice stat-filled AND logical look at this at this link:

    in the midway point of the article, they compare how a defense improves after adding a Coach, versus how a defense improves after adding a “shot blocker”:

    Coaching works a lot better. and Lawrence Frank has one of the biggest year to year defensive improvements in the nba. 

    So yeah i’d trust Lawrence Frank to work with two near 7 footers to defend the paint more than I’d trust Arnie Kander to put 30 pounds on John Henson.

    I still think Henson will be a great player, but I think adding a shot blocker is overrated as to its overall effect. Its good to have, but  OKC had the best shotblocker in the League but by the end of the finals KD was saying “the heat’s defense is great.” and the heat’s best shotblocker was DWade. The only way I regret taking Leonard over Henson is if Henson becomes strong enough to defend centers.

    The article linked above also had some info about how Drummond compares to other freshman bigs in the big east.

    • Jun 25, 20125:42 pm
      by rick


      Yeah but tell me what Perkins provided and Ill tell you how overrated having a shot blocker is. Cmon man it doesnt take a blind man to see that Perk didnt provide the same as he did with Boston because he was the last option in Boston but they also had a Pg who distrubted and gave him a bone from time to time, but he was never counted on. Fast forward to OKC and you can see in that series against Heat it was obvious the bigs could’nt score and I doubt we would have that same problem with Henson next to Monroe. The could feed off one another. I want a team that can run but be efficent in a half court set. I think Henson can blen in perfectly in both scenarios whearas with Monroe and Leonard we will be slow and not very good defensively. Ultimately Defense wins championships and having a player who can come in and contribute towards establishing a defensive identity will help more so down the road. In the end I hope we get Drummond because he is only 18 and has some time to grow. At least you have a trading chip if not anything else.

  • Jun 25, 20125:25 pm
    by Chris


    We need to just trade down, neither of these guys are worth a top 10 pick

  • Jun 25, 20125:30 pm
    by vic


    info on drummond from article linked above:

    When looking at Big East stats for freshman players who played in the NBA, been drafted, or are prospects in this or next year’s draft, the results have not been overwhelming even for the best and most hyped prep prospects. The other big conferences have had big men find wild success right away in college, but the Big East has been able to neutralize them.

    Greg Monroe and DeJuan Blair can be looked at as freshman success stories, relatively speaking.
    Monroe averaged 12.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.9 turnovers, 2.0 steals, 1.2 blocks, and 2.6 fouls per Big East game in 2008-09.
    DeJuan Blair averaged 11.8 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 2.3 turnovers, 1.2 steals, 0.7 blocks, and 3.3 fouls the year before.

    Statistically, Drummond’s much maligned freshman season is in their company with 10.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 1.6 turnovers, 0.8 steals, 2.6 blocks, and 2.0 fouls.

    So Drummond is a bust? but he compares well to other freshman bigs that have found success in the nba, plus had more double doubles than Emeka Okafor?
    All this while getting a concussion and wearing a mask for a month, losing his coach for a month, his pg getting suspended, in the same year he was supposed to be in h.s., and joined the team late?

    Yeah if he drops sign us up with no remorse.

  • Jun 25, 20126:19 pm
    by koz


    Dumars will pick henson because of what darko did to his mind.

  • Jun 25, 20128:52 pm
    by MarkS


    Rick you make good points but i dont see how you can praise Drummond as a big time prospect and write off Leonard completely.  I don’t think the two are that far apart in terms of upside.  Both these guys will be taken in the lottery for the same reason and that is for their upside.  Both were inconsistent.  Both have above average athleticism for their size, although Drummond is more freakish.  But both showed glimpses.  I watched Leonard play against Cody Zeller and Indiana and he looked great.  Of course the very next game vs UM and their 4 guard offense it was almost as if he didn’t exist.  But both players were guilty of this all year.  I will agree the Leonard-Bynum comparison is insane.  Best case, if we draft him I hope he can provide the same energy/defense/size that Tyson Chandler can give you.  

    Bottom line is if Drummond falls somehow we should take him and hope for the best.  But if hes not there, Leonard wouldn’t be a bad fallback.  Both are players with upside, athleticism and risk.  But either player could provide what the Pistons need, a big defensive presence in the middle allowing Monroe to slide over to the 4 down the road

  • Jun 28, 20124:14 pm
    by MarkButter


    I take Leonard.  Even though Henson’s father as someone suggested is 6’9″, 240, and lets say he’s pushing 40, does anyone really believe that he’s got at least 10lbs of fat?  having never seen him, don’t want to inuslt the guy, but even at 230 isn’t a great sell for “Henson can add weight.”
    Meyers may not have averaged a double/double, 14/8 in 32 minutes for a not so very good Illini team. . . . Andre Drummond was 10/8 in 28, though he had more options (Lamb).

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