Can LaDontae Henton Man The 2?

Josh Fortune's May decision to transfer from a Friars team already short-handed in the backcourt has left the 2014-15 squad with a predicament in the backcourt.

The only true guards on the roster are a point guard coming off two shoulder surgeries (Kris Dunn), a transfer from the Horizon League (Junior Lomomba) and a spring addition who had previously committed to a low-level West Coast Conference school (Kyron Cartwright).

Providence has not added any guards this summer, and the availability of instant-impact players has diminished to nearly zero. Thoughts are now turning to what internal solutions the Friars might have to augment a backcourt of Dunn, Cartwright and Lomomba, three players who combined to log just 106 minutes for the Friars last season.

Word is that LaDontae Henton is expected to play some 2-guard next season. The two things we'll be evaluating in this piece are how often we should expect to see Henton in the Friars backcourt and how his presence there might affect his rebounding.

How much will Henton play the 2?

The first thing to consider when we wonder how Henton could fare at guard this season is to realize that Henton was a nominal guard for stretches last season. Providence's fourth and fifth most-common lineups down the stretch (final five games) found Henton at the 2 when either Fortune or Bryce Cotton sat. Cotton and Fortune obviously didn't sit very often, but Henton was at the 2 for about five minutes per game in those final five games. That's not a lot, but it's not nothing.

Even though Friars fans have always viewed Henton as a forward, he's really a wing and probably closer to a 2 than a 4. In only two of PC's 10 most common lineups was Henton the nominal four. Both lineups had Cotton, Fortune and Bancroft on the floor, along with Henton and either Batts or Kofane. Lineups like that only saw an average of 90 seconds of action over each of the last five games.

There's a big difference, however, between playing five minutes per game there and becoming the primary 2-guard, something that appeared likely once I projected minutes for the current Friars roster.

Player Proj Min Height Min @ 1 Min @ 2 Min @ 3 Min @ 4 Min @ 5
Kyron Cartwright 10 71 10
Kris Dunn 30 75 30
Junior Lomomba 14 77 14
LaDontae Henton 34 78 26 8
Ted Bancroft 3 78 3
Jalen Lindsey 22 79 22
Rodney Bullock 17 79 7 10
Ben Bentil 11 80 11
Tyler Harris 24 81 19 5
Carson Desrosiers 24 84 24
Pascal Chukwu 11 85 11
Weighted Height 78.9 74.0 77.7 78.7 80.2 83.9
'13-14 National Avg 77.0 72.0 74.7 77.0 79.0 81.0
Difference +1.9 +2.0 +3.0 +1.7 +1.2 +2.9

You may disagree a little (or a lot) with the projections above, but I tried to take a middle-of-the-road approach to projecting the minutes. What this chart indicates is that Henton is probably going to be the team's primary 2-guard and spend about 75 percent of his time on the floor at the 2. The 26 projected minutes at the 2 also represent about a five-fold increase from the five minutes per game he saw at the 2 late last season.

What does this mean for Henton's rebounding?

A lot goes into building a good rebounding team. There's deciding how many people to send to the glass on offense and defense, learning optimal body positioning, learning boxing out technique, communicating, anticipating the carom, jumping for the board, tipping it to a teammate. Each of those helps to make a team good at rebounding, but none of that will matter if your whole team is a half-foot shorter than everyone on the other team. That's an exaggeration to prove this point -- height matters. Along with projecting minutes, the chart above also considers just how tall the Friars are likely to be next year. The answer: very tall, and a lot of that is due to Henton's presence at the 2, where the Friars figure to be about three inches taller than an average Division I team.

About 30 percent of a team's ability to get defensive rebounds (and 22 percent of offensive rebounding ability) can be attributed to how tall a team. All that other stuff I listed above -- plus the quality of the opposition and a little luck -- comprise the entirety of a team's rebounding ability.

The Friars were one of the tallest teams in the nation last year -- 11th tallest to be exact -- and they were also a good (but not great) rebounding team. Led by Kadeem Batts, PC was terrific on the offensive glass, ranking first in the Big East and in the top 50 nationally. The Friars' defensive rebounding was just a bit above average, since Batts was only OK on that end and PC's best defensive rebounder -- Carson Desrosiers -- was only on the floor for about 19 minutes per game. It also didn't help that Tyler Harris, despite being 6-foot-9, was just a marginally better defensive rebounder than Fortune.

Upping Desrosiers' minutes and giving a lot of Cotton's playing time to Dunn -- a point guard who rebounds like a forward -- should help make Providence better on the defensive glass next season. But what about Henton? Will having him away from the basket more affect his rebounding?

Here is a look at the teams with the tallest average 2-guard height among major-conference clubs in 2013-14. Included is the player who most commonly played 2-guard and that player's offensive and defensive rebounding numbers. (With my projected depth chart above, the Friars would slot in around fourth or fifth in the nation in 2-guard height among major-conference teams last year.):

Team Avg2GHt Player OffReb DefReb
Kentucky 78.0 Aaron Harrison 2.3 7.8
Miami 77.9 Garrius Adams 2.8 14.4
Iowa 77.8 Roy Devyn Marble 2.9 8.6
Michigan 77.7 Nik Stauskas 1.6 8.8
Tennessee 77.6 Jordan McRae 2.6 10.2
Virginia 77.4 Malcolm Brogdon 3.6 17.3
Maryland 77.3 Dez Wells 3.8 12.1
Providence 77.2 Josh Fortune 1.5 9.4
Butler 77.1 Kellen Dunham 1.3 12.1
Utah 77.0 Delon Wright 4.5 15.9
Texas A&M 77.0 Jordan Green 1.9 8.4
Missouri 77.0 Jabari Brown 1.7 11.5
Syracuse 76.8 Trevor Cooney 1.7 6.3
UCLA 76.7 Norman Powell 3.0 9.6
Stanford 76.7 Anthony Brown 3.3 13.9
Average 77.3 2.6 11.1

(Notes: The last two columns represent the percentage of all rebounds each player got when on the floor when either an offensive rebound was available or a defensive rebound was available. Nationally, teams pulled down a little less than a third of all offensive-rebound opportunities and, therefore, a bit more than two-thirds of all defensive-rebound opportunities. To put these figures above in perspective, the top major-conference offensive rebounder last season was Rico Gathers of Baylor, who grabbed 17.4 percent of all potential offensive rebounds when on the floor. On defense, that title went to Washington State's D.J. Shelton, who grabbed 30.6 percent of all potential defensive rebounds when on the floor. All stats courtesy KenPom.com)

The teams with the 15 tallest 2-guards last season saw their primary 2-guard pull down just 2.6 percent of all potential offensive rebounds and 11.1 percent of potential defensive rebounds. Those numbers are far below what Henton did last season -- 7.9 and 17.4 percent. In fact, there's not a player on that list who matched either of Henton's totals, although Malcolm Brogdon's defensive rebounding comes close. Of course, Henton is a very different type of player than, say, Nik Staustas, Aaron Harrison or Trevor Cooney.

Because Henton's not just a tall 2-guard but a 3 moving to 2, we're not primarily concerned with how well tall 2-guards rebound but rather how well converted 3's rebound as 2's. Of the 15 players on that list, eight of them played their previous season primarily at a bigger position -- usually the 3 -- a list that includes Fortune (who played a lot of 3 next to Council and Cotton in 2012-13), as well as Roy Devyn Marble, Jordan McRae, Dez Wells, Kellen Dunham, Jordan Green, Jabari Brown and Anthony Brown. Let's look at just those players.

Players Moving from 3 to 2
Player Year 1 Off Year 1 Def Year 2 Off Year 2 Def Off Diff Def Diff
Anthony Brown 4.2 15.4 3.3 13.9 -21% -10%
Dez Wells 3.7 14.5 3.8 12.1 +3% -17%
Kellen Dunham 2.8 9.8 1.3 12.1 -54% +23%
Jabari Brown 1.9 9.2 1.7 11.5 -11% +25%
Jordan McRae 3.3 11.2 2.6 10.2 -21% -9%
Roy Devyn Marble 3.4 10.8 2.9 8.6 -15% -20%
Josh Fortune 3.6 8.2 1.5 9.4 -58% +15%
Jordan Green 4.3 11.0 1.9 8.4 -56% -24%
Averages 3.4 11.3 2.4 10.8 -30% -4%
LaDontae Henton 7.9 17.4 5.6* 16.7* -30% -4%

* denotes a projection for Henton in 2013-14 based on typical declines of the other eight players who moved from 3 to 2.

In aggregate, when moving to 2-guard, those eight players saw their offensive rebounding numbers decrease by 30 percent. The same players saw their defensive rebounding numbers drop off by just four percent. The bigger drop off for poffensive rebounding makes intuitive sense, because, now at 2 guard, these players would be more likely to have to drop back on defense to protect against transition baskets rather than crash the offensive glass, which they likely had more freedom to do as a 3.

So, the good news is that we shouldn't expect Henton's very solid defensive rebounding numbers to decline to the point that it would hurt the team. In fact, he may have a chance to be one of the best defensive-rebounding 2-guards in the nation next season (next to Dunn, who may be one of the best defensive-rebounding point guards). At some point, though, with so many good defensive rebounders -- Desrosiers, Bentil, Chukwu and Bullock included -- there are only so many boards to distribute among five players (a good problem to have).

Having guards who can more than hold their own on the defensive glass makes it easier to have a weaker defensive rebounder like Tyler Harris at the 3 or 4. Ed Cooley can let him get out on the break for potential outlets from Dunn, Desrosiers or Henton while his teammates get to do something Harris is not as good at.

The not-so-good news is on the offensive glass, where Henton may have to spend more time getting back on defense rather than getting second-chance buckets. Of the 15 players listed above, none ever had offensive-rebounding numbers even close to what Henton has done consistently in his first three seasons. Moving him to 2-guard could be a problem for a team that was highly dependent on offensive rebounds last season, since it wasn't good at making its first shot, something that doesn't figure to change with Cotton and Fortune gone.

There may be ways to mitigate this, though it would likely require that a freshman like Jalen Lindsey (or Bullock) rotate back on defense from the 3 so that Henton can make hay on the offensive glass. Harris would be another option on rotation, but he was as good an offensive rebounder as Henton last season.

Conclusions

First, Henton figures to play a lot of 2-guard in the coming season, barring a late impact addition to the backcourt or Lomomba or Cartwright pulling down a lot more time than most people expect. Second, he played in the backcourt for stretches last season, and the Earth didn't implode. Third, Henton at the 2 figures to help make Providence one of the tallest teams in the nation next season. Fourth, Henton should be able to maintain his defensive rebounding despite moving to the 2, but his offensive rebounding could take a significant hit.

Agree? Disagree? Got thoughts, questions, suggestions for what to cover next? Hit me up on Twitter: @UltimateCrans.


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