After returning for junior year, MSU's Aaron Henry hopes to hear name called in NBA Draft

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Aaron Henry is ready for the NBA.

That’s the way one analyst sees things for the Michigan State wing, who left college after his junior season with the hopes of making it to the next level.

Michigan State's Aaron Henry has improved his NBA stock, according to Jay Bilas.

“He tested the waters a year ago and decided to go back. He's ready,” ESPN’s Jay Bilas said. “In that year I think he really did an excellent, excellent job to become a more mature, polished playmaker that is fully prepared for this step now, when last year (he) might not have been.”

That's exactly what Henry was hoping for when, after declaring the NBA Draft after his sophomore season, he decided to withdraw his name and return to Michigan State for his junior year as the leader of a team that was going through the post-Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman era.

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Despite a difficult season as the Spartans navigated a nearly three-week COVID-19 shutdown before needing a late regular-season surge to keep their NCAA Tournament streak alive, Henry thrived. He averaged 15.4 points while grabbing 5.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists. That earned him third-team All-Big Ten honors and a spot on the conference’s all-defensive team.

Henry hopes its enough to hear his name called Thursday night when the draft begins from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Projections for the 6-foot-6 player are all over the place, from No. 36 (early in the second round) by Bleacher Report, to 59th overall, according to Yahoo. He’s everywhere in between, as well as potentially going undrafted.

His progress from a sophomore season when he was a role player on a team dominated by Winston and Tillman to the No. 1 guy was noticeable, Bilas said.

“I thought, he came a long way last year in developing his game and showed he's a little bit more capable of as being a go-to scorer, and I think he's an excellent defender,” Bilas said. “He's very, very good in transition and can shoot from the mid-range and was able to take his range a little bit further out and extend it.

"But because he does so many different things well, including shoot it, shoot it from mid-range, get to the rim and finish and then defend —  and I think he can defend multiple spots —  I think he's a solid NBA player and a solid second-round pick.”

There are some questions, namely his ability to shoot the ball from long range. Henry made only 29.6% of his 3-point attempts as a junior, a number that dropped in each of his three seasons. He shot 38.5% as a freshman on a team that won the Big Ten and reached the Final Four, then shot 34.4% a year later as a sophomore.

Still, with his length and ability to guard multiple positions, it might be the right combination for a team to take the Indianapolis native.

“He started to impact the game on both ends consistently, game after game after game,” Bilas said. “Just a high-level asset, I think.

“Look, if you play for Tom Izzo, you're going to be tough or you're not going to survive it. I think Aaron took the nurturing and the tough coaching and really responded positively to it.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau