Is DePaul transfer Jaden Henley ready to reach his ceiling at UNLV? (2024)

Is DePaul transfer Jaden Henley ready to reach his ceiling at UNLV? (1)

UNLV athletics

UNLV basketball player Jaden Henley goes through a drill on the first day of summerpractice.

By Mike Grimala (contact)

Thursday, July 4, 2024 | 2 a.m.

When the 2023-24 season ended, it wasn’t difficult to look at the UNLV roster and project where Kevin Kruger and his staff would focus their recruiting efforts in the offseason.

With the graduation of Luis Rodriguez and Keylan Boone, the Scarlet and Gray lost both of their starting wings, both of whom were double-digit scorers responsible for a combined 27.0% of the team’s offensive production. So yes, swingmen were atop the wish list, and with such a glaring need, the incoming players would ideally be veteran transfers capable of producing immediately.

Can Jaden Henley be one of those guys?

UNLV quickly targeted Henley, a former 3-star recruit from Ontario, California, and made him the first portal acquisition of the offseason. Henley has all the measurables for the position, checking in at a lengthy 6-foot-7, and he certainly qualifies as a veteran, having started 41 games across two seasons at Minnesota and, most recently, DePaul.

Henley posted modest numbers as a sophom*ore, averaging 8.6 points and 2.7 rebounds while shooting 43.6% from the field, but after watching a handful of his games from last year, there may be reason to believe there is some untapped potential.

The most impressive aspect of Henley’s offensive game is his ability to put the ball on the floor and drive into a set defense, which he did relentlessly last season at DePaul.

Henley doesn’t have the quickest first step, but he has a knack for getting around the edge of his defender and willing his way into the paint, forcing the issue —successfully —when other players would abort the drive. And he does it in a variety of ways.

Henley can iso, he can get rolling downhill on dribble handoffs, he can decelerate and step through, he can change direction with quick behind-the-back dribble, and he does all of it with regularity. It’s a clever bag, and after all that, he invites contact on the finish, earning a ton of free throws and and-1 opportunities:

The issue that Henley sometimes runs into is picking up his dribble in the paint. His athleticism is acceptable but not exceptional, so there are times he can’t explode for an above-the-rim finish; instead he is forced to plant both feet, and he quickly finds himself swarmed by defenders. But it’s reasonable to expect a sophom*ore can improve in that area and find a way to mitigate that weakness.

Being able to break down a set defense is such a huge advantage, however, and Henley does it a lot on tape. That’s cause for optimism. And how good is he at getting to the line? His free-throw rate of 53.9% would have ranked second on last year’s UNLV squad, second only to bruising big man Rob Whaley’s nearly identical 54.9%. No other regular was above 44.0%.

Building off that base, Henley also displayed a good eye for the open man. Though he averaged just 1.3 assists per game last year, he obviously plays with his head up and knows where his teammates are located:

As you can see from that video, Henley’s assist total could have been higher with a little help from his teammates, but at the risk of sounding snarky, there’s a reason DePaul went 3-29 last year.

Given Henley’s ability to penetrate and break down a set defense, it’s no shock that he’s majorly effective attacking in the open court, as well. Transition opportunities may have been few and far between for DePaul, but whenever Henley got a chance to push the ball against out-of-position defenders scrambling to get back, he cashed in:

Keep in mind, one of Kruger’s stated offseason goals was to build a team that can push the pace offensively and weaponize of D.J. Thomas’ speed. Henley looks like he can keep up on the wing and turn fast breaks into easy baskets.

One real weakness UNLV and Henley will need to confront is his outside shooting. He made just 14 3-pointers in 32 games as a sophom*ore, hitting a frigid 26.9% from deep.

While the stroke looks okay to my novice eye, there’s no way around the fact that a lot of his misses were way off:

A respectable outside shot would make Henley so much more effective as an offensive player. Kruger has expressed confidence that Henley is a better shooter than his 2023-24 numbers would indicate, and he did make 37.8% from 3-point range as a freshman at Minnesota. Both seasons were small sample sizes, however, so there’s really no way to know which is more representative of his shooting ability.

UNLV wants Thomas to have plenty of room to drive, and he can’t do that if defenses are sagging off shooters and clogging the paint. As it stands, Henley probably going to have to prove himself by making a bunch of 3’s before Mountain West teams start contesting him out there.

So there’s reason to believe Henley can replace much of Rodriguez’s offense on the wing. What about the other end of the court, where Rodriguez shined as a tenacious on-ball defender?

Henley may not have the wiry, quick-twitch ability that made Rodriguez such a strong defender, but he more than got the job done last year.

It starts with his length, as Henley uses his long arms to stay attached on and off the ball. He is an active defender, willing to move his feet and work to stay in front of dribble-drive attempts, and he is tough to screen, which allows him to stay close to his man and contest jumpers. And he’s got quick hands, so his tape contains a lot of deflections and help-side blocks:

Henley’s length and lateral movement make him a switchable defender, which is in high demand at all levels of basketball these days.

Henley may not have been a headline acquisition, but the fit is there at UNLV. The offensive traits are very intriguing, especially if he can get closer to his freshman-year shooting numbers, and defensively he should be able to step in and be an immediate value-add on the perimeter.

The million-dollar question is, how much development does he have left? Henley has two years of eligibility remaining and appears poised to take a leap; if his ceiling is Keylan Boone-type production, that would obviously be a home run for the Scarlet and Gray.

While watching his games, some of the words the announcers used to describe Henley were mature, composed, and leadership. That speaks positively as to whether he’ll reach that ceiling.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [emailprotected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

Is DePaul transfer Jaden Henley ready to reach his ceiling at UNLV? (2024)

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