Three Reasons Why Xavier Henry Will Make the Los Angeles Lakers Better
The Los Angeles Lakers made two cuts to their roster this week, letting go of Centers Eric Boateng and Dan Gadzuric. While these moves don’t necessarily ensure an open roster spot for Guard Xavier Henry, they do put him one step closer to a guaranteed spot. With the way Henry has performed in these few preseason games, a guaranteed spot might only be the beginning.
Henry’s journey to the NBA began back in 2009 when ESPN ranked him in their top 100 high school players in the country, ahead of NBA stars John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. After a solid freshman year at Kansas in which he averaged 13.4 points on 45.7 percent field-goal shooting and 41.8 percent shooting from three-point range, Henry was drafted 12th overall by the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2010 NBA Draft. After a sub-par first year with the Memphis Grizzlies, Henry spent the next two seasons with New Orleans.
In his three years in the NBA, Henry has never averaged more than 16.9 minutes per game. For many, his production would categorize him as a bust. That burden might as well be a result of scouts putting added pressure on lottery picks, but either way, Henry himself knows his first three seasons have been unproductive. The Lakers, devoid of quality wing talent with Kobe Bryant out indefinitely, present Henry with the biggest opportunity he’s had thus far. And with the way the Lakers season is projected to pan out, Henry just might be L.A.’s diamond in the rough.
Here are three reasons why Xavier Henry is a perfect fit for the 2013-2014 Los Angeles:
1. Ability to Get to Free-Throw Line
Through three preseason games for the Lakers, Henry is averaging 17 points per game on 50 percent shooting from the field. For his career, he averages 4.5 points per game on 40 percent shooting. The difference between the first three years and these first few preseason games has been his ability to attack the basket and get fouled. He’s 21-26 from the charity stripe in the past three games. For a Lakers team that has minimal weapons on offense, the value of getting the other team in foul trouble is at a premium. The Lakers were first in free-throw attempts last season, second in free-throw makes and 30th in free-throw percentage; the departure of Dwight Howard makes a huge dent in the first two caterogies, especially the attempted column. A guy like Nick Young will score the ball, often with ease, but won’t put much pressure on the opposition when it comes to defending him without fouling. Throw in Bryant’s health concerns and it leaves Henry and Jordan Farmar as the only two players that will look to attack the basket at a steady rate.
82games.com reports that 61 percent of Henry’s shots last season came on jumpers, 35 percent from close shots and the remainder from dunks. Bryant, for example, had a 79-19-2 split. His career shot chart, courtesy of NBA.com, shows his willingness to get shots at the rim. Given the opportunity, Henry’s proclivity to attack the basket will be a bonus for this roster.
For those that have seen him play in these past few games, Henry seems to have a little James Harden in him. He attacks the basket with a purpose, keeps the ball protected, and shifts his body angle in the lane to draw the foul. If Henry can get back to shooting the three-ball more consistently like he did in college, his offensive repertoire will be a sigh of relief for the coaching staff and fans alike.
2. Options on the Wing
At 6’6″, 220 lbs, Henry gives the Lakers much-needed size on the wings. He handles the ball well, doesn’t let contact stop him from putting up the shot, and brings an infectious work ethic to the defensive end. There’s no doubt that this team will put up points on the score board with weapons like Nash, Young, and Pau Gasol. What the team lacks, however, are two-way players that can produce routinely on both sides of the ball. Wesley Johnson provides length on defense, but has yet to show any promise on offense. Johnson has had more success guarding small forwards than he has with shooting guards, clearing the way for Henry to see some meaningful minutes at the SG spot. Henry did play the majority of his minutes last season at small forward, but it’s clear that his natural position is at the shooting guard slot.
Henry’s potential to be an above-average three-point shooter is another piece of the puzzle. Although he shot just 36 percent overall from three-point range last season, Synergy Sports indicates that he connected on approximately 57 percent of his spot-up threes last season.
Although he’s been in the league a few years, Henry is still just 22 years old. D’Antoni’s system lives off of youth and athleticism – Henry provides both. Compared to the average NBA player, Henry doesn’t have anywhere close to the mileage on his body. Fresh legs mean energy, and energy is contagious. And while Lakers fans aren’t used to a young player having any sort of meaningful impact, this roster and style of play is suited perfectly for an athlete like Henry.
Preseason games aren’t going to fool anyone, let’s make that clear. For Henry to produce at the same level during the regular season, it will require tremendous discipline and even a bit of luck. Even with some of these doubts circling his camp, the timing for a breakout season just seems right. Henry’s rookie contract has expired and any expectations tied to that of a lottery pick are nothing more than a memory now. In 2009, it was Trevor Ariza making the best of an opportunity. Last year, we saw glimpses of the same with Earl Clark. Now it’s Henry’s chance to quiet the critics who have labeled him a bust.