Besides the obvious recipient of this imaginary award, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Gerald Henderson might be our season’s Most Valuable Player solely based on the way he filled the three year, 27 million gap that all of the sudden opened up on the wing.
Henderson, a starter for the last three and a half years, found himself hit by two DNP-CDs after the Stephenson signing, playing ineffectively in a limited and unusual role and could be seen not being so thrilled by the Lance Stephenson banked-in three for the win against Atlanta.
Yet when Stephenson’s groin injury flared up for the first time to the extent that he had so miss some time, Henderson snatched his starting position and never looked back while righting the ship of many perimeter defensive leaks and a record of 6-19. Even if a bunch of variables are present in this comparison, we gave up 106.2 points per 100 possessions with Stephenson starting (24th in the league) and have given up 98.5 ever since (3rd in the league).
Henderson might be an easy target for criticism due to him being just an “okay” player or playing as if he studies Adrian Dantley tapes, when the rest of the league’s wings are moving towards a steady diet of three-point shooting. But he deserves the respect of the fans for giving all he has to this franchise. Gerald has openly admitted that he views himself as part of the problem and wants to stick around here to find our winning ways. As far as I can tell, he seems like a great guy for a positive and hard-working locker room culture. Last summer he returned to Duke to finish his degree and was the only active Hornet player to watch the ceremony dedicated to Bobby Phills, a notable fact even if there was a personal investment for him in it.
On the court, Henderson and Kidd-Gilchrist are the main strengths of our top-10 defense which, in an unusual fashion, is based on wings that keep their assignments in front of them, instead a big who works as a defensive anchor. Thanks to them we lead the league in least opponent field goal attempts within five feet of the basket. Hendo and MKG limit drives to the basket by denying the middle, can body opponents up and are great at “icing” the pick-n-roll. Hendo, himself, is quite adept of such a quick flash in front of the screen where most defenders would have given up penetration through the middle:
Henderson also routinely gives up his body for the sake of the team. His 80s jump-shooting style is accompanied with a demeanor that old talking heads in studio shows would compare to the supposed league’s more physical days. Piss off Jerome McKinley Jr. and he’s prone to start bumping fools around or cuss out an official over a missed call against him. Hendo will do something as outlandish as ruthlessly bump David West, out of all people, to ensure a rebound:
The arrival of Al Jefferson and Alfense has also occupied Henderson with the task of setting cross screens on opposing big men for Big Al’s post-ups. His bulky body allows him to be a good screener even if that means that he regularly has to sacrifice his body against the league’s behemoths.
At the end of the day, however, his offensive type of play is very much why we finished the season as the third worst offense (only above tanking connoisseurs, Philly and New York). He’s a rarity among starting wings in today’s league. Every third of his field goal attempts come between 16 feet and the three-point line. He’s on the wrong side of 40% when it comes to frequency of shots that are pull-up jumpers (42.6%) and he’s most effective (47.3% from the field) when there are between three and six dribbles before his shot, per NBA.com.
Gerald surpassed the two three-point attempt mark per 36 minutes for the first time in his career this season and had a stretch from late February to early April where he made 43.5% of his looks from downtown. But, on the whole, this season doesn’t differ much from his previous two as far as his long-range shooting is concerned. At this point, him becoming a real threat is highly unlikely.
Henderson shooting 84.8% from the foul-line for the season was a pleasant turn of events, but it doesn’t suggest an improvement at in-game shooting.
An area of the game where I’m genuinely disappointed in Hendo has always been his lack of drives to the basket. I don’t question his professionalism. It simply is in the human nature to be willing to try harder when your livelihood and salary is on the line. And he did so in his contract year, the 2012-13 season, when it came to his offense. Henderson closed the season by averaging 20.8 points per game in the last 20 games of a 21-win season. His field goal attempts at the rim peaked in March when he attempted 4.9 shots there, per hoopdata.com.
The percent of field goal attempts which he takes within three feet of the basket has dipped ever since that contract and it’s sad considering the unexpected hop he has to his step and the finishing capabilities he possesses.
This mentality especially can be seen whenever Hendo feels the urge to use his size against smaller wings (something that Gerald, to his credit, often senses in the right situations). He’ll randomly show off two hook shots in a January game against Toronto (I recall Matthew Dellavedova also being the rare beneficiary of this move this season), a team he, for reasons unknown, despises as evidenced by him scoring 31, 24, 23, 22 and 21 points in separate games against the Raptors…
…yet mostly uses the post as a place for his aspirations to emulate Kobe. It is quite the paradox as he seemingly goes to the post game to use his size advantage, yet most of these possessions end in fade-away jumpers. For what it’s worth, he’s surprisingly good at it, as evidenced by nba.com which claims that he made 18 out of 29 shots charted as “fadeaway jump shot”.
The case for his upcoming free agency is an interesting one. With the organization having signed another shooting guard to replace him last summer, his agent being Arn Tellem, a juggernaut in this business, and him being on a relatively cheap deal, I’d almost expect Hendo to opt out of his 6 million and look for a new contract.
However, with the TV money coming in during the summer of 2016, it’s tough to gauge what this free agency will truly look like. Will teams over-pay guys expecting those contracts to be bargains under the new salary cap? Will agents assume that they might find great deals for their clients under that circumstance or will they wait for the next summer when the truly big cash starts flowing in?
There are plenty of 2-guard peers who will provide Henderson with competition. The majority of them are more capable outside shooters, which will always devalue Henderson’s market value in the year of 2015.
The same applies to the way the Hornets will look at him if he does opt out. I’d view him as a acceptable starter, yet only at the right circumstances. Those aren’t to be found on a team that starts Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a far bigger asset for the franchise. The ideal scenario would have indeed been Utah declining to match our offer sheet for Gordon Hayward and Henderson becoming our sixth man.
Instead we’re stuck in a world where we already have 9 million per year assigned to Stephenson that seriously messes with any potential of bringing over a player who fits our defensive mold and can shoot, per example, Danny Green.
Regardless of what happens, Henderson has paid his dues in Charlotte and this season was no exception.
A grade that might just be a tad too narrative driven, yet I feel like he truly deserves it.
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