Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
21 year old Xavier Henry has yet to justify the hype in his first two years as a pro. Is this the season he lives up to expectations?
When Xavier Henry was selected in the 2010 NBA Draft out of the University of Kansas, he was hailed as a shooting guard with prototypical size for the position, complete with ability to get to the free throw line, finish at the rim and coming off of a season that saw him shoot nearly 42% from the three point line. Granted, the college three point line was shorter but you imagined that, at worst, Henry would be a serviceable spot up shooter. It wasn't exactly something that would set him apart from a ton of the NBA but something that could keep him employed.
The funny thing is that Henry's shot has actually been close to nonexistent in his two years in the NBA. Following a lengthy holdout before his rookie season that lasted into the year, Henry has struggled to catch up to the NBA due to various injuries and ineffectiveness on the court. That's a quick fall from grace for such a heralded player. Considering the small price, it seemed a low risk, high reward deal when the Hornets acquired Henry, and it still may be. But he'll need to show a ton of improvement to maintain his spot on the Hornets roster moving forward.
His role in the rotation: As of the end of last season, it seemed likely that Henry would be a part of the rotation at either the two guard or small forward position and see an increase in his minutes. A full training camp and off season void of injury would allow Henry to not only become more comfortable within the confines of the system, but also would allow him to work on his jump shooting (which, despite much hype, has produced a .451 TS%) and his free throw shooting (which has been in the low 60's his first two years). Monty Williams publicly stated an improvement in Henry's defense as a requirement for him to maintain his spot in the rotation. However, Henry wound up injuring himself before Summer League, played below average basketball while there, and saw the team sign Roger Mason, Jr. and Brian Roberts to take minutes away at shooting guard. With the equally unproven Al-Farouq Aminu slotted in at small forward and with no clear cut back-up for that position, there's still a chance that Henry, given his size, could get minutes there moving forward as well.
Summer League Performance: As previously mentioned, Henry was largely unimpressive in Las Vegas. Generally, players entering their third year are expected to shine. Henry, however, did not perform at an inspiring level. In the five games he played, he turned the ball over quite a bit, stayed in foul trouble and still was not able to finish at the rim (although he remained successful at getting to the rim). A lot of the times, Henry looks uncomfortable with the ball in his hands and out of control on his drives to the hoop. To his credit, his free throw shooting was at around 78% in the Summer League and if that trend continues into the regular season, considering Henry was able to get two attempts a game while only averaging 16 minutes a game, then at least Henry will improve in one critical area going into the year.
Future with the Team: Henry has a team option for a fourth year on his rookie contract that is valued at around $3.2 million for the 2013/2014 season. Judging by his performance these first two seasons in the league, I'd argue that the $3.2 million price tag would be overvaluing Henry's role on any NBA roster. Then again, it's very rare that players aren't given the full four years on their rookie contract, especially those taken in the lottery. I'd still expect the Hornets to pick up the fourth year option on his deal. So far, Henry has been all hype coming into the regular season with very minimal results. It's fair to say that if a 2nd rounder had performed like this on a two year deal, he'd be looking for work outside of the league.
Overall: Henry is still young and has a lot of room to improve. He has shown an ability to get to the free throw line at an adequate rate and improved on his free throw percentage in the Summer League (61.2% in the regular season, 78.1% in the Summer League; which is around his college percentage). Watching him in the summer league and then watching him in training camp videos, it's obvious that the desire to improve is there for Henry but the confidence in his abilities simply is not.
The Hornets could use Henry moving forward. He's certainly much younger than the player the team brought in to challenge him for minutes in Roger Mason, Jr. But Henry's days of living on potential are through. Going into his third year, and with a looming optional price tag approaching, Henry's on no free ride. The Hornets acquired him for minimal value and won't be inclined to stick with him if he continues to struggle. But the size and potential is good enough with Henry that fans of the team, including myself, still want to see him succeed. He probably won't develop into a star caliber player that some felt he could be, but he can still develop into a serviceable rotation player capable of solid defense, a knack for getting to the free throw line and equipped with an NBA caliber jump shot. The ceiling is high with Henry but the floor is equally low. It's make or break in 2012-13.