As Gerald Henderson enters his fourth season, I think we have to start wondering when he will have to turn the corner. Does it need to be soon? Given the usual franchise turnaround time after the initial rebuilding stages, there are only a couple more seasons or so before he'll have to be hitting his stride as a basketball player. Will we realize then that, well, maybe he might not get much better?
He can still do it. Last season was an utter quagmire. Little team offense philosophy built around a lackluster UCLA 1-4 offensive sets did little to help anyone, beside maybe giving Byron Mullens a breakthrough season. Even with this, Henderson did make small improvements in the face of historical awfulness. Woo? Woo. Whatever, I'll take whatever I can get after that year. So, woo!
But the ever-thinking fan might press themselves to think about his future development.
Unlike much of the Bobcats, Henderson generally has a pretty decent offense. It's not wonderful, but it's solid enough to be the best on a very bad team. It's quite likely his scoring ability will not lead a contending team like elite scorers can, though. Such a development would be quite surprising and would probably make Bobcats fans cry tears of joy.
Last year was one of those seasons where we hoped to see much improvement from the younger Henderson. While we saw Henderson increase as a focal point in the offense, the format of the system changed. We saw Henderson's usage rate increase by a little over 13 percent in the past two seasons. Meanwhile, his %Ast (percentage of shots that were assisted) declined at nearly the same rate, per HoopData. Huh. Interesting. The team simply relied more on him to make things happen, and Henderson just doesn't have that repertoire in him to score from so many angles.
He did make some strides in some regards. He improved in his ability to get to the line, from drawing a foul 10.7 percent of the time to drawing fouls 11.3 percent of the time. He also improved his three-point shooting by 17 percent! ...But it's still a measly 23.4 percent.
Looking at his improvement broadly, you probably notice how his FG% made a slight improvement. Even when removing the numbers from three-pointers, there's still a slight improvement in his scoring efficiency. And despite a three percentage point drop in scoring from between 16 to 23 feet, Henderson saw increases in his percentages at every other range.
In fact, MySynergySports.com indicates some healthy signs of life for Henderson. Their offensive stats rate him pretty well in many categories. He's pretty good at "Off screen" plays, which comprise most of the plays he ran, and despite ranking well in the league at them, they still aren't all that efficient (0.77 PPP, or points per play). Spot-up shots, his third most-used play, scored slightly better (0.8 PPP) but fell into the more mediocre ranks compared to the rest of the league, as you might expect. But what surprised me was his ranking on isolation plays. Gerald's quick and athletic but he doesn't quite have the handle that most elite isolation players have that allow them to get to the hoop so well. They run it somewhat often for him (16.8 percent of his plays) and he has a PPP of 0.86 on such plays. Now, that's not close to his most efficient plays - Pick and Roll ballhandler (1.0 PPP), Cut (1.11), Offensive Rebound (1.19), and Transition (1.16) plays, but those aren't such a significant part of his offense.
So yes, it's fine, but a more complete offense with better range would really push his game to the next level. If that happens is what we're all waiting to see. This coming year, the offense will see a change in strategy. There will be much more uptempo games with emphasis in transition and cutting, which plays to Henderson's strong suits. Thankfully, I think Dunlap will try to avoid the settling for midrange jump shots that were so common last season. This bodes well for Henderson, who has been merely decent at jump shots and awful at anything beyond that.
I won't spend too much time on this section. Henderson's defense hasn't been in question much and for good reason. He's very active and has spent time guarding anywhere from point guard to small forward. The small forward experiment came with much doubt, but he did OK. His feet are quick, he rebounds well, he's athletic enough to meet people at the rim and he's smart. Unfortunately, a lot of that gets lost when much of the essentials of defense comes down to a cohesive unit playing smart defense together, playing angles and closing out and all those things that are fundamental. That stuff ... didn't happen so much last year. I think it's safe to say defense is far from my main concerns for Gerald Henderson going forward. Dunlap looks to bring a swarming high-energy defense. Henderson's basketball IQ will play well into this when trapping and helping stem ball movement.
With better coaching and a better strategic system in place, this could be Henderson's best year yet. Whether his game turns the corner into something more special, well, that depends upon him and what he's tried to improve for this year.