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2014-15 Player Previews: Gerald Henderson

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What exactly is Gerald Henderson's role on this Hornets squad? After being a starter for so long, will he adjust to a potential off-the-bench role? Will that possibly suit his game even better?

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

As the longest-tenured Charlotte player, it’s funny to think that Gerald Henderson is, by math and aging curves, about to enter what should be his "prime season." Typically the longest-tenure distinction falls on veterans well into their 30's.

The NBA is a tough business. You put in your dues – which for Henderson included 1,800 minutes on an awful 7-59 Bobcats squad – and then as things are trending up, the franchise signs a young free agent at your position. But, could the signing of Lance Stephenson actually become a good thing for Gerald Henderson?

You could argue that yes, Henderson’s skills might be maximized as a sixth man on a playoff team. His numbers have certainly been all over the place the last couple of years as a starter. Last season Henderson posted a .507 true shooting percentage, and advanced stats say that Henderson was a better defensive player than offensive player, although a net negative in both, according to ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus.

Win shares paint a similar picture – he had only 0.8 offensive win shares last season, but had 2.8 on the defensive side, which was easily his career high. Two years ago it was almost exactly opposite, with 2.9 offensive win shares and 0.3 on the defensive end. Again, the numbers are all over the place. How can we interpret them?

The increase in defense should be largely attributed to head coach Steve Clifford and the scheme he implemented in Charlotte last year. Across the board, every player from 2013 to 2014 was a better defensive player, in terms of win shares. Here are the ones that played at least 1,000 minutes in both seasons.

Players '12-'13 DWS Min DWS/48 '13-'14 DWS Min DWS/48 Increase
Gerald Henderson 0.3 2,133 0.007 2.8 2,461 0.055 +0.048
Kemba Walker 1.1 2,859 0.018 3.3 2,641 0.061 +0.042
Bismack Biyombo 1.3 2,186 0.029 2.1 1,072 0.094 +0.065
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 1.0 2,025 0.024 2.2 1,502 0.070 +0.047
Ramon Sessions 0.0 1,652 0.000 1.3 1,305 0.048 +0.048

And the offensive decline is concerning. As mentioned above, his TS% of .507 is a dramatic drop from the .531 he posted the season prior. Typically, we see declines associated with an increase in usage, but that wasn’t the case last season. Henderson actually posted a worse true shooting percentage while also using up less of the team’s plays.

Part of this is where Henderson chose to shot the ball last season. As we learn more about NBA offenses, it becomes more and more apparent that mid-range shots are the least efficient shot you can take. Henderson took a high number of these – 21.5% of his shots were from 10 to 16 feet, and a whopping 35.9% of them came from 16 feet to right inside the 3-point line. That is not the recipe for offensive efficiency.

If Henderson’s on-court value is going to be on the offensive end, like it has been during his career, things will have to reverse from last season. According to WS/48, many of Charlotte’s wings – Chris Douglas-Roberts, Gary Neal, Jannero Pargo, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker, and Ramon Sessions – were better on the floor. Most of those guys are still on the roster, and with the addition of free agent Lance Stephenson, the wing spot is suddenly not Henderson’s by default.

Henderson is the third best returning 3-point shooter (behind Neal and Pargo) in terms of 3-point field goal percentage, and Clifford has spoken all off-season about wanting to add more long-distance shooting. In a recent interview with John Schuhmann, Clifford was very candid about Charlotte’s offensive improvement during the second half of the season being attributed to an increase of 3-point shooting.

Unfortunately, Henderson rarely took them – only 12.4% of his shots were 3-pointers, which was only above Kidd-Gilchrist and the big men on the team last year. But Kidd-Gilchrist will get minutes because of his defensive upside. And Stephenson will get minutes because of his shooting and play-making. Henderson will get minutes because of ­­­­____? Because there are available minutes?

Henderson is no doubt a talented NBA player. But with this current Charlotte roster, he’s suddenly a role player. And role players typically have, you know, roles. Hopefully Clifford and Henderson can together carve out a role for Henderson this season. So often do we focus on the development of young guys and rookies. Henderson doesn't necessarily have to be done developing. Perhaps being "the guy" on the second unit and being free on offense will help Henderson's game and confidence. Maybe having competition like Stephenson will stretch him as a player. If so, look for improvements across the board.

(Stats from basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.)