Gerald Henderson began his fourth NBA season with a bit of a slow start. Through the first 17 games, Henderson posted a sub-40 percent field goal percentage through November. Yet, he still managed to average five assists and five rebounds per game to benefit the team despite him struggling with his shot. As the season wore on, Henderson's overall efficiency improved and his per game numbers were solid, though he struggled from three point range in December and January.
Perhaps the most interesting thing was his reduction in minutes in February, March and April. Henderson was averaging nearly 34 minutes per game during the first half of the season, and his usage rate also dropped off slightly. This may have been beneficial because Henderson shot remarkably well towards the end of the season. Yes, less was more; The guard shot 50.5 percent from the floor and 37.9 percent from three in March, and finished April shooting in the mid-40s as well.
Henderson had earned his new contract in 2013 with most convincing season yet. Being a fourth year player, you'd expect there to be some continued improvement. Yet, Henderson's 2014 was a bit of a mixed bag. His field goal percentage may have been the lowest since his rookie year, but his 34.8 mark from three was a career high, though he is pretty picky with his selection. As for his other totals like rebounds and assists, he exceeded his career averages, but were also in line with his previous two seasons of production.
Let's take a look at his shooting, because I thought that this was interesting.
While Henderson shot well in certain areas, such as from three and at the rim, he took far more shots at the midrange this season than he ever has despite his success elsewhere. This may be by design of Steve Clifford's system, but it may have something to tell us about why his field goal percentage fell off this season.
Last season, Henderson took 31.6 percent of his shots between 16 feet and the three point line while making 43.7 of those shots. This season, 35.9 percent of his shots came from that area, but he made just 38.6 percent of them this time. Considering he shot 60.3 percent from within three feet of the rim (while taking fewer than 25 percent of his shots from here for the first time in his career) and had a career year from deep, this is curious. Was the spacing suddenly not there because of the lack of shooters on the roster? Was this by design? Even his attempts from 10-16 feet went up by nearly five percent from last season; so he was getting fewer looks at the rim and more midrange shots than ever and his efficiency only dropped slightly.
Looking at Synergy, the composition of the types of Henderson's possessions changed due to a new system and changing personnel. With Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker, Henderson didn't have to be the scorer he did last year. His isolation plays were nearly cut in half, but he did see more work as the ballhandler on the pick and roll and on spot-up shots. Because Henderson's not a good enough ballhandler or fast enough to exploit teams consistently out of the pick and roll, he often would use the plays to create a bit of space in the midrange before rising for a jump shot. The transition game, previously a large and successful part of Henderson's offense was cut significantly due to Clifford's focus on a more fundamental slower offense that limits turnovers.
Additionally, Henderson was assisted on 90 percent of his attempts this season, which is down from 97 percent last season. What does that mean? Henderson is being used more and more as a spot up shooter than a perimeter creator. As an added benefit, his turnover percentages these last two seasons have been career lows at 9.8 and 9.6, respectively. His usage rate has been mostly unaffected in each of his last two seasons, so he's still getting his touches, just in different ways. Offensively, Henderson's job is to take the shot if he has a good look, or swing it to the open man and not try to do too much. Given his success the last couple of seasons, this has hardly been a bad thing.
Defensively, Steve Clifford was able to successfully integrate him into a team concept. Last season the Bobcats were -10.2 in the plus/minus with Henderson on the court and -0.4 with him off of it. This season, were better with him on the court that without him. Charlotte was -1.3 with him on the court and -3.0 with him on the bench. That's a big improvement all around, but now Henderson is part of the solution.
2014 also marked the first time in Henderson's career that he had played more than 70 games in his career. Rookie year aside, Henderson was guaranteed to miss between 11-14 games each year. It was almost expected, like tax season. However, Henderson missed just five games this season and the Bobcats had one of their most successful seasons.
It will be interesting to see if the Bobcats will continue to try to get Henderson to expand his midrange game and if he can adapt and improve. The improvement of the three ball has been encouraging, especially to a team looking for shooting. From what we've seen from Henderson, he'll continue to rebound at a respectable level for his position and he still accounts for at least of an eight of his team's assists each year.
For Bobcats fans, Henderson continuing to stay healthy and improve will be a welcome sign. Being used in a way that involves less wear-and-tear will of course help this, but it would also be nice to see him get back to the rim more often since he has been so proficient from there in the past.