The surprise toy in the Bobcats’ Happy Meal of a west coast trip was the reemergence of Gerald Henderson’s usefulness as a shooting guard—as an anything, for that matter. So far this year Henderson is producing his worst output since he was fetching Larry Brown’s coffee as a rookie. After finally getting to the peak of Mount Above-Average last year with a 16.4 PER, Henderson tripped on a rock and rolled down to Mediocre Valley. Even after a west coast trip in which he averaged 14.8 points, 3.5 assists, and 5.3 rebounds, his PER is trapped in the valley at 13.6—desperate, thirsty, and considering severing its own hand.
What’s making this especially frustrating for all involved is that Henderson remains as big a part of the offense as ever. His usage rate of 23.4% of possessions is just slightly down from last year’s 23.5%. And when the team isn’t force-feeding Al Jefferson like a Gitmo prisoner, we could really use some perimeter relief in the form of one Jerome McKinley Henderson, Jr. And therein lies the problem. According to Henderson’s shot chart, he’s highly effective in corner 3’s from either side, and also from long-distance 2’s from the left side…all of which comprise about 7% of his shots. And (you can probably see where this is going), where he’s truly awful—top of the key, left elbow, and basically everywhere downtown except the corners—well, they make up about 18.5% of his shots. The elbow shots are a mystery unto themselves, because Henderson was fantastic at them last year from either side coming off curls, and now Hendo clanks them repeatedly, as if he’s got an elbow shot funny bone. Finally, Henderson’s shot attempts at the rim have declined receded faster than his hairline—from 35% last year to 28% this year.
No doubt this has something to with one Al Jefferson, the 7-foot star destroyer equipped with his own tractor beam, sucking in everything: the ball, opposing players, and the will to live of fans of fast paced basketball. With Big Al clogging the lane like a toilet, you might expect Henderson’s drives to be down, and hence, his overall effectiveness. And sure enough, of the team’s 33 2-man pairings who’ve played at least 300 minutes together, the Henderson-Jefferson combo has been barely more productive than Cheech and Chong: they average just 99.5 points-per-100 possessions, which is a middle-of-the-pack 15th in offensive efficiency (and their net-plus/minus is an even worse 23rd ranked). But Henderson himself plays better with Big Al by his side: his personal points-per-possession is 1.06 with Jefferson on the court vs. 0.93 when he’s off. So much for my attempt to throw Jefferson under the bus—instead of running over him like a pothole, the bus got sucked into his black hole like everything else.
Thus at some point, I guess I need to quit enabling Henderson and instead get him to admit that he has a problem. And the problem is that Henderson simply isn’t much of a shooter, which is a real serious problem when the title of your job is “shooting guard.” Going back to those top 2-man lineups, in terms of net effectiveness, Henderson’s name doesn’t appear until the 10th combination, which occurs when he plays with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. And I probably don’t need to tell you this, but it’s not because of their offensive potency, it’s because they’re outscoring opponents 96 points-per-possession to 95.5. In other words, they turn the team into the 1999 New York Knicks…which is wonderful, but I’d rather watch 1999 Limp Bizkit videos before watching that style of play full-time again.
Coach Clifford, as always, is doing the right thing by recognizing that a spot-up 3-point shooter like Anthony Tolliver thrives in Jefferson’s orbit. Indeed, the team’s far-and-away X-Factor winner this year has been Tolliver, who’s basically sprinkled the Bobcats’ corn flakes offense with angel dust—to the tune of the highest net rating on the team and the highest offensive rating. The Tolliver-Jefferson combo is a +2.1 together, 6th best among 2-man lineups. But Tolliver typically swaps out with MKG at the SF, and MKG doesn’t seem to be the problem here (he and Jefferson are a +2.7 together). Instead of spelling MKG, what if Tolliver bumped him down to the 2 and Henderson was the one going to the bench? Apparently, I might as well be proposing that Marco Rubio and Chris Christie tongue-kiss each other, because it’s not going to happen. According to NBAwowy.com, the Jefferson-MKG-Tolliver ménage-a-awesome has only played a total of 3 minutes together without Henderson.
Nope, the bottom line is Henderson either needs to shoot better or we need a real shooting guard. And I fear it’s the latter, because Hendo has never been an outside threat. He’s an inside threat, a termite who is best at breaking an opponent down in isolation. With Jefferson, though, there is no isolation, because the key is filled up with space junk trapped in Big Al’s gravitational pull (Henderson’s iso’s went from 19.1% of his offense last year to 11.5% this year, per Synergy Sports). It’s frustrating to see to relatively good players nullifying each other, but that seems to be what’s happening here…unless Henderson really did figure out something on this west coast trip that he bottled up and took with him—preferably not something that he literally bottled up and took with him, especially if it’s only legal in a few states.
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