Why Xavier Henry Is Ideal Nick Young Complement for LA Lakers
Even the most insignificant of free-agent signings can mean something.
That's what the Los Angeles Lakers are banking on anyway after filling out their cap-strapped roster with unsung role players like Shawne Williams and Wesley Johnson. Most recently, general manager Mitch Kupchak announced the team had signed former lottery pick Xavier Henry in a continued effort to bolster the rotation on a beggar's dime.
Once considered a high school prodigy, Henry's career has failed to take off since he forewent his sophomore season at Kansas and was drafted 12th overall by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2010. Through three seasons he's yet to log more than 16.9 minutes per game or post a PER above 9.2.
By adding Henry to a perimeter corps that already includes Nick Young, Kobe Bryant, Jodie Meeks, Williams and Johnson, the Lakers aren't paying Henry for what he's done; they're hoping he's a source of untapped potential.
Parades won't be thrown in anticipation of his arrival, nor does he project as a sudden star, but he does deepen a team now catering to Mike D'Antoni's preferred style of play. Young specifically now has a fellow 2-3 drifter who, like him, figures to spend time at shooting guard and small forward.
How many minutes (if any) Henry will receive remains unclear. But he can do many of the things Young isn't known for, making him an ideal candidate to back up (or play alongside) Swaggy P.
Los Angeles' docket is currently replete with versatile talent.
There are big men who can play either the 4 or 5 (Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman), tweeners who will act as a small forward or stretch 4 (Ryan Kelly, Williams, not Jordan Hill) and combo guards who can serve as a primary playmaker or off-ball scorer (Steve Nash, Jodie Meeks). Now the roster is chock-full of players who can shift between the 2 and 3 (Kobe Bryant, Johnson, Young, Henry) as well.
Unlike the other sets of players, the wing grouping was easier to define. In this case, that's a bad thing, or at least not the greatest.
Kobe can play small forward. He's Kobe. The man could probably excel as a center if he put his mind to it. What you don't want to do is take him away from the position he's spent nearly two decades dominating.
Last season, according to 82games.com, he had a more difficult time defending small forwards than he did shooting guards. Opposing 2's registered a 12.8 PER against him while 3's went for 16.8. Not a big difference, but a difference all the same.
And after watching Kobe last season, he seems better fitted as a combo guard than an interchangeable swingman. The Lakers were at their best when he was jumpstarting the offense.
Johnson can be looped into that same category. Known for his defense and raw athleticism, he's not the scorer you look for in a 2. He also had more success guarding against small forwards (12.4 PER) than shooting guards (14.5).
Both are solid numbers, but if the Lakers are to use him at different slots (they will), I value him as an undersized (6'7") stretch 4-stopper because of his quick hands and the loose handles many floor-spacing forwards tend to have.
That brings us to Young, who has been a shooting guard before all else his entire career. Next to a healthy Kobe, that stands to change. You don't displace the Black Mamba in favor of an inefficient serial shooter.
Valued only for his scoring, he'll spend ample (so, most of his) time at the 3. Minutes will be split with Kobe, Johnson and even Williams, yes, but he'll also be relieved by Henry.
Like Young, though, his position won't be as defined as Kobe's or Johnson's. Together, they'll be two of the biggest rotational nomads on the team. And the Lakers are hoping that vague classification turns out to be a good thing.
Very few shooting guards and small forwards are known for their glass-crashing, and Young is no exception.
Through six years he's averaging only 1.9 rebounds a night. His career high is just 2.7 as well. Henry has tallied a similar career total (1.8) despite seeing nearly nine fewer minutes per bout.
Here's a look at how their per-36 minute rebounding totals have stacked up since Henry entered the league in 2010:
Henry's numbers have been noticeably higher, topping out at 5.2 rebounds per 36 minutes last season. Young, meanwhile, has never climbed above 3.3.
Tapered playing time could have contributed to Henry's edge, but again, their per-game numbers are nearly identical. They're less of a mirage and more a testament to Young's rebounding struggles.
Where Young is a more an average-to-below-average rebounder for his position(s), Henry is more likely to bring the "little extra" Los Angeles will need.
As errant a shooter as Young can be, he's respected for his short-term memory.
No matter how many times he misses, he never stops shooting. And for all the attempts he clangs off the front, back and side of the rim, he's still a dangerous shooter.
Young knocked down 35.7 percent of his treys last season and is shooting 37.4 percent from deep for his career. When he catches fire, fans too experience amnesia, forgetting all about his ill-advised misses (until he misses again).
Thus far, Henry hasn't found as much success from beyond the arc. He's converted a mere 28.9 percent of his bombs since 2010.
All hope isn't dead for the fourth-year man, though, as his current clip is dragged down by an especially poor rookie showing (11.8 percent). Let's face it: Memphis is where polished three-point shooters go to die anyway.
In each of the last two seasons, however, he's drained at least 36.4 percent of his three-balls, a far more encouraging sign than what we saw in 2010-11. Still, expectations are limited since he's attempting only 0.3 treys per game. Small sample sizes, like always, are our enemy.
But all we have to go off are tiny samples with Henry. Remember, he's about "untapped potential," about the reason Memphis drafted him in the first place.
While at Kansas, Henry knocked down 41.8 percent of his outside shots. In the interest of shoving his potential down your throat, below you'll find out how his lone season at school compares to a fellow Kansas alum you may have heard of:
Ben McLemore is supposed to be the second coming of Ray Allen (or something like that) and Henry isn't McLemore. And I'm not trying to suggest he is. Their shooting numbers from college are comparable, so all I'm saying is he deserves a chance.
Much like Young, he too can be valued for his shooting. Under certain circumstances, he may even prove more effective.
During his brief stint with the Philadelphia 76ers, Young connected on 35.3 percent of his spot-up deep balls, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required). Henry found the bottom of the net on 57.1 percent of his last season with the Hornets.
These two aren't the same players, or even close to it. Young is far more established, proven and cavalier in his shot selection. His new teammate remains unseasoned and relatively untried.
Looked at in vacuum, though, Henry has the ability to complement Young, be it as a backup or on-court sidekick. They can both commute between two positions and either one of them can be used as defense-stretching shooter. And where Young may put the Lakers at a disadvantage on the glass, Henry can inject an additional board-hoarding punch.
Is Xavier Henry a serviceable complement to Nick Young?
No one's saying Young and Henry will develop into the most feared one-two punch in the NBA, because they won't. There's no telling how much time they'll see together or Henry will see it at all.
But there is hope; there is potential there.
This time of the year, when most free agents worth signing and most pairings worth forming are all settling into new or established digs, that's as good as it's going to get.
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