Breaking Down Everything You Need to Know About Lakers' Xavier Henry

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 30, 2013

Raise your hand if you had Xavier Henry leading the Los Angeles Lakers in scoring on opening night and putting up more points than any one player on the Los Angeles Clippers.

If your hand is in the air, put it down please.

You're lying.  

Henry didn't even start the game for L.A., and he's a young journeyman who came over to the Staples Center after signing a one-year deal for a minimum salary. It's not like he was supposed to do this on national television against a Doc Rivers defense, even if he put up points in bunches throughout the preseason. 

So, who is Xavier Henry? 

His name probably isn't familiar to you unless you've been a diehard NBA fan willing to torture yourself by watching New Orleans Hornets games ever since Chris Paul left the team. It's not like Henry has been relevant for the purposes of fantasy basketball, and he hasn't found himself featured on SportsCenter very much. 

And yet, despite his ability to fly under the radar, it didn't take long for him to emerge as a need-to-know name. 


Highly Touted before the NBA

Think back to 2009, which is a scary number of years back into the past now.

It's a time that The Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga completely dominated the Billboard Top 100, and "Avatar" was the top-grossing movie of the year. LeBron James won his first MVP, and Derrick Rose was a precocious young point guard out of Memphis who took home Rookie of the Year honors. 

Oh, and Henry was a highly touted high school prospect from Oklahoma City being recruited out of Putnam City by Kansas (his ultimate destination), Kentucky and Memphis. And when I say "highly touted," I mean that Rivals listed him as the No. 3 shooting guard in the class and the No. 8 player overall. Here were the top 10 that year: 

  1. John Wall
  2. DeMarcus Cousins
  3. Derrick Favors
  4. Avery Bradley
  5. John Henson
  6. Jordan Hamilton
  7. Michael Snaer
  8. Xavier Henry
  9. Keith Gallon
  10. Mouphtaou Yarou

It's a list of names that most basketball fans are familiar with, although Snaer, Gallon and Yarou haven't managed to make any sort of impact on the NBA landscape. 

Jerry Meyers wrote the scouting report for Henry, saying that he was, "A do everything guard at 6-foot-6, Henry has the tools to be a star at the highest level. He is a prolific scorer with a complete arsenal of scoring moves. And with his size and athleticism, he can defend as well as rebound with the big boys."

Once he was a member of the Jayhawks, he didn't stay long. 

Henry spent only one season under Bill Self in Lawrence, averaging 13.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.5 blocks while shooting 45.8 percent from the field. But when Ali Farokhmanesh drilled the three-pointer that is forever ingrained in the memories of Kansas fans and Northern Iowa upset the No. 1-seeded Jayhawks in the second round of March Madness, that was it. 

He left the 33-3 Jayhawks behind, choosing to enter his name in the 2010 NBA draft despite only scoring eight points in his final collegiate game. 

DraftExpress wasn't particularly high on his chances at stardom in the Association, tempering the expectations by consistently referring to him as an upper-tier role player: 

On the next level, Henry will likely find himself player a similar role to the one he played last season early in his career. A highly capable spot up shooter who has a chiseled physique and brings solid defensive intensity, he’s tailored to be a useful player right away for some teams and could blossom into a very effective offensive wing if he continues to develop.

You can view the entire history of his placement in mock drafts here. As a quick summary, though, he was commonly touted as a lottery candidate, but he was by no means considered a lock to go in the first 14 picks. 

And yet, he did, as the Memphis Grizzlies selected him at No. 12. 

Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix ended up giving the team a B- for its performance in the 2010 draft, writing:

Rudy Gay might want to think about putting his house on the market. Xavier Henry doesn't have the size or athletic ability of Gay, but he's a lights-out shooter who, if combined with Ronnie Brewer, could form a decent replacement on the wing. Ideally, Memphis brings back Gay and adds Henry's punch to a lackluster bench. 

ESPN's Chad Ford (subscription required) had a similar reaction. He gave the Grizz a C for their efforts, revealing that Henry was the backup play and Paul George was the team's No. 1 choice. Henry was viewed as a floor-spacing wing who could replace Rudy Gay if he left in free agency. 

Given the courses of their careers, it's crazy to think about how Henry was viewed as a potential replacement for a player who became a borderline household name during his prime with the Grizzlies. 

Henry did not. 


Inefficient Career as a Journeyman

Henry never worked out for Memphis. 

He averaged 4.3 points, 1.0 rebounds and 0.5 assists per game while shooting barely over basketball's version of the Mendoza Line. His PER? A putrid 7.0, less than half of the league-average mark of 15.

And Henry was not long for the Grizzlies. 

In January of 2012, he was sent to the New Orleans Hornets as part of a three-team deal that revolved around Marreese Speights. The bayou didn't treat Henry much more kindly, although it did keep the inefficient shooting guard out of the D-League. 

Over the course of two years in NOLA, Henry averaged 4.6 points, 2.1 rebounds and 0.5 assists, but he was plagued by a nasty case of missed shots. His 40.1 shooting percentage from the field was just not going to cut it. 

The former Jayhawk completely failed to carve out a spot in the rotation, and the team let him walk in free agency. That's how he ended up signing with the Los Angeles Lakers for a one-year minimum deal. 

Don't make the mistake of thinking he was anything but a low-level journeyman during the first few years of his career. 

Basketball-Reference has a Similarity Scores section that shows players with similar career arcs. Get ready for this...stellar?...list of names that match up with Henry's early career: 

  • Corey Gaines
  • Mike Price
  • Milt Williams
  • Anthony Robertson
  • Russ Lee
  • Randy Woods
  • Anthony Parker
  • Drew Barry
  • Randy Livingston
  • Charles Bradley

Not exactly a list littered with All-Stars. Or even rotation players for that matter. Frankly, I'll be impressed if you've heard of more than one of those players. 

Henry was once that highly touted prospect coming out of a solid prep school in Oklahoma City. Then he excelled for a season at Kansas. Then he was a lottery pick. 

But after that, everything went downhill.

He entered the 2013-14 season drawing the No. 451 spot in ESPN's NBA rank, making him the No. 12 player on his own team. Hell, he even found himself behind Robert Sacre. 

And that's what makes the next event so surprising. 


Breaking out in L.A.? 

Henry wasn't a starter for the Lakers when they opened their season against the Los Angeles Clippers. He was coming off a big preseason in which he established himself as a quality scoring threat, but he still wasn't expected to maintain that success once the regular season began. 

He didn't maintain it. He built on it. 

The 2-guard played just over 26 minutes off the bench, and he was—dare I say it?—a dominant force. Henry finished the game with 22 points, six rebounds, two assists and a steal while shooting 8-of-13 from the field and a stellar 3-of-4 from beyond the three-point arc. 

After the surprising upset of the heavily favored Clippers, he had the following to say: 

Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon have some advice for him, but that's beside the point. What's more relevant is how comfortable Henry looked coming off the bench while winning over Lakers Nation in, oh, roughly 26 minutes.  

So, was Henry's breakout legitimate? Is this something that he's going to sustain over the course of a season? 

I'll go ahead and say right now that Henry is not going to average 22 points per game for anything more than a one-game sample, but it's quite possible that he sustains this level of play in smaller doses. As long as he's committing himself to defense and hitting shots from beyond the three-point arc, he can be a productive player off the pine and insert himself in the Sixth Man of the Year conversation. 

That's not outside the realm of possibilities.

Henry isn't an out-of-nowhere flash in the pan, despite what the rest of his NBA career would leave you to believe. He does have a stellar resume, even if the majority of the entries on it come before he entered into the ranks of the Association. 

Plus—and I've intentionally left this piece of information out thus far—Henry is only 22 years old. There's still plenty of time for him to make good on his impressive potential. 

The opening night of the 2013-14 campaign was only the beginning.

How the rest of the story unfolds will be quite important for the Lakers and even more entertaining for fans of the Purple and Gold.  


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