Without Kobe Bryant in the rotation, Mike D'Antoni has been able to allocate plenty of minutes to both Xavier Henry and Nick Young. While there is no doubt that the Black Mamba's return to the Los Angeles Lakers will upset the balance of playing time, it isn't clear whose minutes will be mitigated the most.
For the time being, Henry and Young are basically splitting time at both the shooting guard and small forward spots. However, once Bryant returns to take up most of the minutes at shooting guard, one of the two will probably become the incumbent starter at the 3 while the other has to play backup minutes at either spot.
Currently, the two players are putting up almost identical numbers. Both players are averaging 22 minutes, three rebounds and one assist. Young has the scoring advantage by putting up 11.4 points per game to Henry's 9.1.
Based purely on statistics, it is clear that Young is the more efficient scorer. Not only is he putting up more points, he is shooting 41.7 percent from the field, whereas Henry is only shooting 34.3 percent. However, both bring different things to the table.
Henry has only scored over 10 points in three games while Young has done so in five and is more consistent with his offensive output. Young also has the more proven track record during his career, as this season is more of a breakout season for Henry.
However, Young has struggled from three-point range this season, only making 26.1 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. Henry is making 33.3 percent of his threes and is a more consistent outside threat. While both can stretch the floor, Henry has proved himself the more credible threat from distance.
When Bryant returns, floor spacing will be essential for the Black Mamba, Pau Gasol and the point guards on the roster to create for each other. If Henry can prove to be the more consistent outside threat, he may make a better case for himself.
On the defensive end, both Henry and Young have the athleticism and quickness to keep up with the other guards and small forwards in the league. Neither are good shot-blockers or ball thieves.
Young may be a slightly better finisher on the break, but both are good transition players. Both players are good at getting into the lane and creating their own shot. However, with Bryant likely to take a lot shots away from both Henry and Young, the player that fits in best with Bryant may need to be comfortable contributing without seeing the basketball for many possessions.
Perhaps the biggest statistical difference in the two players is their free-throw percentage. Henry only averages 53.7 percent from the line while Young averages 80.6 percent. While Henry has taken 41 shots from the line, which is 10 more than Young, his inefficiency from the line may make him a liability at the end of games.
If Bryant comes back and takes on more of a reduced role on offense to save his legs, Young's aggressiveness and greater efficiency may make him the favored option over Henry. The only thing Henry has an advantage over Young in is his three-point shooting.
Young is a marginally better player in every statistical category. If Bryant returns and is the Black Mamba of old, perhaps Henry's three-point shooting may better complement the Mamba.
However, as a career 37.2 percent shooter from three-point range, Young has been a proven marksman throughout his career and his shooting percentage should trend upwards. If this is the case, Young is clearly the more productive player.
Who will play a bigger role once Kobe Bryant returns?
Both players have solid upside and potential. However, Young has been a dangerous and competent scorer in the league for much longer than Henry has.
Young's experience as dynamic shooting guard makes him more dependable than Henry down the stretch. He is the more developed player and should be able to fit in better with Bryant if he can accept having fewer shots and improve his efficiency from beyond the arc.
There is a risk that Young and Bryant could clash because Young is the type of player that likes to dominate the ball. However, his skills playing off the ball are just as good as Henry's and his consistency should be the difference.