Which LA Lakers Player Has the Most Upside Right Now?

Ehran Khan@@ekhansworldContributor IIIMarch 5, 2014

No L.A. Laker is brimming with more upside than Xavier Henry.
No L.A. Laker is brimming with more upside than Xavier Henry.Juan Ocampo/Getty Images

A lot of people may have forgotten about this guy because he just returned from a 28-game absence, but Xavier Henry is the player with the most upside on the Los Angeles Lakers.


Well considering the makeup of the roster, it's pretty slim pickings.

As has been well documented, the Lakers are a top-heavy team. Their top three earners—Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash—make a combined $59.039 million this season.

The NBA's salary cap for 2013-14 is $58.679 million.

Those three veterans have almost a half century's worth of NBA service time among them, so obviously there's no upside there, meaning you have to dig around the bottom of the barrel to find someone whose future could be bright.

Youth is a prerequisite for potential.

Enter Henry, who, despite being a pro for four years already, is still shy of his 23rd birthday. He's the third-youngest member of the Lakers, just three weeks older than rookie Ryan Kelly. Since he's still at a tender age, Henry's game has plenty of room to grow before he hits his prime. 

Next comes his pedigree.

Henry was a big-time recruit coming out of high school, which is how he ended up at a big-time college program like the University of Kansas.

Henry, a former lottery pick and top high school recruit, has a great pedigree.
Henry, a former lottery pick and top high school recruit, has a great pedigree.Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

According to Basketball-Reference's Recruiting Services Consensus Index, Henry was the sixth-ranked recruit from the high school class of 2009.

That placed him just ahead of Lance Stephenson, and behind only Derrick Favors, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, John Henson and Avery Bradley. Not bad company at all.

After an okay year at Kansas, Henry became a lottery pick in the 2010 draft, taken after Favors, Wall and Cousins but ahead of Bradley and Stephenson. If you're looking for some untapped upside, you want to target a player who was once looked at as a top-tier recruit comparable with All-Star-caliber talents like Wall, Cousins and Stephenson.

Though Henry's NBA track record has been disappointing, the signs are there for a turnaround. 

Before the injury that kept him out of the lineup for over two months, Henry was enjoying the best year of his career by far. He is averaging career highs in minutes, points, rebounds, assists and steals per game. He's also posting the best PER, true shooting percentage, field-goal percentage and usage rate of his career.

When you watch Henry play, you can see the makings of a devastating offensive force. 

Henry relentlessly attacks the rim, looking like James Harden with his Eurosteps and sweeping lefty finishes. And he gets to the line like Harden too.

As a matter of fact, Henry's free-throw rate is even better than Harden's. And Kevin Durant's. And LeBron James'. No guard has attempted a larger share of his team's free-throws than Henry.

The only player in the NBA's top 10 in total free-throw attempts with a higher free-throw rate than Henry is Dwight Howard—and we all know the reasons for that.

What keeps Henry back from being a James Harden-type star is his shooting touch, starting at the line.

Henry is a miserable 62 percent free-throw shooter, largely negating the great job he does getting to the charity stripe.

He's also making just 34 percent of his threes, but at least he's finally showing the confidence to take them. His 59 attempts this season are more than his first three years in the league combined. He's flashed a decent corner three as well, making 43 percent of his attempts from that prime location.

Shooting is a skill that can be honed over time. If Henry can become a competent three-point shooter and really make teams pay on his frequent trips to the foul line he can be an above-average scorer.

But the thing that can really turn Henry into an elite offensive weapon—and the other huge distinguishing factor between himself and Harden—is developing his playmaking ability.

If Henry improves his shooting and playmaking, he can be an offensive powerhouse.
If Henry improves his shooting and playmaking, he can be an offensive powerhouse.Ned Dishman/Getty Images

To Henry's credit, he is posting a career-best assist rate. Unfortunately, that assist rate ranks 131st out 148 guards who have played 30-plus games this season.

With his ability to get into the lane, Henry could boost his team's offense immensely just by learning to make simple drop-offs to big men in the paint and kicking out to open shooters. 

Armed with the dual threat of creating his own opportunities to score as well as opportunities for his teammates, Henry could become one of the most dangerous pick-and-roll threats in the league.

To get to that level, though, he would have to put in a lot of work on his shot and on recalibrating the way he sees the floor.

The upside to becoming a valuable NBA contributor is there. Henry just has to tap into it.


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