Healthy Xavier Henry Could Be Los Angeles Lakers' X-Factor

David Murphy@@davem234Featured ColumnistSeptember 29, 2014

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 20: Xavier Henry #7 of the Los Angeles Lakers attempts a dunk against Kevin Love #42 of the Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center on December 20, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
Noah Graham/Getty Images

Xavier Henry has yet to play more than 50 games in a season during his four-year NBA career. Yet, the Los Angeles Lakers signed him to another one-year minimum-salary deal this summer.

Can he be an X-factor for them?

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak is hoping the slashing swingman can solidify a role on the team after having a career year at 10 points per game off the bench during an injury-shortened season.

“Xavier earned a spot on our team last season after being a training camp invitee, and we hope he continues the dedication to improving he has displayed for us thus far," Kupchak said in late July, per Lakers.com. “When healthy, Xavier provided our team with an offensive punch, and we expect he’ll strive to add to his skillset and become a well-rounded player.”

Henry, however, is still recovering from left wrist and right knee surgery performed in April. With a new intricate Princeton offense to learn, Lakers coach Byron Scott told Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News in early September, “I haven’t seen him do much on the court. It’s going to be close on if he’s ready for camp.”

Updating the news more recently, Medina writes that Henry is "currently limited toward running on a weight-bearing treadmill."

It has become a familiar story for an athletically explosive player who has shown so much potential, but has yet to fully live up to it.

Born in Belgium, Henry is the son of Carl Henry—a shooting guard who played briefly with the Sacramento Kings in 1985 before following his hoop dreams to Puerto Rico and Europe. The family eventually returned stateside, where the younger Henry was a McDonald's All-American and a starter for the University of Kansas during his one-and-done freshman season in 2009-10.

Henry was drafted No. 12 by the Memphis Grizzlies but injured his right knee his rookie season. He tore ligaments in his right ankle the following training camp and was traded midseason to the New Orleans Hornets. He showed flashes of promise in New Orleans but reinjured his knee, requiring surgery to repair a lateral meniscus tear, and later strained his right MCL.

A year ago, the slashing swingman was signed by the Lakers as one of several young reclamation projects and was a bright spot during a dismal season. Henry played three positions—small forward, shooting guard and even point guard, scoring in double figures 21 times out of 43 games.

At 6’6” with a 6’11” wingspan, he has good size, excellent upper body strength and the ability to get to the basket at will and throw it down with authority.

He also picks up a lot of trips to the charity stripe but needs to improve on his free throws—his 65.5 percent shooting last season was actually higher than his career average of 63.8.

A lefty shooter, Henry can be streaky at times from beyond the arc—that’s understandable, but learn to nail your free throws!

He’s also a willing defender and an all-out hustle player whenever he’s in the game. His crash-and-burn style has had its drawbacks, however—he has played only 176 games in four seasons.

Clearly, he can be an X-factor when he’s healthy—a wild card, a variable, a player who can make an impact for his team. But he has to be able to stay on the floor.

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

During his peak moments last season, Henry showed just why he keeps getting chances—such as a 22-point outburst against the Los Angeles Clippers, helping give the Lakers a win during their season opener.

He scored 27 points in a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, 24 in a loss to the San Antonio Spurs and 22 in a win against the New York Knicks.

His headlong drives can also come to a sudden stop—such as the night his forehead collided with teammate Wesley Johnson’s knee during a game against the Spurs. But Henry got nine stitches and came back into the game.

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Xavier Henry #7 of the Los Angeles Lakers gestures to teammates on the bench after he receives a bandage for a cut on the forehead in the game with the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center on November 1, 2013 in Los Angeles,
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

It’s that kind of effort that coaches like to see—Mike D’Antoni rewarded him with a start two nights later. But there’s a fine line between drive and the kind of recklessness that can cost a portion of each season—and perhaps, ultimately, a shortened career.

Henry is still just 23 years old, but his right knee will only sustain so many operations. This season could be a make-or-break-it one for the former lottery pick. While there's little doubt he can be an X-factor, he has the talent to be ever more.

But with training camp just around the corner and everyone else healthy for once, there’s still one guy who’s nursing the after-effects of last season’s train wreck.

Henry will most likely make it back to full strength, but the goal is an uninterrupted season, a longer and better contract, and the opportunity to make his team better—whether as an X-factor or simply a consistent contributor.

This may be his last best chance.

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