On a rainy Memorial Day, I submit the second draft analysis breakdown of the year, this time of Duke University wingman Gerald Henderson.
With his father being a former Celtic teammate of Larry Bird, you can probably be assured that the Pacers front office has done their homework for a long time in evaluating the Duke slashing guard. While a wing position player on first glance would not appear to be the greatest "need" for our roster, closer examination reveals an alarming lack of depth at the position behind Danny Granger and Brandon Rush. Indeed, it appears an incoming wing player will have plenty of floor minutes available to play this season, especially considering the uncertainity of Mike Dunleavy coming off a major injury. Along with that, the likely loss of Marquis Daniels in free agency in reality makes a wing player selection a strong consideration for the Pacers front office.
While there are many players in the draft who I believe are extremely difficult to evaluate, I do not feel that Henderson was one of them. In fact, I felt like his strengths and weaknesses are somewhat clear.....what will be the question is this: What VALUE does an individual team/coaching staff put on those strengths, and how well does he fit in?
One thing that makes Henderson in my opinion fairly easy to evaluate was his background. Obviously, Henderson was born into an NBA family, and has spent his life around the game. He no doubt has learned the game from some of the very best in his father (one of my favorite old time Celtics) and his outstanding college experience with Coach K. Henderson fit in very well at Duke within the style of play that the Blue Devils play, and Coach K used him very adroitly I felt like watching Henderson on film.
Since I really like how Duke plays the game from a fundamental/technique standpoint, this was one of the more enjoyable players I have had to breakdown. The skill in evaluating Henderson is trying to figure out the translation from the Duke system to how he will fit into the somewhat different life in the NBA.
Offensively, Henderson has clear strongpoints, and a couple of glaring weaknesses.
His ability to come off screens, read them correctly, and then use his athleticism to drive to the basket is his biggest attribute. Henderson is a superior athlete, with the ability to finish in traffic with authority, and will likely be, early in his career at least, a strong candidate to be one of the better dunkers in the league. He has a great first step and superior balance. His fundamentals on squaring up, turning low and quickly into a triple threat position are among the better I have seen.
He will be a player who, depending on the matchups, will be able to score in clearout situations. This won't be his strong suit, but it will be something he can do more than most wings in this draft. He will be particularly good at moving without the ball, as he cuts extremely well and has the ability to get open without the benefit of a screen, something a player like Stephon Curry for instance cannot seemingly do. His ability to drive the basket will let him get many free throw attempts, which will make him doubly tough to guard for most defenders.
He will be a factor in a screen/roll situation with the ball in his hand.....but mainly in order to score himself, not to create a shot for someone else. I do not find Henderson to be selfish in anyway, but I don't think he is a particularly good passer, nor does he have great vision. Perhaps a symptom of having superior athleticism and confidence, Henderson shows a tendency to try and finish the play himself rather than look for others, although in fairness he really didn't have anyone inside to pass to anyway at Duke,
Henderson's perimeter shot is inconsistent at best. He has the ability to get very hot, and the tendency to get very cold. This is not a symptom of taking bad shots or making bad decisions on whether to shoot or not...its just a lack of shooting skill. He sometimes is a player who will make a great move, beat his man, get into the paint, rise up for a somewhat easy shot then miss it off the front rim. In his formative years, my presumption is that he never needed to shoot that well, as his very athletic nature enabled him to blow by people at will. That won't always be the case in the NBA, so he will need to be able to make some jump shots on a more consistent, night after night basis.
I know this will somewhat contradict myself, but I can easily see Henderson developing into a good standstill, three point set shooter at some point in his career. He strikes me as someone who will work at the game at the next level, and that will clearly be something he can do to extend his usefullness after his athleticism fades away with time.
Duke had no decent point guard, so they didn't run as much as you would think, and that limited his transition chances. He obviously can dunk on a break, and he sometimes will just fly over a defender, particularly when he can go off one leg. I did see one somewhat disconcerting habit with him in transition, in that I thought he often took awkward angles in toward the rim. Often I heard television announcers criticize whoever had the ball in the middle of a Duke fastbreak for poor passes or decisions, but quite a few times it was actually Henderson running too "parallel" to the lane line instead of fanning out near half court and running into the rim at a good 45 degree angle.
I also have one suspected flaw in Henderson that I will not be able to proe or know, but the other NBA teams actually making decisions will: My guess is, from all circumstantial evidence admittedly, is that Henderson has smaller hands than you would suspect a player of his size to have. I think that affects the way way he holds the ball to shoot jumpers, particularly the way he has to gather it up from a dribble to get in shooting position. I also think that contributes to not being as good a free throw shooter as you would expect, and the fact that Henderson misses a dunk every once in a while, more than you would expect. Thats just one thing to keep in mind as more information comes available, if it ever does.
Henderson has one other huge offensive weakness: He has a real preference for driving to his right, more so than almost any other player I've broken down in a while. Many teams at the college level played him at a severe overplay and had success, Virginia Tech being one team that did so more and more each time they played. Forcing him left often forced Henderson to drive, beat his man slightly, but then have to rise and take a jumpshot, which again looked like a good shot but he more often than not missed in that situation. Again, I didn't think it was so much the dribbling left, but I thought he looked uncomfortable in gathering the ball upward going that direction, which left his hand position slightly off when going that way....which caused misses.
Henderson shoots a little flat anyway, so when his rhythm and hand position is off slightly he pushes the ball and it becomes a line drive almost. His fundamentals tend to come and go while shooting, my guess as to why is the small hand theory, but it might be that he simply just isnt that good.....every player has weaknesses, that might just be his!
Where Henderson is a joy to watch for me was on the defensive end of the floor. Henderson applied EXTREME pressure on his man in Duke's high pressure defensive system. Henderson did almost everything you'd want a defender to do well....he denied wing passes and forced his man out further than he wanted to catch the ball, he pressured the ball and DICTATED where the ball was dribbled, instead of just being reactionary. Henderson shows active hands, making it tough for his man to pass easily.
Henderson is a very good defender on the ball, so much so that I believe at the next level he can defend smaller point guards when asked to do so. He gets in a low defensive stance and really gets in people's grill, taking pride in being a good on ball defender. I think Henderson can be a defensive stopper on the quicker scoring oriented smaller players in the league, like Monta Ellis, Gilbert Arenas, Allen Iverson types, and he would be a very tough defender on smaller 2 guards, such as our own Jarrett Jack or the Bulls Ben Gordon. Henderson's relentless nature and intelligence running around screens would make him a good defensive matchup for a player who moves without the ball well, like Richard Hamilton or Ray Allen. Only a slight lack of height will keep Henderson from being an all world defender, as some bigger players will simply shoot over him.
His lack of height is somewhat of an issue, I shouldn't sugarcoat this fact. You will lack a little flexibility when pairing him with your other wings...with us, this means that Rush or Granger when paired with Henderson will always need to defend the bigger wing, no matter who that is. In some cases that will be a problem. It also will hurt him in closing out on perimeter shooters, and defending guys who just launch jumpers over him. I will say this however: Henderson can jump, and he knows to contest shots with his hands high. Ilook forward to watching elite shooters try that pull up jumper on him, just to see if he can stop on a dime, leap up with them and bother the shot. Only elite defenders can do that....I look forward to watching to see if Henderson can.
Away from the ball, Henderson is good as well. He is smart and plays into the system. He can block shots a little, but usually its the more difficult block guarding his own man. Away from the ball he is more likely to play conservatively and just force players to take tougher shots, or slide in front of them and take charges. Henderson has been taught very well defensively, again no surprise considering his background.
So, where do we stand?
Q. Is Henderson good enough offensively to run plays for?
Probably not on a consistent basis, but there will be nights that he will be. Likely projects as a streaky scorer, explosive some nights and totally off on others.
Q. Can Henderson ever swing over and play the point?
On offense absolutely not, he is clearly a wing only offensively, due to his lack of passing instincts, vision, lack of a left hand, etc etc.
Q. Can Henderson play the point defensively?
Absolutely....ideal pairing for Henderson would be to play with a bigger point guard who needed some help defending quickness.
Q. Can Henderson play defense well enough to be an elite defensive stopper?
Yes, especially if he is allowed to pressure the ball like he is capable, and deny people passes, etc etc. He will struggle guarding players bigger than he is I think, but against smaller scorers Henderson projects to be a defensive weapon I think.
Q. How would Henderson fit in with the Pacers, both immediately and into the future?
He clearly fits a need, as we need a wing who can play defense and bring energy behind Granger and Rush. There are about 30 minutes a night off the bench for a wing to play for us I think....Henderson would be a nice fit there I think.
The pros would be that we know he is intelligent, comes from a winning background, and can respond to coaching. We know he will be well known to our fan base, popular with kids and old folks alike. We know that he improves our defense immediately, if he is allowed to play the way he can play in terms of applying pressure out on the floor. We know his motion offense background fits him here, as Henderson can get open on his own and drive to the lane maybe better than anyone we have.
Negatives would be that we would be drafting a backup wing instead of a starter somewhere else, and that wings are the easiest position to fill on a basketball team. It's also unclear to me that the defensive accolades I gave Henderson for denying wing entry passes and pressuring the ball would be appreciated by the conservative, sagging overhelping system employed by Jim O'Brien.
In fact, although we as fans will likely never know this, my guess is that Larry Bird will love Henderson's game, while Jim O'Brien won't. If true, wouldn't THOSE conversations be fun to listen to in the Pacers draft war room?
If available at #13, I believe that Gerald Henderson has a strong likelihood of being taken by Indiana, under the following conditions:
1. The Pacers either plan to bring both Jarrett Jack and TJ Ford back next season, or have a plan to obtain a later pick in the first round somehow to get a point guard later to replace whichever one of those two they dont bring back.
2. The Pacers have some plan to somehow obtain another inside player thru a trade or free agency.
3. The Pacers think they can play Granger limited minutes at the 4 spot, enabling us to play Rush, Granger, and Henderson spot minutes all together at the same time.
I think Henderson being available when we select on draft night will be one of the most interesting possibilities of the entire night to talk about.
I also think an extraordinarily fascinating decision will be Charlotte's selection. Henderson would fit Larry Brown and his system perfectly defensively, but I also suspect Brown will be looking for someone to run plays for off screens to shoot jump shots, and Henderson isnt that guy....quite frankly Wayne Ellington probably is the closest to that type in this draft.
Ultimately, I think the Bobcats end up signing Allen Iverson to fill that scoring role, so I think Henderson gets picked ahead of us by Charlotte and we never are able to pick Henderson. Time will tell if I am right.
Who does Henderson compare to?
Defensively, he is closer to Raja Bell in size, ability, and toughness, but he will be slightly better than that as a scorer.
I will go ahead and call him a smaller, much better teammate and attitude version of Stephen Jackson.
Going into the near past, I would compare Henderson to a poor man's Latrell Spreewell, with a much better attitude of course.
As always, the above is just my opinion.