Monty Williams revealed earlier today that Xavier Henry will make his season debut against the Spurs this evening.
So, a quick introduction, to Henry, our latest one-lettered dynamo, and a fearless prediction for his season.
Henry's one of those innumerable college players that get caught between a perimeter and slashing game upon arriving in the NBA. He can still drive, no doubt. In a severely injured shortened season in 2010-2011, 26% of Henry's field goal attempts came at the rim. For comparison, Belinelli landed at abut 15% last season and Eric Gordon at 30%. The league's elite drivers (think Tyreke Evans) will take somewhere between 40% and 50% of their looks at the rim, but finishing in the 30% range (somewhere a healthy Henry could certainly land) is very reasonable. To toss in another reference, the league's breakout guard in 2011-2012, James Harden, sits at 33% on the season.
The strange thing with Henry though, and it's a point that becomes immediately apparent on watching footage of his season with the Grizzlies, is that while most young players see their driving percentages lag due to increased defensive athleticism, Henry's dip was equally due to his confidence in his own jump shot. The drives he did make? Strong, assured, often into the body of a defender. But he often eschewed open space in front of him to pop the step back, and over a limited sample size, the step back failed him almost hilariously frequently.
On long twos he shot 33%, and on threes he shot 12%. But this is exactly why Henry was such an excellent pickup.
Putting the injuries aside, Xavier Henry failed in 2011-2012 because in an extremely small sample, he failed to do the very thing (shooting, shooting, shooting) that for 19 years had made him a very good basketball player. Importantly, he didn't fail to do these things because defenders were closing him out too strongly, because he couldn't get open against better defenders, or because he couldn't adapt to the NBA three line. Nope. He just missed shots over and over and over again.
As far as specific skills - look for Henry's jab step, honestly one of the better ones I've seen around the league, as well as his fake chest pass on the perimeter, two moves he used very effectively to open up his jumper last season. There's no question that Henry can create the requisite space to continue to shoot (ostensibly) high percentage looks.
The Xavier era begins tonight in New Orleans. The prediction in this corner, given health for Henry and a lack thereof for Eric Gordon, is, at the very least, a new starter at the two. The Hornets put a 2010 lottery pick, one that had the majority of his rookie season wiped out by injury and is still only 20 years old, on the floor this evening, and we should all be appropriately excited.