Gerald Henderson is maybe the definition of a “good” NBA player. He’s solid on offense, and puts in effort on defense. He’s athletic, protects the ball and is a willing passer. Off the court, he never publicly complained as the losses piled up, treats the fanbase as well as anyone and gets kudos for his charity work. There’s a reason that “Gerald Henderson would be a fantastic role player for a contender” is a mini-meme you see pop up occasionally.
“Role player” is the key phrase there, though. It’s still unclear whether Henderson will be able to make the jump from good to great, and that uncertainty made the team nervous enough to explore a trade earlier this year.
The three-year, $18 million contract Hendo signed this offseason kills at least some of that anxiety. It’s a much smaller commitment than the four years and $40 million Toronto gave to the comparable DeMar DeRozan, and it accurately pegs Henderson as a promising supporting piece instead of a budding young star. At the same time, the deal’s shorter length and player option in the third year gives him a clear incentive to improve and expand his game.
The easiest way to do that is by working on his three-point shooting, which has already been a focus. Henderson’s accuracy from long range improved to 33 percent last year, up from his previous best of 23 percent in 2011-12.
Digging into the numbers shows he still has room to grow there. Henderson hit a promising 31 of 66 (47 percent) three-pointers on spot-up attempts and in transition, but went only two of 20 in isolation and in the pick and roll. The addition of free agent center Al Jefferson and rookie Cody Zeller will likely get him more of those high-percentage looks, but it does show some of his limitations right now as an offensive creator.
Henderson will also need a return to form around the rim. Last season, he shot 54.5 percent in the restricted area after averaging 64.2 percent in his previous two years. On the plus side, that got better as the year went along — he improved to 58.3 percent post-All-Star break after shooting a rough 49.5 percent in the first half of the season. It’s likely that his early-season foot injury played a part in that drop, so hopefully staying healthy and less offensive dysfunction in general will help him there.
Though he’s still young at 25, Henderson enters this season as the longest-tenured Bobcat and one of the team’s clear leaders. Even if he doesn’t make the leap everyone hopes for, he’s already a very competent player that will be an important part of the team’s growth for the next two years (at least). That’s more than enough.