A Big Athletic Guard Looking for Playing Time

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Published: June 25, 2016

Buddy Hield could come into the season as the Pelicans’ starting 2 guard, and I wouldn’t doubt that’s what the front office is hoping for. But what if he isn’t ready? What if they want to bring him off the bench instead? If he starts, who backs him up? The Pelicans’ depth at guard is not totally stable at the moment, with injury issues as well as all of Norris Cole, Eric Gordon and Toney Douglas possibly not returning. Sure you could say Pondexter can play at the 2, but then who plays at the 3? They need another guard who can be relied on consistently.

Cole went from major difference maker in 2014-15 to huge liability in 2015-16. He posted a Ortg of just 94, the 2nd worst on the team to Kendrick Perkins, and was a negative on defense as well with a 111 Drtg. We all knew who he was on offense, but his lack of any size made his pesky defense pretty ineffective. Douglas, at 30 years old, was a good veteran guy who brought some much needed energy for the Pels last season, but in reality he was also a very limited player. He showed that he could knock down 3’s and handle the ball, but like Cole, tho he was a pest defensively his size and length made his effectiveness on that end much more questionable than his effort. So if you want to improve on their minutes, why not start with someone a little less limited?

Gerald Henderson (UFA)

Without the range of today’s typical 2-guards, Henderson has worked to develop a well rounded game, and it has resulted in him being a respected vet in the league. He has years of starting experience at 28 years old, but he doesn’t demand a starting spot. This season he contributed to one of the best bench units in the league in Portland (5th in the league in bench point-differential). Henderson might not have the shooting touch that Douglas, Bryce Dejean-Jones, or James Ennis displayed this past season, but he brings so much more on the wings than any of those guys would:

    • He’s a great rebounder for a guard (career 4.5reb/36).
    • He can play both on and off the ball effectively
    • He’s an excellent cutter (1.43 PPP) and finisher in transition (1.16 PPP). He shot an incredible 74.7% within 3ft of the rim this past season (career 63%).
    • With a signature baseline shot, he’s a better mid-range shooter than DeMar DeRozan.
    • He’s improved a lot from the 3pt line (career best 35.3% this past season), especially from the corners (42.4% on corner 3’s over the last 3 seasons).

Apart from improving the team from a defensive and athletic standpoint, he fits some of what the team is trying to do, even if he isn’t a great shooter from distance. Alvin Gentry has tried to get this team playing at a faster pace. Jrue Holiday is going to be asked to push the ball, Buddy Hield was a fantastic transition scorer in college and did a great job of pushing the ball as well. Henderson is another guy who excels in this aspect of the game.

Henderson’s voice in the Portland locker room was a huge factor in the team’s unexpected success this season. He’s been described as “quick to speak up in timeouts and huddles,” and “willing to nudge and even call out teammates on the court when things turn sideways.” One of the big differences in the Pelicans playoff run in the second half of the 2014-15 was simply the players holding each other more accountable. It would be nice to get some of that back as there was almost no accountability, especially on the defensive end, this season. When asked about Henderson’s impact, All Star Damian Lillard said that “you need guys like that around,” and that “he’s earned guys’ respect.”

Basically, Henderson is a solid 3rd or 4th guard who can do a little bit of everything and most importantly isn’t a defensive liability. He’s dependable and smart with leadership qualities. That is what you want if you are looking for some depth next to a rookie. This is probably Henderson’s last chance to find a good sized contract as he will be 29 this upcoming season, and with all the cap floating around this summer he will likely get some good offers. The Pels might be able to snag him for anywhere in the $8-12mil/year range. The 7-year vet will be most intrigued by opportunities for playing time or possibly a starting spot, and New Orleans could present an opportunity for both. At the very least he could be consistent depth at a position of need.

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