The ever-evolving offense of Gerald Henderson

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Meet the new Gerald Henderson. Not the same as the old Gerald Henderson. (But kind of similar)

Note: these stats are updated through November December 11 (fixed, lol). The writing was completed Wednesday night, but stats following the Orlando Magic game were not available across all sites cited here by the time this story was completed.

Unlike Kemba Walker's tough start that's been bogged down by inconsistency that's gradually being ameliorated, Gerald Henderson had a consistently abysmal beginning to his season. In his first 12 games, Henderson managed to top 40 percent field goal shooting in one contest with an average of 36.1 percent.

Thankfully, that early stumble came to an end just about when Al Jefferson returned for good. In the nine games since, Henderson has been shooting 46.5 percent from the field with a nice little jump in free throw attempts to boot. His true shooting percentage (a measure of shooting efficiency taking into account free throws and the added scoring punch of 3-pointers) jumped from 44.4 to 52.9 percent, despite a much worse percentage from behind the arc. Leaving three-point percentage out of this, Henderson's shooting percentage jumped from 39.6 to 50 percent.

When I went spelunking into Synergy to take a look at what's been going on with his offense, I found some other ideas confirmed: Gerald Henderson has once again evolved his offensive repertoire.

His offense changes every year, which can be summarized like this, starting with his first season of significant playing time in the 2010-11 season.

2010-11

Henderson relies mostly on off-ball plays to get his scoring opportunities, whether off screens or spotting up. He uses the pick and roll and isolation and cuts some, but his bread and butter is coming off a low post screen for a midrange curl jump shot. Transition is a good spot as well because of his athleticism and decision-making on fast breaks, but the Bobcats run a very slow pace starting under the tutelage of Larry Brown, who succinctly gets canned before Christmas after a dreadful start following the team's first playoff season, and then under Paul Silas.

2011-12

The following season, his spot-ups and pick-and-roll plays fall, giving rise to testing Henderson's skills in isolation a bit. His off-screen shots are down a marginal amount, and post-ups are up, but only slightly from 2.7 to 5.4 percent. The Bobcats are miserable trainwrecks on nightly collision courses with dumpster fires in their lockout-shortened 7-59 season and the offense is craptastic disaster of a poorly executed UCLA offense and Henderson leads the team in scoring.

2012-13

The rise of Henderson, ballhandler! In a matter of two seasons, Gerald Henderson's major off-ball plays (spot-up, off screen) have fallen like Rob Ford playing football. Once combining for 41.5 percent of his possessions, these off-ball spots have now become a mere 21.9 percent of Henderson's possessions. Isolation plays now encompass 19.1 percent of his plays and the pick and roll has nearly doubled for him to 15.6 percent of his plays. Henderson posts up nearly 10 percent of the time. First-time head coach Mike Dunlap's offense struggles, and Henderson's versatility as a scorer and a passer makes him a decent threat as a ballhandler.

2013-14

Once again, Henderson's offense seems to have adjusted a bit. Indubitably, this is due to the change in coaching strategy and personnel as much as Henderson's own personal development, as we shall see.

The rise of Gerald Henderson, isolation king, has been swiftly curtailed thus far in Clifford's offense. The Bobcats currently give Henderson isolations on 10.6 percent of his possessions (down from 19.1 percent), preferring to utilize Henderson as a ballhandler in conjunction with a big man to help create space and an extra passing option.

The decision has somewhat mixed results but really solid reasoning behind it. In the previous year, Henderson was a rather good isolation player. He ranked highly with a 0.77 points per possession rating, but despite such a terrific ranking, the Bobcats and Henderson recognized that in spite of that, it's still an inefficient play and redirected it to the pick and roll.

The effect has been rather positive in multiple facets. Henderson's efficiency and shooting percentage from isolation has jumped out of a plane a la Peggy Hill, with his PPP down 0.23 (a 30 percent fall) and his field goal percentage on isolation plays has a similar 30 percent drop. But the benefit is that the pick and roll was already a more efficient play last year (0.83 to 0.77 PPP), so why wouldn't the Bobcats want more points per possession from Henderson with an added bonus of better passing chances? The initial response has been positive, with a 27 percent increase in pick-and-roll possessions, a 2.4 percent increase in PPP and a 13.3 percent increase in field goal percentage (not to be confused with a percentage points increase, mind you). Although they haven't vastly increased Henderson's efficiency in the pick and roll, eschewing a good deal of less-efficient isolation plays in favor of the pick and roll has increased his efficiency just by shifting to a more efficient play type.

The unfortunate thing is that Henderson's isolation performance has been a disaster. I tend to think that will even out closer to his average in time, but for now, it's a stunning drop-off both in shooting percentages and in a whopping 81.2 percent increase in turnovers.

Another major change has been a decline in transition, which should be expected at this point. Clifford tends to prefer a slower pace, which helps minimize turnovers and extends meticulous possessions. Transition is down four percentage points to 12.5 percent and Henderson feels that squeeze like everyone else on the team.

When considering Al Jefferson's impact on Gerald Henderson's play, I figured it wouldn't significantly factor into any of the above plays, but rather in the other off-ball plays. I thought the same conclusion could be made with Josh McRoberts, who functions in the Bobcats offense as a linchpin with a lovely proclivity for passing and understanding where teammates will move. But the results were pretty mixed, I guess. Hand-off plays are still a pretty small percentage of Henderson's possessions, but they're not out of the equation with McRoberts at the top of the key. Still, there's been a sad plunge in effectiveness on these plays despite a 162.5 percent increase in how much Henderson receives hand-offs in the offense. His PPP has slumped from 0.77 to 0.55 PPP, currently at a 19.2 field goal percentage.

On the plus side, he gets his offense more on cuts, which has managed to get even more efficient than before, somehow. Here's some raw data for cuts from last season: 1.27 PPP on 63.5 percent shooting with drawing fouls 12.8 percent of the time and cuts made up 7.1 percent of Henderson's plays. Now here's this seasons: 1.44 PPP, 71.4 field goal shooting percentage, drawing fouls 13.9 percent of the time, and with cuts making up 9.8 percent of his plays.

For those who are averse to statistics, let's break it down real quick. Henderson is 13.4 percent more efficient on an already super-efficient type of play and is drawing fouls 8.6 percent more often. Plus, he's cut down turnovers 12.5 percent on cuts, which isn't the most astounding thing since cuts are already pretty low turnover-prone plays to begin with, but hey, I'm not going to turn down free money, you know?

Jefferson has a reputation as a black hole, but that really hasn't been quite true for a year or two now. You can certainly make the assertion that Jefferson's usage as a scorer makes him a black hole, but the reputation that "black hole" brings in regards to being a passer isn't there. He's not Marc Gasol, but you can often see Jefferson looking for cutting players as he palms the ball from the block waiting for players to complete their cuts and watching to see if any passing lanes materialize. Henderson is often one of those players who gets run from the left side with Jefferson and clearly he's seeing some results on the receiving end of those passes. Henderson has a pretty sublime understanding of where and when he should cut, and even if McRoberts' or Jefferson's passes don't hit their target or Henderson's hands don't hang on to the pass, he has the fundamental understanding of positioning and how the basketball should move.

The other slight change is an increase in Henderson's post-up game, which has struggled so far. It's 21.8 percent less efficient at a current 0.68 PPP, and turnovers are up 181 percent, though fouls drawn are up 41 percent.

Although Henderson tends to run cuts with Jefferson on the left block, when he's utilized in the post, it's often on the right side of the court, which seems to be his most comfortable side of the floor. In general, he's shooting better from long midrange on the right side, but it's about even when you get closer midrange shots on either side.

We're still only 22 games into the season now so it's still pretty early and the recent trends clearly show a resurgence for Gerald Henderson's scoring so we'll just have to wait and see for the results. I tend to think his isolation performance will even out a bit but it might take a while. The same could happen to the pick-and-roll play, so who knows, but in general the Bobcats have a better offensive strategy than last year, which should pay off at some point. A better three-point shooting percentage would definitely benefit Henderson, but I'm not about to hold my breath for that.

Still, there's much to watch for as Henderson continues his development five years into his NBA career.

***

Statistical resources provided by basketball-reference.com, nba.com/stats and MySynergySports.com

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