Gerald Henderson, brought over to Portland with Noah Vonleh in an exchange that sent Nicolas Batum to Charlotte in late-June, may appear at first glance as the salary-filler that allowed the trade to work. Vonleh, who turns 20 today, was picked No. 9 in the 2014 NBA Draft just over a year ago, has plenty of upside and has affordable team options for the two seasons after next that top out at $3.5 million in 2017-18.
On the other hand, Henderson is a serviceable NBA veteran heading into his seventh season as a pro after spending his first six with the Hornets. At 27 -- he'll turn 28 in December -- the former Duke Blue Devil is second in age on the 2015-16 Trail Blazers' roster only to 33-year-old center Chris Kaman. At his age and heading into the final year of a contract that will pay him $6 million this season, it's easy to see why some would consider Henderson no more than midseason trade-bait for Portland GM Neil Olshey to dangle in the hopes of securing more young, blue chip players for the team to develop.
Though his long-term prospects in Portland remain up in the air, Henderson expects to be a contributor for the Blazers on the court next season.
"This is a contract year. I wanted to be at a place with opportunity, a good organization and potentially a chance to win," Henderson told Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer in a piece published Sunday. "I got all those things in Portland."
The Blazers are building around the superstar potential of Damian Lillard, surrounding him with young, developing talent on the wings -- CJ McCollum, Al-Farouq Aminu, Moe Harkless, Allen Crabbe -- and guys looking to establish themselves in the frontcourt -- Ed Davis, Mason Plumlee, Meyers Leonard and Vonleh. Olshey's also taking a flier on a handful of young projects in Pat Connaughton, Tim Frazier, Phil Pressey and Luis Montero.
Where, then, does Henderson fit into the equation? As an established veteran who's likely at or near his ceiling in terms of upside and in the midst of his early prime, he seems to be the perfect type of role-player Olshey would be looking to bring in a couple years from now, after the organization has sifted through its pile of players with untapped potential and -- if things go according to plan -- found a few suitable running mates for Lillard. Henderson's an excellent complementary piece, for sure, but his fit with the team this season could be questionable, especially if McCollum ends up starting opposite Lillard in the backcourt.
But really, Henderson's only a couple years older than Lillard and will just be exiting his 20s when the Blazers could be ready to compete for the playoffs again. If Olshey thinks Henderson's a good long-term fit, keeping him around seems like a solid way to maintain a steady veteran presence both on and off the court in Portland as the team nurtures its nucleus of talent while rebuilding some of the roster continuity that the team was able to boast -- at least with its starters -- when LaMarcus Aldridge was the centerpiece around which the Blazers were constructed.
Henderson possesses a varied skillset offensively, adept in a couple areas and deficient in equally as many -- most notably his outside shooting. But the 6-foot-5 guard knows how to play to his strengths, for the most part. Let's take a look at his career shotchart:
Henderson is a decent finisher, and goes to the basket for a solid chunk of his shots. But the rest are fairly spread out in the midrange, where he's serviceable from just about anywhere. Yeah, he's not much of a floor-spreader on the wings, but he's willing to take corner threes when open and can hit them with some degree of regularity. Henderson seems to pick his spots, taking what the defense gives him and not forcing too much except that floater in the lane. Coach Terry Stotts should be able to live with that from a guy who only shot 10.6 times per night last season.
It's no secret that a midrange two-point field goal is the least efficient shot in basketball; It's far enough away from the rim that shooters can generally justify taking a step or two back and attempting a three-pointer instead. With that in mind, many NBA defenses -- particularly that of the Blazers -- are geared to hold down the perimeter and the paint and, for the most part, allow or even funnel offenses into shooting from 15-19 feet out where the scoring is less efficient.
In previous years with the Blazers, Aldridge feasted on looks from the midrange and often forced opposing defenses to not only honor the long two-pointer but occasionally send double teams to help out on the three-time All-Star. Drawing extra defenders in the midrange as a shooting guard would be a tough task for Henderson, but his 40.2 percent shooting clip from 15-19 feet out last season proves he can be a versatile weapon Stotts can go to if he needs a change of pace or sees a hole in the defense to exploit. Henderson may not take over many games with his jumper, but with a roster lacking proven outside shooters, the Blazers need all the help they can get in finding open looks for threes. His ability to potentially thrive where opposing defenses are generally the weakest could make Henderson a solid third or fourth scoring option on a team in Portland that will need to establish some options behind Lillard, Leonard and McCollum this year.
Henderson also brings toughness to the defensive end, a solid individual and team defender who's not afraid of physicality. But Henderson also seems to help his team play better in general. Let's see his on/off court statistics with the Hornets last season:
As you can see, Charlotte improved in rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, turnovers and offensive rating with Henderson on the floor last year. Starters are likely more inclined to have better on/off court numbers because they're often playing with other starters, but Henderson seemed to play with a number of different lineups last year. He made his team better when he was on the floor last season and, according to nba.com/stats, did so with a Usage Rating of 20.9 percent -- good for No. 8 on the Hornet's roster. In other words, Henderson noticeably improves his team but does so without dominating the ball. He plays solid, hard defense and picks his spots on the other end without soaking up too many team possessions.
The aforementioned traits that make Henderson a great complementary piece could also potentially make him a valuable trade chip if the right team comes calling. Yes, Olshey probably has a short list of "untouchable" players, and Henderson is almost assuredly not on that list.
But if Henderson carves out a role for himself in Portland -- whether that's as a reliable starting shooting guard so McCollum can bring backcourt ballhandling and scoring off the bench or as an all-around crafty reserve with some defensive chops -- Olshey should strongly consider keeping the six-year veteran in town longer than this season. Henderson brings toughness and focus to both sides of the ball, and if Stotts ever needs to switch things up and apply some pressure to an opposing defense from the midrange, Henderson fits the bill, too. And, even though he's one of the elder statesmen on a young roster at 27 years old, he's still young enough himself to be a potential contributor on both ends for years to come.
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter