NEW ORLEANS — It took only a week for Xavier Henry to make his mark with the Lakers.
It came in the form of a two-inch gash on his forehead that required nine stitches, symbolizing the aggressive nature he’s taken to earn a rotation spot both as a starting small forward and reserve. When it came to establishing his niche in his last two seasons with New Orleans, it never happened.
After the Memphis Grizzlies traded him to the former Hornets in 2011, Henry became sidelined for 37 games because of torn ligaments in his right ankle. Last season, Henry missed 32 games mainly because the Hornets coaching staff saw him struggling with establishing any niche.
Instead of pointing fingers at each other, both Henry and New Orleans coach Monty Williams pointed the fingers at themselves.
“I wasn’t completely on the same page as everybody,” Henry said. “we talked throughout the year about a lot of stuff. But I don’t blame [Williams] for anything last year.”
“I’ll take responsibility for that,” Williams said. “There was a little bit of that and probably a
lot of guys at that position.”
Xavier hasn’t exactly carved out a definite role with the Lakers this season, either. Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has shuffled him in and out of the starting lineup at small forward. Henry also entered the Lakers’ game Friday in New Orleans struggling with consistency in wins (14.3 points on 48.3 percent shooting) and losses (7.3 points on 24 percent shooting). But after joining the Lakers as a training camp invitee, Henry provided an immediate impression on D’Antoni by showing driving skills, a decent mid-range jumper and defensive hustle.
“When he had the little window, he really played,” D’Antoni said. “Not just a little bit. He ran through the window.”
Henry has provided plenty of highlights.
In his preseason debut, Henry made a half-court buzzer beater before halftime. In the Lakers’ season-opening win against the Clippers, Henry’s season-high 22 points lifted a bench unit filled with youth and energy. After suffering the gash on his forehead last week against San Antonio, Henry sank two free throws before going to the trainer’s room to receive nine stitches.
“I’ve wanted to make sure I’ve provided an impression,” Henry said. “I’ve made sure I stood out somehow. I’ve tried to do something productive for the team.”
“It looks like he lost weight and is in better shape,” Williams said. “We always thought he could play. but he could never get himself healthy. It’s good to see somebody that looks like they found a home and looks more comfortable on the floor than he did here. I’m happy for him.”
D’Antoni said the next step entails for Henry to improve his shooting numbers and find a better balance between driving to the basket and looking for his shot.
“Everything is pretty much better,” Henry said. “It’s been working out so far. I like it. But I’m still figuring stuff out.”
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