Below is the tenth in a series previewing the story lines surrounding each player on the Lakers’ roster for the 2014-15 season. This post focuses on Lakers forward Xavier Henry.
1. Can Xavier Henry stay healthy? Henry has missed the entire training camp thus far because of back spasms. But even if he did not have those ailments, it is likely Henry would have stayed limited because he is still rehabbing his right knee. Though this development hardly ranks among the Lakers’ top concerns, this appears a troubling trend for Henry. After having surgery on his left wrist and right knee in April, Henry anticipated that he would fully recovered by late July. That didn’t happen.
Henry has plenty of time to heal. But his track record has not appeared promising. Last season, Henry missed 39 games because of the aforementioned left wrist and right knee injuries. In his rookie season in 2009-10 with Memphis, another right injury kept Henry out for 44 games. Once the Grizzlies traded Henry to New Orleans, he sat out for another combined 69 games the next two years.
2. Can Henry find the right balance with his aggressiveness? The Lakers liked Henry enough to re-sign him to a one-year deal worth around $1 million because he showed off tremendous athleticism and aggressiveness. Yet, that approach marks the same reason why the Lakers believed Henry played with occasional wreckless abandon and further put his body in harm’s way. Henry can maintain that he simply plays that way. But he needs to fine tune it. As much as this has helped Henry in showcasing his worth, the behavior has also proven self destructive.
The Lakers gushed plenty about Henry. He knew how to create his own shot. Henry fought for loose balls. He hardly seemed intimidated by anything on the court. But Henry also unnecessarily put himself in harm’s way by driving into the lane through double teams. Henry will have to learn soon how to channel that aggressiveness properly.
3. Can Henry become a more complete player? One way Henry could put his aggressiveness toward good use entails adding more tools to his skillset. There are plenty. Henry could add more consistency to his jump shot after going only 41.7 percent last season from the field. Henry could improve his ball handling, both by varying his dribbling between his left and right hand and reducing the aforementioned high-driving charges toward the basket.
4. Where does Henry fit in the Lakers’ lineup? The timing of any injury always appears inconvenient. But Henry’s current ailments puts him at a disadvantage in showing to Lakers coach Byron Scott where he belongs on the team’s depth chart. A number of options seem available for Henry either at small forward or shooting guard. But as of now, it appears Wesley Johnson will start at small forward while Nick Young backs him up. Jordan Clarkson and Wayne Ellington will likely back up Kobe Bryant at shooting guard.
It’s only human nature for someone in Henry’s position to return feeling like he has to make up for lost time. But that could become self destructive, particularly because of the previous cited concerns about how he hasn’t found the right balance with aggressiveness. The right approach would entail Henry providing his usual work ethic, sharpening skills and simply staying ready in case of unexpected circumstances, such as injuries to other teammates.
5. What does Henry’s future entail? At this point last year, Henry was trying to prove his worth to the Lakers as a training camp invitee. He successfully completed that task by showing off his work ethic and displaying some promise with his athleticism and aggressiveness. But the challenge seems steeper given the Lakers’ healthier roster and more depth at both the shooting guard and small forward positions. Given Henry’s positive attitude, it appears that will not derail his focus. But he enters a season laced with uncertainty regarding his future given his contract expires after this season.