Gerald Henderson: The Steal of the Offseason

Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports /

Gerald Henderson should be primed for a much larger role on the Philadelphia 76ers. Let’s take a deeper look at what he brings to the table.

At first glance, it’s easy to see why Gerald Henderson wasn’t exactly a hot commodity this offseason. Until becoming a serviceable contributor off the bench in his one-year stint with the Portland Trail Blazers, the 7-year veteran spent the rest of his career in relative obscurity on the much-maligned Charlotte Bobcats-turned-Hornets, averaging a mere 12.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game.

When Bryan Colangelo signed the 28 year-old Henderson to a team-friendly two-year, $18 million deal with the Philadelphia 76ers this offseason, it was easy to acknowledge the signing as an optics-driven move made to help transition the young roster out of the Sam Hinkie era. There’s no doubt Henderson should help improve those more unquantifiable buzzwords certain media members love to pontificate on — leadership and culture — but as a basketball move, Henderson didn’t initially appear to move the needle much.

If we dig a little deeper, the Duke alum adds much more than just stopgap leadership. Henderson provides two premium skills that should perfectly compliment rookie phenom Ben Simmons and his unique skill set: corner threes and finishing at the rim.

The Corner Three: The Smartest Jump Shot on the Floor

Former Grantland writer (and current member of the Spurs front office) Kirk Goldsberry called the corner three the “smartest jump shot on the floor.” As the emphasis on 3-point shooting has increased over the years, the corner three has been hailed as one of the foundations of a progressive-minded offense.

The concept is easy to understand—since the corner three is a shorter distance to the rim than a 3-pointer above the break (exactly 1 foot and 9 inches shorter), it’s an easier shot to make for the same amount of points. Considering its location within a half-court set, it also maximizes coveted floor space for dribble penetration.

The better the shooter, the more gravity he draws to his side of the floor and the higher likelihood of producing a more efficient shot on any given possession. Even if the shooter isn’t directly involved in a play, the threat opens up other possibilities on the court.

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Putting the concept into practice is slightly trickier. You need the right personnel — from shooters, to ball handlers, to passers — to make the corner three, the most assisted shot on the court, a legit threat. As we’ve seen from the past three years from Brett Brown, you can play a style that mirrors the most progressive pace and space offense in the league, but if the personnel isn’t there, production likely won’t follow.

Gerald Henderson fits the bill.

Gerald Henderson: Corner Three Point Threat

Henderson shot a career-high 44.4 percent from the corner three last season on 71 attempts. Over half of Henderson’s attempted 3-point shots come from that coveted corner — a career-high 52.9 percent. Of players that have attempted at least 70 shots from the corner in the 2015-2016 season, Henderson’s 44.4 percent ranks 14th best in the league.

While the sample size is admittedly somewhat small, he’s had equally great 3-point percentages from the corner during his last two years with Charlotte, shooting 42.4 percent in 2013-2014 and 41.8 percent in 2014-2015 — both above the league average of 39 percent.

Instead of a one-season outlier, it appears Henderson has found his offensive niche. Take a look at his development from the perimeter over the years, with a specific emphasis on the corner three.

Shooting Table
3-Pt Field Goals
% of FGA by DistanceFG% by DistanceCorner

Provided by View Original Table

Considering Steve Clifford-led offenses seem to ignore the corner three (Charlotte ranked dead last in percentage of three pointers attempted from the corner in 2015-2016 and 2014-2015, and 25th in the league in 2013-2014) and Henderson’s low 19.9 minutes per game coming off the bench in Portland, he should be set to make a major jump in corner three attempts for the more Spursian Brett Brown offense.

Finishing Around the Rim

This isn’t the only area where Henderson can contribute a specialized skill on offense. Henderson is one of the better guards in the game at finishing around the rim. For players with at least 100 attempts at less than five feet from the basket, Henderson ranked 23rd in the league and 8th among non-big men around the rim with a career-high 64.7 percent during the 2015-2016 season.

At less than three feet around the rim, Henderson shot 74.7 percent, which would outrank all Sixers’ players other than the erstwhile Carl Landry.

Henderson is an intelligent off-the-ball cutter, and this skill proves even more valuable when a player with Simmons’s passing ability shares the court. When Simmons is able to make passes into impossibly small windows, he’ll need players on the receiving end to finish the job. Henderson, one of the better finishers in the game last year, should be able to do just that.

Rich Hofmann over at PhillyVoice was able to compile a video of Henderson’s backdoor cuts—take a look below, and don’t miss his excellent primer on Henderson as well.

The Unique Game of Ben Simmons

All of this wouldn’t be so relevant if it weren’t for Ben Simmons and the need to configure the puzzle pieces around him as effectively as possible. Simmons has a unique skill set — he’s an unparalleled passer with otherworldly vision — at 6-10, he can see the court like few others. 

But Simmons can’t shoot, and that’s a problem. Defenders already play way off him, reminiscent of Rajon Rondo’s early years. This clogs the offense on a team desperate for spacing. The more non-shooters on the floor with Simmons, the more you neuter his unique ability to dribble penetrate and create for others. More shooters, more space, and more opportunities for Simmons to hit baseline cutters like the one below. 

This is why Robert Covington, Jerryd Bayless, and Henderson are so important to the success of Simmons. While Henderson is an above-average three-point shooter only from the corner, Covington and Bayless are excellent off-ball shooters, period. No matter how you fit the puzzle pieces around Simmons, you’re going to need shooters.

What to Watch For

There’s admittedly a decent amount of noise in Henderson’s stats last year, so it should all be taken with a grain of salt. Henderson spent the entire year coming off the bench in favorable matchups against second-units. Terry Stotts preferred to stagger stars C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard, which meant Henderson was almost always playing alongside one, or both, against those bench units.

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Henderson will most likely be facing starting units with the Sixers, and he won’t have the luxury of playing with players of McCollum and Lillard’s caliber who draw that much attention on offense. If Brown asks Henderson to shoulder more of the workload, his efficiency could see a decline.

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How Brett Brown utilizes Henderson when Simmons is on the court should be an interesting subplot to keep tabs on throughout the year. Henderson could bring far more worth to the table than his career 3-point percentage if he sticks to his sweet spots. With Simmons and plus-shooters on the floor, Henderson could be primed for one of the more efficient seasons of his career. Let’s hope Brown has seen that shot chart.