The sudden redemption of Xavier Henry's short but troubled NBA career started during the early stages of the 2013-14 season and became one of the biggest stories of the Los Angeles Lakers' season. When the Lakers tipped off the season against the Clippers, the team was still in the process of trying to figure out their backcourt rotation without Kobe Bryant.
Henry immediately stood out as a potential bandage to the Lakers torn-up rotation. He had a breakout performance in the season opener, putting in a career-best 22-point, six-rebound performance. As Henry walked out to the floor of Staples Center, he showcased a stable but extremely aggressive on-court mentality as he pushed the ball down the throats of the Clippers' defense. That mentality continued to be at the epicenter of Henry's on-court approach. On a night-by-night basis, Henry was able to use his excellent athleticism and abilities as a ball-handler to surgically cut his way through the opposition's defense.
Lakers season preview
Lakers season preview
While that helped mask the blatant inconsistencies that lingered with Henry's overall offensive performance, his fate took a turn for the worse in December. Henry strained his right knee against Philadelphia, and even though that injury didn't appear to be too debilitating, it was enough to keep him out of the Lakers' rotation for more than two months.
Henry was able to work his way back into the Lakers lineup after rehab stints with the D-Fenders. Even though he was on the shelf for over two months, Henry maintained that aggressive approach when he was back with the purple and gold.
Until he went down with another injury.
When you examine Henry's overall work on the offensive end, his aforementioned ability to cut to the paint sits at center stage. Henry is regularly able to work past the opposition by combining his tendency to attack the rim with an excellent amount of athleticism and ball-handling ability. Once Henry gets into the key he's a good finisher at the rim and doesn't shy away from contact. Here's an in-depth compilation of his work on offense:
Henry's drive-first tendency is also valuable because it helps him get to the free-throw line on a regular basis. Henry averaged a team-high seven free-throw attempts Per 36 minutes, which also exceeded the likes of Paul George, Russell Westbrook and Rudy Gay. While his ability to get to the line is definitely impressive, he struggled making the most of those opportunities, shooting an ugly 65% percent from the not-so-charitable stripe. Henry also shot a pedestrian 37.5 percent from mid-range (8-24 ft. from the rim) and 34 percent from beyond the arc. He spent stretches of the season with nagging issues to his left wrist, which could account for his shooting struggles, but he never proved to be a serious perimeter threat.
Transitioning over to the defensive end, Henry's solid skills were overshadowed by the Lakers' lackluster team defense. By playing in the league's second-worst defense, Henry definitely had the appearance of just being another piece in the Lakers' unpleasant defense. Henry, however, was quietly able to become a solid all-around defensive player. He can stick close to the majority of backcourt players and prevent them from getting an open look by using his sturdy 6'6 frame and lateral quickness. Here's a compilation of the defensive chops he showed last season:
As Henry works his way towards his second season with the Lakers, he'll have to earn his role on the team again. Minutes might be hard to come by in a Lakers wing-rotation featuring Kobe Bryant, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, along with the possibility of Jordan Clarkson playing minutes at shooting guard.
Xavier Henry could go unnoticed because of his potentially-limited role inside the team's rotation, but he still has plenty of value. He has the potential to be an offensive spark plug and defensive weapon even though he isn't likely to make the leap to scorching scorer or lockdown defender. What's important is he can become valuable long-term role player with the Lakers. He showed flashes of it last season, and if he stays healthy, should only build upward again.