This entire summer, I’ve suffered through the notion that the Lakers will almost certainly not make a run in the playoffs, and could miss the playoffs entirely. My idol, Kobe Bryant, was recovering from a torn Achilles, and only time will tell if he will ever be the same again. After the Lakers signed Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, and Chris Kaman this offseason, I told myself I would ignore them the entire summer and preseason, and maybe I would watch a few games when the regular season started and see if I could stomach their play.
I made it through the summer fine, but during preseason, I gave in and watched a couple of game recaps online on YouTube. While nothing was really spectacular, nothing was awful either. However, the play of one young (I thought he was a rookie) guard caught my eye, and then really got my attention when I was watching highlights of the Lakers-Jazz game. His name? Xavier Henry (pronounced Zaa-Vee-EY).
Xavier Henry had a great preseason; he showed a vast array of moves, he could get to the rim with ease, his shooting was above-average, and he wasn’t being selfish; a trait many young players have during preseason as they try to prove to their coach they’re skilled enough to make the final roster. He looked like a bright spot on the Lakers, and when I saw his dunk (see below) on Jazz guard Justin Holiday, I instantly became his number one fan. Who was he? I’m pretty savvy when it comes to the NBA and know just about everyone, but I admit the name Xavier Henry was unfamiliar to me. Here’s what we know on the 22-year old player:
Henry was born in Ghent, Belgium, where his father was playing professional basketball in the early 90’s. He comes from a family of athletes, with his talented brother C.J. being picked in the first round of the 2005 MLB draft before deciding to devote his time and efforts into basketball and his parents playing on Kansas’ women’s and men’s basketball teams. After a heralded high school career where Henry was ranked as high as the 6th overall prospect coming out of high school, Henry settled on Kansas University after the the coach of his original choice, Memphis, left.
Henry scored 27 points in his debut at Kansas, setting the record for most point scored by a Jayhawk in their debut game. He also scored 31 points in a game against LaSalle, the second freshmen to score 30 points in a game since Paul Pierce (the Wheelchair Man!) did it. Henry declared for the 2010 NBA draft, where he was the 12th overall pick by the Memphis Grizzlies. He played sparingly for the Grizzlies, playing in 38 games that season, averaging 4.3 points per game and shooting a paltry 12% from beyond the arc.
He was traded to the New Orleans Hornets after his rookie season where he played in 45 games before being assigned to the D-League. Henry switched back and forth between the NBA and D-League until this past off-season, where he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers and he began what we can hope to be a breakout season.
The beginning of that season has proven to be promising indeed. With the exception of the game against the San Antonio Spurs, Henry has played consistent, good basketball, earning a place in the starting line-up during the Lakers’ November 3rd match-up against the Atlanta Hawks (which they barely won, after blowing a 21-point lead). He’s scored in double-digits in three out of four games and is shooting a scorching 45% from beyond the arc (5-11).
While he’s been getting to the free throw line consistently, he hasn’t capitalized on his chances, shooting below 60%. I suspect this is early-season jitters and something that should go away in the coming weeks considering his reputation as an above-average shooter. Henry hasn’t been turning the ball over despite his elevated playing time and hasn’t been in foul trouble. As of now, Henry is a worthy early season candidate for Most Improved Player. If he can keep his consistency up, Henry will play a crucial role for one of the NBA’s most storied franchises.