Philadelphia 76ers: Gerald Henderson, Role-Playing Starter

The Philadelphia 76ers signed Gerald Henderson this offseason to add a veteran presence to their shaky backcourt rotation. So far, he has done his job admirably.

Gerald Henderson was a mainstay starter for the Charlotte Hornets for many years. However, he moved into a bench role for the Portland Trail Blazers last year after the Nicolas Batum trade.

Henderson averaged fewer points and minutes per game last season than any year besides his rookie season.

This season, Henderson is back in the starting lineup and performing well for the Philadelphia 76ers. He has started 29 of his 34 games in Philly and is averaging 9.4 points per game with career highs of 46.0 percent from the field and 40.0 percent from 3-point range.

He has been a big part of Philadelphia eclipsing last season’s win total before the halfway mark.

The New 3-Point Shot

Gerald Henderson has never been a particularly ball-dominant player, with a career usage rate of 21.3 percent. His usage rate this season is at a career low of 17.0 percent, as many of the shots in the starting lineup are taken by Joel Embiid.

That lowered usage rate has led to Henderson being more efficient than ever this season. His true shooting percentage is also at a career high of 55.0 percent.

Henderson has always been mostly a mid-range scorer, but he has scrapped a number of those mid-range attempts this season. 48.4 percent of Henderson’s shots last year were in the mid-range per; that number is down to 38.3 percent this season.

Instead, Henderson is taking and making 3-pointers at a career-best rate. He is shooting 32.7 percent from downtown for his career, but that number has jumped this season.

Having Joel Embiid draw most of the defensive attention allows Henderson to get wide-open looks from behind the arc:

Unlike most shooters who add a 3-point shot late in their career, Henderson has not been purely a corner 3-point shooter. Most of Henderson’s attempts from behind the arc–54.7 percent of them–have been wing 3-pointers.

As defenses focus more and more on eliminating the shorter corner 3, Henderson’s added ability to generate space from the wing gives Embiid bigger passing window from the post.

Henderson’s shooting thus far might be an aberration. Since last season was previously his only season better than 35 percent from deep, Henderson might not be able to keep this up. However, Robert Covington‘s struggles from deep make Henderson’s strong shooting even more important.

Future Fit

Gerald Henderson might not be able to maintain his hot start from 3-point range. On the other hand, his 3-point shots are about to get more open than ever before.

The return of Ben Simmons will help to further open the floor for the 76ers. Simmons does not yet have a good enough jump shot to space the floor that way. However, his Summer League play showed that he will be one of the league’s best passing big men right away.

His ability to drive to the basket and kick out to open shooters will give players like Henderson and Robert Covington more opportunities from deep.

Age-wise, Gerald Henderson does not fit in with the rest of the Sixers. Only Ersan Ilyasova and Sergio Rodriguez are older. That being said, the Sixers’ performance last year showed that having veteran presences on the roster can help keep teams afloat.

Henderson has been a consummate professional throughout his career, even in the down years in Charlotte.

Joel Embiid may have been speaking prematurely when he discussed Philadelphia’s playoff chances. Even without a playoff berth, the 76ers have made important strides this season. Winning six of their last eight games is also a great sign.

If Ben Simmons returns soon (whether before or after the All-Star break), this team may end the season with 30 or more wins.

Gerald Henderson might not be one of the young pieces that this Sixers team will build around going forward. However, his veteran presence and 3-point shooting are important to Philadelphia.

Their thin guard rotation is bolstered by his play, and he may be able to help them return to the playoffs next season–if not this one.

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