Gerald Henderson’s task: Shoot 3-pointers or don’t play

Bobcats guard adapting to coach’s vision of his role

rbonnell@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 10, 2013 

— Last week, Charlotte Bobcats guard Gerald Henderson hit four 3-pointers in a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

That was as many as Henderson made in his entire rookie season. He made a total of 22 in his first three seasons.

But Henderson is nothing if not adaptive. He’s already played for three NBA head coaches and his current one, Mike Dunlap, told Henderson either he’d become a 3-point shooter or he wouldn’t play.

He’s made 17-of-33 3-pointers (52 percent) in his first 20 games with Dunlap.

“He was a stickler about (shooting) that long 2 – he hated it,” Henderson said of Dunlap. “So you find yourself either shooting that 15-footer or migrating out.”

Henderson spent all last summer taking 3-pointers. He arrived from Duke in 2009 as a guy with great athletic ability and shooting range out to maybe 20 feet. He has tried to make himself fit Dunlap’s description of a shooting guard.

“I’d never shot enough of them in a game to make me comfortable that they’d go in,” Henderson said. “When coach (Dunlap) got here, he told me making 3s was something I’d have to do if I wanted to play. They’re going to be open because we have guys who can penetrate and draw attention.”

Henderson’s leadership skills impressed Dunlap enough that he was named a co-captain, along with the since-departed Matt Carroll, in the preseason. In the first half of this season, Henderson has been a starter, a reserve and the injured guy rooting for teammates. Right how he’s playing with the second unit, with rookie Jeff Taylor starting at shooting guard.

In July, Henderson will become a restricted free agent at the end of his rookie-scale contract as a former first-round pick. The Bobcats must decide whether he’s in their long-term plans.

Henderson has given every indication he wants to be here. His believes he contributes in a wide variety of ways.

And he doesn’t sound threatened when his playing time fluctuates. He didn’t start against the Detroit Pistons on Sunday and played just 22 minutes. He played 24 minutes off the bench Wednesday against the Utah Jazz.

“We have a lot of guard scorers,” Henderson said. “If we feel like we can get Ben Gordon going off, we’re going to give it to him every play. And (Ramon) Sessions is going to attack.

“Sometimes my role in certain lineups will be to get them the ball – to drive-and-kick. Or to rebound, to focus on other things than just trying to score all the time. That’s all part of trying to be a winning basketball team. I understand that. I feel comfortable about that.”

Dunlap appreciates what he calls Henderson’s “diverse” skill set. At times he’s moved him over to small forward, and in the preseason Henderson had occasional stints at power forward.

“He’s got a back-to-the basket game along the baseline, a 15-foot kill-spot game, and then the other night he hits four 3s,” Dunlap noted. “So, yeah, he’s diverse.”

Or as Henderson might describe it, adaptive to others’ needs.

“I feel like there are a lot of different things I can bring to our team. It’s funny, when I started playing here, for coach (Larry) Brown, the only thing I was thinking was defense. Since then I’ve played the 2, the 3 and even the 4. I feel like I handled it all well.”

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell

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