Sometimes, player’s just get hot.
Whether you believe in the hot hand or not (for the record, despite being a ‘stats guy,’ I actually do believe in this phenomenon), probability just suggests that, given enough field goal attempts, every player will occasionally go on a nice little run.
On Wednesday night, Gerald Henderson went 6-of-8 in the first quarter against the Raptors.
Now, Henderson is a talented enough offensive player -he averaged over 15 points the past two seasons and last year reached the league average in True Shooting Percentage for the first time (his was 53.1, league average was 53.5). If you plug in his 44.7 percent career field goal percentage, you’d expect Henderson to go on a 6-of-8 run about seven percent of the time when he takes eight shots.
But not all shots are created equally, and part of the reason these runs exist, random or otherwise, is due to the defense a player is facing. On Wednesday night, the defense played a part, though Henderson also shot the ball exceptionally well early.
That’s a lot of mid-range makes, and the fact that Henderson didn’t hit a three or score in the paint would initially lead you to believe it was just an uncharacteristic shooting quarter. He shot 6-of-7 on shots from beyond 16 feet and inside the 3-point line, an area where he shot 43.7 percent last year.
Let’s look shot by shot.
On his first attempt, Henderson loses DeMar DeRozan off a screen. Jonas Valanciunas shows help but doesn’t commit too much, as Henderson could just drive by him if he closed out entirely. DeRozan recovers enough to contest the shot but is too late.
The defense here is pretty good. DeRozan is caught, sure, but nobody botches their assignment. Had DeRozan gone under the screen, Henderson would have had basically the same shot but from above the elbow instead of on the baseline. Amir Johnson rotates to cover Valanciunas’ man in the paint, and Charlie Kelly wanders aimlessly around the far elbow, requiring no coverage.
Here’s Henderson’s second attempt. DeRozan is again screened as Henderson dribbles to his left. The screen is probably an illegal one, as McRoberts shuffles his feet to keep DeRozan sealed, but it’s a minor violation that goes uncalled plenty.
Again, nothing egregious defensively, and because DeRozan was following Henderson up from down low, he didn’t really have the option to go under the screen (inviting Henderson to take a pull-up three, where he’s shot just 27 percent for his career).
Henderson’s third shot is the most infuriating so far, even though it was a miss. He drives by DeRozan with ease and three defenders help but nobody contests the shot. No matter, as Henderson blows the layup by inexplicably trying a reverse.
Note that if Henderson had better vision (he clearly thought his shot was going to be contested), he had MKG wide open for a drive, or to make a touch-pass to a wide-open Kemba Walker up top.
On Henderon’s fourth attempt, the Bobcats have Henderson come off a screen and get a hand-off from McRoberts. Here, DeRozan runs into the McBob screen (another moving one, this time more blatant albeit inconsequential) before he’s recovered from the MKG screen, leaving him way out of position.
If this is getting repetitive, forgive me, but also get frustrated. Once again, ball screen on DeRozan, long two for Henderson. This one is coming right out of a timeout.
This is a pretty poor decision by Henderson, but he’s feeling it at this point. He has Bismack Biyombo cutting (not a good option), and that cut would have eventually saw Johnson or Rudy Gay (or both) help, leaving either McRoberts open for three (31.8 percent for his career) or MKG open on the baseline with the defense’s back to him.
But he’s hot, and it goes in. 4-of-5 in total, 4-of-4 on long-twos with a now-soaking wet jumper.
Here’s the sixth attempt. Do you think the Bobcats had a strategy of screening DeRozan over and over? Yeah, me too.
DeRozan gets caught on a down screen here, freeing up Henderson for the catch-and-shoot.
Henderson’s seventh attempt comes after the Bobcats secure an offensive rebound. On the initial play, the Bobcats don’t run anything for Henderson and DeRozan essentially gets the play off. McBob misses a three with six left on the clock, and Biyombo beats Valanciunas for the board.
From there, the ball goes to Henderson, and I’m sure you can guess what’s coming.
Quick ball screen from Biyombo, DeRozan is caught, pull-up jumper, bucket. Valanciunas tries to help but is late contesting, again probably because if he hedges out too far, Henderson will beat him baseline.
Finally, we get to a miss. What was different this time around? Well, for one, DeRozan has been subbed out for Landry Fields, but that actually doesn’t matter much here.
Henderson grabs on a offensive rebound, and as the Bobcats reset, Valanciunas gets switched onto Henderson. Henderson gets the ball back, dribbles while the Bobcats stand around, and opts for another heat check, finally missing.
From that point forward, Henderson would go 4-of-9, hitting three baseline jumpers and a layup but going cold from above the free throw line.
I won’t screen grab the next eight jumpers, but here’s what happened:
*Missed three. Rudy Gay on Henderson, playing tight, Henderson chucks a three and air balls it.
*Made two. Henderson comes off ball screen (Gay defending), pulls up baseline jumper with Valanciunas turned around, basically screening Gay from recovering.
*Made two. Gay moves to double McBob but Henderson provides an outlet, hitting a baseline jumper (terrific pass by McRoberts).
*Missed two. Henderson runs across the baseline and curls up but Gay manages to get around a screen, contesting along with Valanciunas.
*Missed two. Okay I lied, I screengrabbed one more – look at where DeRozan is positioned here. He comes off a screen and either completely gives up or decides McRoberts is a more important check.
*Made two. Fields defends Henderson’s first attempt well, but the play breaks down and Fields over-commits, allowing Henderson to pump fake, wait, and then hit an open baseline jumper.
*Missed two. Henderson puts it on the floor and pulls up from the free throw line, Fields defends well enough and Henderson misses.
*Missed three. basically a replay but at the 3-point line instead of foul line.
So that’s it. I know this is a lot of words on Gerald Henderson, of all people, but there are a few key takeaways here, beyond just ‘hot shooting night.’
DeRozan: That’s an awful lot of trouble following Henderson around screens. Sure, it’s not easy, but Henderson isn’t J.J. Redick or Ray Allen. Biyombo and McRoberts are strong bodies, but after two or three plays within a few minutes of each other, DeRozan should have recognized the action Charlotte was running. Each time, though, he looked surprised when the screen appeared.
I don’t want to pick on DeRozan too much, because Henderson had no business hitting some of these shots. Additionally, you want guys taking long twos against you, since they’re relatively inefficient. But you don’t want them to be this open, either, and there were a couple of times where Henderson was open enough to drive to the hoop or drive-and-kick but opted to shoot instead.
Casey: Here’s a timeline:
11:01 – Henderson’s first bucket
5:04 – Henderson’s sixth bucket
1:32 – Henderson subbed out
There was one timeout in that stretch by Casey, and it came after two straight Charlotte possessions where Henderson didn’t touch the ball. No adjustment, no switching Gay onto Henderson, no attempt to have Johnson guard the big on the strong side (although the Bobcats probably just would have reversed, anyway, to avoid him). Casey made some curious decisions last night. Maybe allowing a non-elite shooter to continue firing long-twos wasn’t one of them, but a player shouldn’t be able to take the exact same shot off the exact same action six or seven times in a row.
Valanciunas: It’s difficult asking a center to switch onto a shooting guard, but in some of these cases Valanciunas could have been more aggressive hedging (his man was usually Biyombo, who isn’t exactly an offensive threat). Some of this is experience and comfort, and some of it may also be communication (we don’t know how well or early Valanciunas called out the screen), but it’s clear that the Bobcats purposely used Valanciunas’ check as the screener.
Overall: Gerald Henderson just torched you for a 12-point quarter and a 23-point game, after entering the contest shooting 30.6 percent. That shouldn’t be something the team takes lightly.
While Gay and Fields did a better job later in the game (and Henderson just ‘cooled off’ so to speak), there’s probably a big flashing sign on Raptors scouting reports right now. The shooting guard can really make hay against this team:
(Mayo came off the bench as a disciplinary measure but played the bulk of SG minutes.)
This isn’t an issue that’s just going to self-correct. The Bobcats managed to free up Henderson over and over, and this is onn of the league’s least creative and least successful teams offensively.
No, guys like Henderson won’t shoot the lights out on the regular, but looks at Toronto’s next few opponents: Indiana (Paul George), Utah (Gordon Hayward), Houston (James Harden). Things are going to get worse before they get better.