Charlotte Bobcats center Nazr Mohammed knows a good defensive player when he sees one.
The 12-year veteran knows there are a few elements he possesses. One of the main ingredients is the ability to frustrate an offensive player, and Mohammed has seen Henderson frustrate teammates in practice for almost two years.
So, he isn’t surprised to see how well Bobcats guard Gerald Henderson has shadowed some of the best NBA scorers in recent weeks. He maintains, before interim coach Paul Silas took over, that Larry Brown wanted to develop Henderson slowly, so the second-year guard didn’t play much his rookie year.
More importantly, Mohammed believes Henderson has always had the ability, but he just needed the opportunity to play more. He says it is the nature of the league that young players don’t play a lot because there are only so many minutes to go around to players.
“You got a guy like Jack (Stephen Jackson) in front of you, and you have a great shooter like Matt (Carroll) fighting for minutes – it is tough,” Mohammed said. “So, he is getting a little bit more opportunity, and he is making the best of it. But his defense is getting him out there. His defense is unbelievable. He is one of those guys who can be a defensive stopper in this league.”
Henderson has become more than just a defensive stopper. Despite averaging just 4.6 points and 2.1 rebounds, Henderson has shown the versatility that made the Bobcats select him No. 12 overall in the 2009 NBA Draft by either guarding the opposing team’s best offensive players or scoring points at critical moments.
Before Silas became the interim coach, Henderson didn’t have one game this season in double figures. He has had three double-figure scoring games in 13 contests since Silas arrived. Jackson even jokes about Henderson’s new found fame by announcing to the media they can talk to him after one of his good games.
Henderson is humble about his comments from Mohammed, Jackson and other teammates. Instead, he focuses on making an impact whenever Silas puts him in the game. Henderson knows that his play may cause a negative response from another player, but that isn’t his purpose.
“The only thing I think about is making the shooter shot a bad shot or get the ball out of their hands,” Henderson said. “I don’t really think about getting people frustrated. I think that is more of a result of just the way I play defense. A defender in the NBA knows guys are good offensively, and you just try get them to shoot a shot with a hand in their face and just finish the play off with a rebound.”
Henderson may not look to frustrate his opponents, but that is just what he did in a New Years Eve loss to the Golden State Warriors. After forcing Warriors guard Monta Ellis into several missed shots, Henderson caused an offensive foul on Golden State’s best player.
Ellis shoved Henderson with 8.5 second left in the game, giving the Bobcats a final opportunity to win the game. Ellis was trying to get open, and Henderson, who had 10 points and six rebounds in the game, was playing him tough. The only way Ellis could get open is by pushing Henderson to the floor.
His defense was also the difference on the road against the Chicago Bulls. After an assistant coach suggested he guard Bulls point guard Derrick Rose on the final play of the game, Henderson’s excellent defense forced the MVP candidate to miss a game-winning jumper at the buzzer.
And Henderson has shown he could make an impact on the offensive end. He had a career-high 19 points and a career-high nine rebounds in a 104-89 win over the Washington Wizards two weeks ago. In addition, he hit three consecutive shots late in the fourth quarter to help the Bobcats beat the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night.
“When the shots are there I’m going to take them,” he said. “I know I can make those mid-range shots. My teammates have confidence I can make them too. I’m just going to play and do what is in front of me.”
Mohammed said the shots Henderson hit were important against the 76ers because the game was close. He said Henderson didn’t look like a “second-year player” when making the clutch shots.
“He was out there coming off that down screen, and he was knocking it down, and it looked like he was back at Duke,” Mohammed said. “It was definitely some shots we needed at the time. We weren’t scoring the way we wanted to, but he came through when we needed him.”
The key to Henderson’s success may be his confidence. He believes in his ability to make plays. Henderson noted he missed his first two shots against the 76ers, but it didn’t matter because the opportunity to make up for those missed shots would come later.
“This is a new year,” he said. “Coach Brown started out this year. Now, we have coach Silas, and it is a completely different situation. I’m with the same team and a lot of the same faces, but this is a completely different scenario, and things have just worked out as a team. And for me, I have been playing better. I just want our team to continue to play well and continue to get better and the same with myself.”
That improvement will have to continue without forward Tyrus Thomas, who had successful surgery to repair a tear of the lateral meniscus of the left knee Friday and will be out for up to eight weeks. Henderson understands he and other players will have to play well with Thomas out until at least March.
But Henderson still believes the Bobcats have a good second unit.
“It is very important, and we have to come together as a team because Tyrus is one of our leaders, especially because he takes a lot of the load coming off the bench,” Henderson said. “We just have to really come together as a unit. He (Silas) throws me, Shaun (Livingston), Tyrus, Dominic (McGuire), Derrick (Brown) all in there at the same time off the bench. We just have to play together, and we will figure it out. We are talented, and we will figure it out.”
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