It's tempting to write off everyone from the woeful 2011/12 Bobcats as unable to contribute to a winning NBA team, but at least a few of the players from the NBA's all-time worst outfit have futures in the league. There are no superstars in this bunch, but the team might want to hang on to Gerald Henderson, the team's leading scorer last year at 15.1 points per game. The 12th overall pick from 2009 has shown consistent improvement in his three years in the league, and for a team that found it difficult to attract even middle-tier free agents like Carl Landry and Antawn Jamison this offseason, developing and retaining its lottery picks must be a priority.
Henderson came to the Bobcats with a sterling basketball pedigree, having played three seasons at Duke after learning the game from his father, 13-year NBA veteran Gerald Henderson Sr. He saw limited run in his rookie season, and spent 2010/11 as a part-time starter before landing in the starting lineup for all 55 games in which he appeared last season. His increasing role led to healthy jumps in his scoring average the past two seasons, but he's backed that up with improvements in his shooting percentage, which he lifted from 35.6% in his rookie year to 45.9% last season, and true shooting percentage, up from 45.3% his first go-around to 51.1% in 2011/12. His PER has gone up in each successive season as well, from 9.7 as a rookie to 14.0 last year. Henderson isn't an effective distributor, averaging 2.3 assists and 1.8 turnovers last season, and his per-36-minute rebounding numbers have declined two years in a row. That's not too disconcerting, since wing players aren't often tasked with heavy rebounding or assist-making duties, but his outside shooting is cause for greater worry. He made just 23.4% of his three-point attempts last year, and that was a career high. Teaming him with fellow lottery picks Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, neither of whom is an outside shooting threat, might prove difficult.
The Bobcats will surely give Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 2 pick in this year's draft, every chance to prove he can hold down the starting small forward spot in Charlotte. Walker likely has a future with the team as well, but at 6'1", he'll probably have to prove he can handle the point guard position to become a full-time starter. Point guard Ramon Sessions is around for this season and next at $5MM a year, and 6'7" Jeffery Taylor, the first pick of the second round this past June, will be in the mix among wing players as well. The team has options when it comes to outside players, but Henderson looks like the best bet at two-guard. Shooting aside, his blossoming scoring punch complements Kidd-Gilchrist's defensively oriented game, and new coach Mike Dunlap's up-tempo attack could allow Henderson's athleticism to flourish. The Bobcats figure to be a lottery team for a while, so they could always look for another two-guard in the draft, but early returns on the next two draft classes don't offer much hope.
Henderson certainly isn't going to see anything close to a maximum extension, but the Bobcats might be wise to offer something in the neighborhood of $5MM a year for three or four seasons before the October 31st deadline. That would be roughly the equivalent of the mid-level exception and the annual salary of Sessions, Charlotte's lone veteran free agent signing this summer. Locking up the 24-year-old Henderson would be like signing a middle-tier free agent, but with more upside. Henderson could be in line for more money as a restricted free agent next summer if his improvement continues, but it probably wouldn't be too much more. Long-term security has its own value, particulary for a player who's started only 85 NBA games.