This is a takes-one-to-know-one story:
Charlotte Bobcats captain Gerald Henderson has spent the better part of a month watching basketball instead of playing basketball. His sprained left foot gave him a front-row seat to his team’s strengths and weaknesses.
One of the emerging strengths is the rookie who replaced Henderson in the starting lineup, Jeff Taylor. Henderson sees a smart guy with lots of athletic ability; basically Henderson as a rookie four years ago. And like Henderson as a rookie, the trick was gauging where that ability rates on the NBA scale.
“Jeff is a heck of an athlete. He knows it, but he hasn’t seen himself do it so many times on this level,’’ Henderson said Thursday at practice. “Most of the time he’s the most athletic guy out there. It’s a (matter) of him recognizing it and going to the basket.’’
Hard as it’s been to lose Henderson, there’s been some long-term compensation in speeding Taylor’s development. He’s scored in double figures in five of his past six games and his 3-point percentage in those games, 10-of-19, is remarkable.
Certainly his coach has taken notice. Mike Dunlap recently declared Taylor, the Bobcats’ second-round pick, a Bruce Bowen in the making. Bowen was a shutdown defender and 3-point threat for the San Antonio Spurs.
“The league is finding out he is a very, very good defender. The bonus is he’s coming faster on offense than any of us thought,’’ Dunlap said.
“He’s making some more corner 3s, and he has a penetration game that will come. He’s just not always sure when to (drive), and I get that. He’s a really fierce competitor and he’s here to stay.’’
The question will be how best to re-insert Henderson into the rotation and still nurture the development of Taylor and fellow rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Dunlap promises patience; he’s not setting a timetable for Henderson’s return and won’t overload the veteran with minutes initially.
At minimum Taylor is already one of this team’s better defenders. Dunlap said that was always evident from how he performed at Vanderbilt.
“He has lateral quicks, and you have to have that,’’ Dunlap said. “Second is strength…he has a very strong core. And he’s mentally sharp, so he can anticipate when the ball is going to change directions. To guard the ball, you have to have all three qualities.’’
Taylor is stoic and understated by nature. So he doesn’t get particularly high when he makes four 3s, as he did in the first game against the Atlanta Hawks, nor particularly down when he initially wasn’t playing much.
His adjustment was to pace – both to NBA players’ speed and to the minimal down time between games. He found himself exhausted around the regular season’s outset. Then he got his second wind.
“I was feeling really slow and tired. People told me that was normal,’’ Taylor recalled. “And then I got my legs back a couple of games into the season. It’s been feeling really good lately.’’