Michael Jordan’s Backcourt Vision for Bobcats
After years of searching, Charlotte Bobcats majority owner Michael Jordan may have finally found the young and talented backcourt to lead his franchise. Looking at the various moves the Bobcats have made over the past few seasons, guards Gerald Henderson and Kemba Walker are clearly products of Jordan’s guidance.
Let’s not forget that Walker was handpicked by Jordan as the ninth overall selection in the 2011 NBA Draft. In fact, Jordan has praised Walker to the extent that behind closed doors, he has compared the 22-year-old’s leadership and burning desire to win to his own.
Henderson, the twelfth overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, has literally been taken under Jordan’s wing. Jordan and Henderson have developed a bond over the years, and the Bobcats’ majority owner has mentored the 24-year-old guard.
“Gerald gets it,” Jordan told the Charlotte Observer. “He shows signs. He’s a captain this year… To be a captain is a responsibility of leading by example. Don’t talk about it, do it. Be there every day in some capacity. If your shot’s not there, then rebound or play defense. These are the things I’m expecting to see from Gerald. He’s shown the signs. Now can he take the next step? I’m pretty sure this is the year he’s going to sit in my office and ask for a raise.”
In speaking with Henderson, it’s clear that he’s fully bought in to what Jordan has been preaching.
“It’s an ongoing learning process,” Henderson told HOOPSWORLD. “There’s a lot of things I can improve on. I don’t shoot 100 percent from the field, so I can always work on my shooting and I just try to do whatever it is to help the team win. Nights that you struggle offensively, you try to play better defense, rebound and set teammates up.”
For Jordan, Henderson’s willingness to both take constructive criticism and respond to it is what sets him apart from many other players, including some of his teammates. It also doesn’t hurt that Henderson is one of the few Bobcats players not intimidated by the six-time NBA champion.
“Henderson doesn’t get intimidated,” Jordan said, “but that’s a Dukie for you. He doesn’t get intimidated but he listens. There are certain guys you can go right at and say, ‘I think you’ve been playing [badly]. I think you need to focus on being more consistent.’ He likes that criticism.”
Taking a page out of Jordan’s book, Henderson has tried to take Walker under his wing and give the young guard as much advice as he can early on in his career. The studious and hard-working Walker has appreciated that guidance.
“He’s helped me a lot,” Walker told HOOPSWORLD of Henderson’s impact. “He’s the one that really introduced me to watching film. I never really watched film last season and now after every game I try my best to watch the game, watch the things that I did well and the things that I didn’t do well. [Henderson]‘s helped me in that aspect and that helps a lot.”
Following the team blueprint has also been key as both of the Bobcats’ backcourt starters have bought in to new head coach Mike Dunlap’s aggressive philosophy. Specifically at the guard spots, Walker and Henderson pride themselves on working behind the scenes on ways to attack the opposition on both ends of the floor.
“One thing we talk about is just us being in attack mode the whole game,” Henderson said. “It’ll be important, definitely on the offensive end for us to do that. It’s not just attacking to score, but attacking and setting up our teammates for stuff because we’re going to handle the ball a lot. Then, defensively, we feel like we’re two of our best perimeter defenders and two of our best defenders overall.”
“Our energy is the difference.” Henderson explained. “When your two smallest guys out there are bringing a lot of energy, I think it picks the whole team up.”
With only four players left on the roster from just two seasons ago, Henderson – now one of the longest-tenured Bobcats – has embraced a leadership role in Charlotte.
“I think that I’m a big part of what we’re doing here, as much as anybody,” Henderson said. “But I’ve got to take on that [leadership] role every night. The team needs me to do that so I’m up for that.”
It doesn’t hurt that both Walker and Henderson have a solid rapport off the court as well. Each of these players seem to genuinely like one another and it shows in their chemistry on the court.
“I love playing with Kemba,” Henderson said. “He’s a great guy, first off. He’s a guy I can communicate with and he’s always trying to improve his game, help the team win. The biggest thing I like about him is that he’s always in attack mode. He can score the basketball and make plays so, as his backcourt mate, it’s easy to play with him because he’s looking for you and he’s a heck of a defender too. He just gets after it.”
Dunlap, like Jordan, believes that Charlotte could have something special brewing in the backcourt.
“It’s a good combination, both of them have assets,” Dunlap said. “The thing that Gerald does well is he plays with his back to the basket off kill spots – at 18 feet, 16 feet. He can play on the baseline and do some things that he’s supposed to know and we need that. But the combination of the two over time is just a confidence factor. One is just getting to play off each other. Two is just getting used to what the expectations are of me and getting to know each other in tight quarters when the game’s on the line.”
Beginning his first full season as the starting point guard for Charlotte, Walker exudes confidence when speaking of his teammates. In his mind, there’s no doubt the pieces are in place on this Bobcats roster to be a competitive team in the Eastern Conference this season.
“Yeah, I love my teammates man,” Walker said. “I think we can have a really good year. These guys are great guys. Everyone, everyone has really high character and everyone holds each other accountable. That’s all you can ask for from a team. … We’re thinking playoffs, of course, but we just want to play really well, play together and get better every day.”
Playoffs may not be in the cards this season for Charlotte but, especially after knocking off Indiana in their first game, the stigma of last season’s dismal 7-59 finish is beginning to wear off. For Jordan, the decision to hit the reset button on this Bobcats team two years ago looks discernibly better with the backcourt of Henderson and Walker beginning to come into its own.
Jordan’s plan could look a whole lot better, sooner rather than later, if Walker and Henderson continue to build on their solid play.