Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni has decided to start Xavier Henry at small forward over Nick Young for Sunday’s game at Staples Center against the Atlanta Hawks, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com.
D’Antoni decision to start Henry may have been a response to the Lakers building a 15-point lead with him on the floor against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday before he had to leave the game due to two-inch laceration on his forehead that required nine stitches and when he reentered the game Los Angeles had a two-point deficit at halftime.
“You could definitely read into that,” D’Antoni said after shootaround Sunday morning prior the Lakers game against the Atlanta Hawks. “That wouldn’t be wrong.”
Since signing a non-guaranteed contract with the Lakers in the offseason, he has been a pleasant surprise off the bench. In the preseason, he averaged 11.9 points on 54 percent shooting from 3-point range in 20.9 per game that includes a 29-point game in the preseason opener against the Golden State Warriors.
The preseason production has seemed to carry over to the regular season, which in team’s three games this year he is averaging 13.0 points and 4.3 rebounds that includes a career-high 22 points in the Lakers’ 116-103 win in the season opener over the Los Angeles Clippers.
So with that said, the move to put Henry into the starting lineup appeared to be an easy decision for D’Antoni to make.
“He’s played as well, if not better, than anybody so there is no reason not to go ahead and do this,” D’Antoni said.
D’Antoni also added that the change would not be permanent, as he is still working with the starting lineup in the early portion of the regular season.
“I’m just looking to try to get the right combo, who has a little bit of the hot hand right now and we’ll ride him,” D’Antoni said. “It might change back. I think early, November is safe to say, different things will happen, things will shake out and we’ll start getting in more of a consistent rotation.”
Henry reacted the move to the starting lineup in stride.
“I’m not too amped up or doing anything crazy,” Henry said. “I’m going to do the exact same thing I’ve been doing.”
He also added that the move to small forward, despite playing majority of his minutes on the floor for the Lakers as a shooting guard, would not be a substantial change for him.
“Everybody is really interchangeable on the wings and even the point,” Henry said. “You’ll see anybody bring it up, you’ll see both Steves, you’ll see Jordan (Farmar). It doesn’t matter. Jodie (Meeks) will bring it up. Anybody that is out on the perimeter can play everybody’s spot. So, it’s not a big deal.”
Henry believes the reason for his promotion is his hard aggressiveness and hard work.
“Just be aggressive and bring that mentality of I’m going to get it every day,” Henry said. “Energy and always being focused. That’s what I’m going to keep doing.”
“(Henry) plays big, plays strong,” D’Antoni said. “I think he’s a 3-2, he can play whatever he wants. And then Blake just makes up for it. He’s just a tough sucker. He’s just tough and he’s not going to back down from anybody. I don’t care how tall you are, he’s coming at you.”
As for Young, D’Antoni is hoping the move to the bench will help his effectiveness on the court as he is averaging 8.3 points on 27.3 percent shooting from the field.
“Just to find a better spot for Nick also to maybe get a little bit more production from him,” D’Antoni said.
Henry in the starting lineup will be interesting to see if he will be able to display the same aggressiveness on offense and continue to provide the team with an immediate scoring option.
As for what the 22-year-old’s has accomplished in his short time with the Lakers, it has impressed his head coach.
“That’s what you hope,” D’Antoni said. “When you sign somebody you see something you like and then it was on him, in the sense of he’s made himself into a player with his working on his shot, with his ability to listen and learn and put it in his game. A lot of guys have that potential and for whatever reason, it’s clicking for him right now and he’s maximizing it.”
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