Xavier Henry might have walked into the toughest job in the nation when he switched his commitment to Kansas over the summer. He became a freshman that pushed Kansas from National Title contenders to favorites. He was going to be a one and done. He would challenge John Wall for Freshman of the Year and possible National Player of the Year. Today, you'll find many fans who wonder if he should still be starting. It's not a viewpoint without merit, he has seen his points per game and minutes drop significantly the last month. Through the first 18 games, he never played less than 20 minutes a game. He's dipped below 20 minutes in three of the last five games. During non-conference play, he failed to score in double digits once. In Big 12 play, he has failed to make double digits 6 times in eight games. How did we get here? Is he less productive than similar players?
Hype and the non-conference didn't do Xavier any favors for what he is dealing with now. Between daddy Henry talking and Xavier demolishing scrub Division I teams, KU fans bought in. We had a legitimate one and done player, maybe more than another scoring option. Xavier was our scorer! Looking back through the box scores, I see point totals like 27, 19, 18, 16, and 31 points. Unfortunately for Xavier, La Salle and Oakland don't play in the Big 12. Henry did score 11 against Memphis early in the season in his first big game. He scored 16 against UCLA and 15 against Michigan. The scoring was starting to dip a little bit but nothing to be worried about. Well, Big 12 play starts and we see 6, 14, 12, 4, 9, 6, 3, and 9 points. Is it just a shooting slump or is Xavier struggling against better athletes that can take away his left and close out quicker to challenge shots? I don't know, just thought that was very interesting.
Xavier has stepped up his rebounding and defense lately to help compensate for his struggles on the offensive end. At least that's what fans are saying, maybe he is or maybe we are searching for something positive to say about Henry right now. To try and answer that question, I graphed his points per game and his plus/minus together so we can see how they relate to each other. If he is improving the other areas of his game as his scoring is going down, his graph should reflect that.
Unfortunately, his graph doesn't really reflect that. Three things really stand out to me when looking at this. First, Henry hasn't had a game where his +/- outperforms his point total. This isn't a terrible thing because of the slight gunner's tax. However, in a game where he isn't scoring I would like to see him bump his +/- by getting some rebounds, steals, or assists. That doesn't appear to be happening. Second, his +/- seems totally dependent on his scoring. To me, that's not good either (correlation is .834 and in Big 12 play it is .821). The third and maybe most obvious thing, this looks like a slope I could ski down. As mentioned earlier, Xavier was lights out against the inferior competition. As the season has gone on, his production has continued to drop.
Part 2: How does Xavier Henry compare to players from other programs in similar roles?
I asked KC and fetch9 for player recommendations and received six names back. KC gave me Dominique Sutton (KSU), Corey Stokes (Villanova), Darnell Dodson (Kentucky), Chris Allen (Michigan State), and Darryl Bryant (West Virginia). fetch9 simply replied "Well I think Xavier should basically just try to be Morningsleeves." So I went ahead and graphed all of these guys to see how their numbers compared to Henry's numbers. If you don't like the players I used, blame those guys or suggest somebody in the comments and I'll take a look.
Surprised to see his +/- and points so closely related. I figured he'd grab enough boards and steals to spread that out a little bit more. He does have three games where his +/- is higher than his point total. Four games with a negative +/-.
Numbers don't show a strong correlation. Two games where his +/- is higher than his point total. He also has 6 games with a negative +/-.
Back to showing a fairly strong correlation. Two games where his +/- ends higher than his point total. Three games in the negative but they were early, seems to be playing better as of late.
Pretty strong correlation again. Only one game where his +/- ends higher than his point total. Five games in the negative on the +/-.
Correlation is lower again. His +/- is higher than his point total for two games. 6 games in the negative on the +/-.
Brady's numbers don't show a strong correlation, which shouldn't surprise us. His game is built on doing everything on the basketball court. He grabs a few boards, gets a few steals, and a couple of assists while scoring points when he's open. His +/- is higher than his point total 9 times. He only has one game in the negative on the +/- chart.
One last graph comparing the average +/- total for the players I used here. I didn't do a very good job of saying that Xavier Henry is more productive than other players who share similar roles. To highlight this point, I threw out Xavier's top TWO +/- totals to show he still averages a higher +/- than the other guys except Morningstar.
Conclusion: Xavier Henry's production matches up with the guys looked at here. His +/- is mostly dependent on his scoring and I'd like to see him be more like Morningstar (+1 for fetch9). However, he has stayed out of the negatives more than all of the non-Jayhawks presented here. Staying out of the negative could be a result of a few things- 1) when he's not hitting, Kansas doesn't have to count on him to shoot his way out of it or 2) he does just enough elsewhere on the court to offset his shooting woes to keep him out of the negative. Either way, it makes me feel a lot better about the team as a whole. With Xavier playing like he has, the Jayhawks are undefeated in Big 12 play. If can catch fire (hopefully tonight and March), this team will be damn tough to beat.