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The biggest difference between Ben McLemore and Xavier Henry? Perception
The general consensus I get from Kansas basketball fans is that Xavier Henry was a bust in his one-and-done year, while Ben McLemore was a success.
It's simply not true if you look only at the numbers.
For the last few years, Ken Pomeroy has listed "player comparables" in his advanced stats on KenPom.com.
The full explanation for the measure is on his site, but basically, a score of 900 or more means two players are "a great match."
McLemore and Henry's player comparable score is 917 — the highest mark for each player. Keep in mind that's comparing their statistics to every other Div. I freshman over the past eight years.
The similarity between the two is even more striking when looking at the advanced statistics. I've highlighted in red the categories where the two put up nearly the same stat line.
The two players took on the same offensive load (usage percentage) and hitched up the same amount of shots. Their rebounding numbers are nearly identical, as are their turnover percentages and three-point shooting percentages.
Basically, here are the four things that separate McLemore and Henry:
• Playing time: McLemore's per-game numbers look better because he was in a greater percentage of KU's minutes. One could easily argue that if McLemore was on the deeper 2009-10 team in Henry's place, his playing time might have been reduced as well.
• Free throws: Henry was a good free-throw shooter, but McLemore was an excellent one, which helped boost his offensive rating by a few points.
• Two-point shooting: McLemore shot six percentage points better inside the arc, which again was enough to boost his offensive production up just a bit above Henry's.
• Defense: Henry was the more disruptive defender, as his steal percentage was nearly double that of McLemore in his one season.
All things considered, McLemore is the better player. His enhanced offensive value over Henry makes up for his weaker steal numbers.
Still, it's close — and much closer than you'd expect based on the players' reputations.
So why is it that McLemore is widely considered a success while Henry isn't?
A few theories:
• Expectations: McLemore committed to KU at an anonymous high-school all-star game near Chicago. Henry's original announcement that he was attending Memphis (before he reopened his recruitment) was live on ESPN.
Fair or not, the added media exposure of recruits usually boosts their expectations. Interestingly, Henry was ranked eighth in his class by Rivals.com, while McLemore was 17th, so the two actually were closer in that respect than KU fans might remember.
Henry's stock also was elevated a bit early in his senior year when, for a short time, he was the ranked the No. 1 player in his class by ESPNU.
• Likability: McLemore's backstory of succeeding over adversity and poverty has been documented in a few places, and it added to him being an easy player to cheer for. Henry, meanwhile, didn't initially report to KU in the summer before his freshman year, which didn't get him off to a good start with KU's fanbase. Xavier — a polite kid in interviews — also probably had his reputation hurt by association, as his father Carl many times came across as overbearing while his brother C.J. often looked disinterested and self-focused while putting up a high percentage of shots during his one season at KU.
• Dunks: This is a big one. Though the two players' numbers were similar, they looked much different based on the eye test.
According to the KU media relations department's unofficial count, McLemore had 43 dunks in his one season.
Henry had only 17. And his weren't nearly as impressive.
McLemore was a more fun athlete to watch because of his leaping ability and creative slams. Even with those gifts, McLemore's offensive production was just barely above Henry's.
The bottom line? McLemore and Henry both had productive seasons during their one-year playing careers in Lawrence.
Take out the emotions and perception, and the two were nearly identical college players ... even if there's little hope that they'll be remembered that way.