Xavier Henry was thrust into an interesting opportunity to start the 2013-2014 season, as Kobe Bryant was recovering from a torn Achilles. Henry started off the year in spectacular fashion, putting up 36 points and 10 rebounds in his first two games, while shooting 50% from the field and 60% from three. However, in the final game of the week Henry scored just three points on a rough shooting performance where he went 0-6. Sure enough Sunday rolled around and Xavier Henry was at it again, scoring 18 points in 26 minutes as the Lakers beat the Hawks, but then he scored a mere total of 14 points in the following three games that week. Noticing a trend? You aren’t alone.
It has been quite baffling to watch Henry (pictured above) at times, who has started each week as if he possesses the confidence and skill of the Black Mamba himself, yet continuously regresses as the week goes on. In fact, Henry averages 15.86 points per game for the first game he plays in any given week, but that number drops to just 6.21 points per game for all other contests. It isn’t just scoring either: While Xavier has had his top 5 scoring performances on the first game of the week, he’s also had his top three rebounding performances occur on… you guessed it… the first game of the week. It doesn’t stop there. Xavier Henry has had more than one assist only three times this season: Two out of those three times… first game of the week. Henry has committed 39 fouls on the year, but he has only committed more than one foul on the first game of the week once, and that was in a game where he played 29 minutes (the second most he’s played in a game all year). Oh and by the way, he only had two fouls that game. If you were wondering about his last game of the week… He only averages 3.17 points per game, which includes his only scoreless performance of the year. Oh, and it was no different in the preseason for Henry, who had his best scoring, passing, and rebounding performances all during the first game of the week.
What is going on? Is this simply random, or is there an actual cause to be made?
I don’t believe this trend is random. At first I figured that this trend had simply gone on for 10 weeks in the NBA, but additional research showed that this was also the case when Henry was at KU. Certainly there has to be something to it, right? Well, I believe there are three possible reasons for this trend:
1. The NBA Schedule
It is no secret that the NBA is a business that wants to make money. In fact, the NBA is quite skilled at scheduling matchups to gain interest, through placing the best teams in primetime matchups when they could have the greatest potential audience. The Lakers have faced decent competition all year, but they have been matched up with more notable teams later in the week. The Lakers have also started every week with a home game, which is also a key factor, considering that Xavier Henry averages 12 points a game at home. However, that doesn’t account for the 10 point gap in production from the first game of the week versus all other outings. So lets look at another perspective…
2. Sleep Patterns
According to Michael Smolensky (who is an adjunct professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Texas, Austin) when waking up from 8:00-9:00 am physical performance tends to peak (and risk of injury is usually the lowest) around 3:00-6:00 pm. Theoretically, if Henry stays out late on a Saturday night, he would sleep in the next morning, which could push back that peak performance a few hours to the evening, when the Lakers play most of their games. The NBA likes to showcase Los Angeles in a primetime television spot (during the evening), so this could be one sign as to why Henry performs better. Smolensky also noted that hand-eye coordination is best in the late afternoon, and he is not the only one who sees this correlation.
Boris Medarov, an assistant professor of medicine at Albany Medial College, led a study with nearly 5,000 patients that showed muscle strength tended to be at its best between 2:00-6:00 pm, which coincided with human lung function. The study showed that the lungs tend to function at their most efficiently around 5:00 pm. Henry simply sleeping in on a Sunday morning could be the key to his performance, and if you are interested in reading more about the studies I mentioned check out this article from the Wall Street Journal. However, much like the first theory, this probably doesn’t account for such a dramatic change… Cue the third reason.
3. It’s All Psychological
As humans, we tend to overthink things. That is no secret; it has always been that way. In fact, in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” the tragic flaw of the protagonist (Prince Hamlet) is exactly that: He tends to overthink things. For college kids, the biggest games of the year are usually slotted on what has become known as Big Monday. Xavier Henry had a tendency to shine on Big Monday, where he averaged 14.8 points a game along with 4.5 rebounds. Care to guess if those were higher or lower than his season averages? Yeah, they were both higher (his scoring was up nearly 1.5 points per game). Furthermore, when KU was upset by Northern Iowa in the NCAA Tournament that year, it was a Saturday: Xavier Henry (pictured below) had eight points. Think about that.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not in the slightest saying that KU would’ve won a sixth National Championship if that game had been one day later or anything, but there are quite a few cases where Henry has performed differently depending on the day. In fact, Saturday (the last day of the week) was the worst day for Henry in college. In Big XII play, Henry averaged just 11.2 points per game, which is nearly 2.5 points per game lower than his season average. Additionally he averaged 3.7 rebounds per game, which is .7 below average. Shooting percentage was also a huge issue for Henry on Saturdays, as he shot 41.2% from the field (compared to a season average of 45.8%), and 33.3% from three (compared to 41.8%).
So again… what does all of this have to do with the mind?
Well the fact of the matter is that Xavier Henry could have gotten used to playing in big games early in the week, and it isn’t a stretch to say that it simply carried over into his NBA career: It takes a lot for guys to get up for any individual game, so if Henry got accustomed to having to lead a team early in the week, it is quite possible that he developed work, sleep, and/or mental habits that have led to his successes early in the week, followed by his disappointments later on. The evidence is simply overwhelming. While the other two reasons are probably more theory based, the evidence that Henry performs better early into the week is near irrefutable. It remains to be seen if this is simply a case of a “yips” type syndrome that can be overcome, or if Henry will struggle with this problem for the rest of his career, but one thing is for sure: Xavier Henry certainly has the potential to shine when given the chance. After all, who could forget his show-stopping dunk against the Pelicans … I don’t think Jeff Withey will anytime soon