The "What Ifs" of Duke Basketball: Gerald Henderson

Justin McTeerCorrespondent IApril 5, 2009

BOSTON - MARCH 26:  Gerald Henderson #15 of the Duke Blue Devils dribbles against the Villanova Wildcats during the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regionals at TD Banknorth Garden on March 26, 2009 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

It hasn't even been two weeks since Duke's offseason officially began, and speculation about the future of Blue Devil basketball is already in full swing.

A lot has already happened since the loss to Villanova in the Sweet 16.

Kyle Singler quickly confirmed that he is returning for his junior year. Coach K officially offered John Wall, whose future at Duke seems slightly more like a real possibility since John Calipari left Memphis (Wall's former recruiting leader). Seth Curry transferred to Duke moments after Wall's visit to Durham.

There is a lot happening in the world of Duke basketball, and there are countless unanswered questions and uncertainties remaining, few of which are more pertinent than the status of Gerald Henderson.

Henderson looks like a lock for a lottery pick in this year's NBA draft, an opportunity few players would walk away from.  But the Blue Devils would likely be a Final Four favorite, and Henderson a legitimate NPOY contender, if he decides to return.

Duke fans will probably learn Henderson's intentions within the next few weeks, but it's never too early to speculate (that's what off-seasons are for).

What Happens if Henderson Leaves

If Gerald Henderson declares for the draft, Duke will be without it's most athletic player next season.

Henderson was Duke's most dynamic scorer, and one their best perimeter defenders, with the raw talent to completely take over a game on both ends of the floor.

John Wall could definitely alleviate the drop in scoring Henderson's departure would create, but the possibility of him playing for Duke next season is as uncertain as Henderson's return.

Elliot Williams will be expected to play a much bigger role in Henderson's absence.

Williams is every bit as athletic as Henderson (he actually has the higher vertical of the two), and he has already proven his defensive capabilities. Since earning a starting spot in February, Williams showed flashes of potential greatness similar to the occasional displays Henderson put on for Duke fans in his first few seasons.

While Williams has shown a strong affinity for getting to the basket and finishing around the rim (his dunk against Villanova was mind-blowing), he lacks Hendeson's mid-range game.  

To be fair, Henderson's ability to consistently hit pull-up jumpers didn't emerge until his sophomore season, and Williams will likely devote a lot of time to developing that aspect of his game before next season.

Being without Henderson would also give Nolan Smith more offensive freedom instead of being Duke's fourth or fifth option on offense. If Duke can land a point guard in the next few months, expect to see a lot of Smith on the wing.

If Duke can't add another guard to its lineup before next season, the loss of Henderson will put a big dent in the Blue Devils' back-court depth.  

However, the added height that Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly add will allow Duke to go with a bigger lineup than in years past, so Duke should be able to manage.  

All of Duke's remaining guards (Scheyer, Smith, and Williams) are offensive-minded, so the scoring burden should be picked up by someone. But make no mistake—a player of Henderson's caliber is not easy to replace, and in close game situations, Blue Devil fans will be wishing Henderson was on the floor.

What Happens If Henderson Stays?

If Gerald Henderson stuns the college basketball world and elects to turn down a lottery pick in the draft, Duke should go ahead and retire his jersey before the season even begins as Blue Devil fans will hold him in higher regard than any player in recent memory.

Duke would return all of its starters if Henderson stays, and that is a situation that any team in the nation would covet.

However, Henderson's return will not make Duke a lock for the Final Four, even if they begin the season with another high preseason rank.

Even if the Blue Devils' field the same lineup as last year (an extremely weathered and experienced lineup), they would still be far too reliant on the three-point shot and prone to losing rebounding battles.

Whether it's going with a bigger lineup or reworking it's offensive strategy, Duke will still need to make some significant adjustments in order to be a true Final Four contender, even with Henderson in the lineup.

Henderson grew a lot as a player this past season, developing his outside shot and mid-range game.  If he comes back next year with an improved ability to go left and a more consistent long-range shot, he could be ready to take the Blue Devils further than they've been in more than five years (especially if one of Duke's big men can become an offensive threat and take some of the burden off Henderson and the other guards).

The next few weeks will reveal a lot about Gerald Henderson's status as a Blue Devil.  He's one of the best NBA prospects to come out of Duke this decade, and Blue Devil fans will certainly wish him well should he go to the next level.

The Duke faithful are on pins and needles awaiting his decision, but no matter when he leaves, whether it's now or after graduating, his contributions to Duke (and his frequent Sportscenter Top 10 appearances) will be greatly missed.