As is the case every year, the team that lands the number two pick in the draft will be disappointed with how close they came to striking lottery gold, especially with Victor Wembanyama sitting atop the 2023 draft class. Only this year, the “consolation prize” makes the close brush with a franchise-altering stroke of luck much easier to stomach.
Scoot Henderson would be a surefire number one pick in many other draft classes, and whichever team landed the top selection would sprint to the podium on draft night — it very well might happen this year, too, only for the second overall pick. After reclassifying to the 2021 high school graduating class, declining college offers from Auburn and Georgia and playing two seasons with G League Ignite, the 19-year-old has positioned himself to potentially be the first player off the board once Wembanyama finds his new home.
Weight: 195 pounds
First-step burst and explosiveness, inside-the-arc creation, defensive playmaking
As soon as he’s drafted into the NBA, Henderson is going to be one of the most athletic players in the league. If not for the wildly-athletic Amen Thompson being in the same class, Henderson’s athletic prowess would be the biggest non-Wemby talking point of the draft. Even still, it’s hard to overstate his blend of explosion, finesse and speed and the potential ceiling it unlocks for him as a player when combined with his gifted passing and smooth pull-up game in the mid-range. There’s a strong chance that if Henderson hits that ceiling, he’d be one of the best on-ball creators in the entire league.
The amount of power within each of Henderson’s steps and the sudden bursts of speed as a ball-handler are reminiscent of Anthony Edwards. He has impossibly quick change-of-direction and uses that along with a sound handle to manipulate defenders, even in tight quarters. There’s an extremely small list of recent guard prospects to enter the NBA as a more potent slasher than Henderson — Derrick Rose, John Wall, De’Aaron Fox, and Ja Morant might be it.
Oftentimes, guards that possess otherworldly burst and quickness can struggle as ball-handlers at first. It sounds a bit funny, but it can be too hard to maintain a compact dribble when a player’s body moves so quickly and they don’t have much experience playing at a high level. Henderson does a great job at controlling his dribble, weaving through traffic and using his blend of strength, flexibility and explosion to create or find pockets of space in the paint. In the clip below, he essentially does a low-post pound dribble, except at the three-point line, and effortlessly glides through the defense for a reverse finish with perfect touch. Just nasty stuff.
It doesn’t stop there, either. Henderson can get to the cup with the best of them, but his silky pull-up game in the mid-range adds a dynamic that makes him even tougher to defend. That power and lateral athleticism he uses to work his way into the paint benefits him as a space-creator off the bounce as well, giving him lethal stop-and-pop ability whenever he catches his defender in a bad spot. The amount of ground he covers on step-back jumpers is really impressive, and his mechanics are already extremely polished and consistent. In the 22-23 regular season, he shot 41.7 percent on jumpers between 15 and 19 feet, 64 percent of which were unassisted.
Workman’s buckets like this are some of the purest examples of professional hoops that any prospect has put on tape in this class. In a halfcourt setting, watch him throw his backside into his defender, back him down into the screen from Eric Mika, with whom he makes contact with and eliminates any angle for the defender to slip through, rises up on-balance and sinks the elbow pull-up. We can award him extra points for executing an NBA-level leg-kick flop after taking the shot too.
Meshing all of these skills as a scorer with deft playmaking and a willingness to distribute is what locks Henderson in as the second-best prospect in this class — there just isn’t another player in the class blending power, feel and skill on the same level as Henderson. The threat to pass is always there with him, as he’s got an innate sense of court vision and his awareness is highly advanced for a teenager, partly due to his playing at a professional level with Ignite for the last two seasons.
This year, he posted 129 assists to just 65 turnovers in the regular season — staggering numbers for a player his age. Henderson can operate a ball-screen or handoff, collapse defenses and pick apart poor rotations, and make extremely ridiculous improvisational reads like the one below, which also require a good deal of athleticism. The aggressive box-out on the offensive glass after the pass is quite a bonus, too.
There’s no arguing that Henderson’s pure athletic ability is the most impressive aspect of his game. My personal favorite thing about his game, though, is that he’s an absolute dog on both ends of the court. His spatial awareness translates on both ends of the floor, enabling him to act on his feel for the game as a defender and jump passing lanes, trap unsuspecting ball-handlers and generally wreak havoc using his athleticism and reported 6-foot-9-inch wingspan. The clip below is seriously one of the most athletic plays I’ve seen from a guard prospect in my time researching the draft.
Positional size, three-point shooting efficiency
Right off the bat, some evaluators, scouts and fans will be turned off by Henderson’s relatively Lilliputian height in comparison to most number-one option, offensive-engine types in the NBA — and at 6-foot-2, they aren’t necessarily wrong. There are few franchise cornerstones or lead offensive initiators that are smaller than 6-foot-3, and there’s a real chance that his ability to finish at the rim is further hindered by a lack of size against NBA centers.
Similar to Morant, he’s not the tallest, but he will definitely be the most athletic player on the court the majority of the time, and he’s got a plus-seven wingspan to work with. This is purely speculative, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he came in closer to 6-foot-3 if he were to measure at the Combine.
The one consistent drawback to Henderson’s otherwise well-rounded game; three-point shooting efficiency. Over the last two G League Showcases and regular seasons, Henderson has shot a total of 33-119 from downtown, a mark of just 27.7 percent. To his credit, he battled through a nasal fracture and a nagging ankle injury in the 22-23 regular season after shooting 47.1 percent (8-17) from deep in six appearances during the Showcase. As we’ve seen in these clips, the mechanics are fine, and he’s more than willing to let it fly off the catch.
The reality is that Henderson will need to be a reliable threat to score from beyond the arc in order to fully reach his ceiling as a pro. Personally, I think he’ll be at worst a league-average shooter once he becomes comfortable playing off-ball for long stretches and using his feel to create scoring opportunities as opposed to relying on his athleticism. There have been enough shooting flashes over the last two seasons to believe in Henderson as a floor-spacer long-term, both off the dribble and the catch.
The simple case for Scoot Henderson at #2 is this; outside of Victor Wembanyama, there are no players in this class with as much upside to grow into a franchise cornerstone. Henderson is powerfully explosive while possessing feel for the game ahead of his years, along with the work ethic and attitude necessary to handle the pressure that comes with being a heralded young star. With two years of G League competition under his belt, the 19-year-old is well-equipped to transition to the NBA game. For all the talk about his ceiling, we might have underrated how high the floor is for a teenager that’s already averaged 18/5/6 in one of the best basketball leagues in the world.
When it comes to his fit with the Hornets, it honestly does get a bit dicier than it would with most teams at the top of the draft. Obviously, both Henderson and LaMelo Ball are “point guards” in the pure definition of the term. However, both of them have elite basketball IQ and Ball has developed into one of the game’s premier volume three-point shooters, which would balance perfectly with Henderson’s effectiveness getting downhill.
Should the shooting come around for Henderson, and Ball continue to lean further towards Stephen Curry than Trae Young when taken off-ball (something he hasn’t gotten credit for — Melo is pretty good off-ball, but that’s for another article), the fit in the backcourt would be seamless. Henderson can take the tougher defensive assignment and play as a lightning-quick driver and transition weapon off-ball, and then take over point guard duties when Ball sits. Toggling between Ball and Henderson as lead guards for the next handful of seasons sounds alright to me.