Delivering The Hype: Victor Wembanyama & Scoot Henderson
Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson have NBA executives foaming at the mouth about the hope of a historic NBA Draft class.
In a town that is built on the idea of hope and hype, a fascinating creature appeared in front of hundreds of NBA executives, scouts, and basketball diehards. That extraterrestrial was Victor Wembanyama, a French-born alien who went on an absolute rampage during the week of basketball.
For all of you that have been living under a rock for the past year…he is it. Wembanyama has the length and fluidity to make you wonder if he’s a human. Sure, we’ve all seen countless movies involving aliens, but what if this is the first time we actually have found a creature from another dimension?
Standing at 7’4” with a reported 8’0” wingspan, Wembanyama looks like he was born to be a star attraction in a traveling circus. The only problem with that concept is that Victor was born to play basketball.
We’ve never seen a player like this. Yes, we’ve seen some great prospects come through the Draft process. LeBron James was a holy s**t type of prospect who hit the ground running immediately in the NBA and will go down as one of the all-time greats. Luka Doncic had one of the most impressive resumes any prospect might ever have. Shaquille O’Neal, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Anthony Davis also came into the process as some of the top “this could be historic” types of prospects.
Every heavyweight contender seems to always have a challenger. That was just the case in Henderson, Nevada last week. That challenger was G-League Ignite floor general Scoot Henderson. The talented 18-year-old spent the previous year with the Ignite and was cementing himself as a special prospect as well.
It’s become the modern-day basketball version of “David vs. Goliath.” On the one hand, we have a 7’4” monster who can dazzle fans with his ability on both sides of the court. The other side of the fence features a blur of a point guard with Top Gun fighter jet-like speed in the open court. Scoot not only has the need for speed, but he also can take off from one step within the free throw line for vicious aerial assaults.
When the NBA announced that the Metropolitans 92 and the G-League Ignite would play a pair of exhibition games, it immediately put the NBA Draft community on the edge of their seats. For myself, it was the easiest decision to make in my life.
It’s easy to sit at home and hammer home hours of film. The truth is that the in-person evaluation is an entirely new monster. One of the best pieces of scouting advice I ever received from those around the league was: “if you’re struggling, go see them live.”
Victor Wembanyama was quickly becoming the “belle of the ball” around the draft world. He had been the name you continued to talk about over the last several years. “Just wait until Wembanyama is eligible.” If you’ve been following us closely over the past year, you should know that personally, I like to go away from the consensus.
Throughout the late nights of Victor’s 2021-22 film with ASVEL, I saw the freakish flashes. I understood what all of the excitement was all about. But I had some serious questions about a player that was continuously described as “generational.” If a certain talent is described with such lofty expectations, he better start emphatically checking plenty of boxes as a prospect. Throughout the preseason this year, I saw progress; however, I found myself wanting more.
At the same time, I started to find myself intrigued with the challenger for the top spot in the NBA Draft. During the previous Draft cycle, Scoot Henderson had continued to pop on film while watching the numerous Ignite prospects from the 2022 class. With an offseason of downtime, I found myself diving back to focus closely on this 17-year-old blur.
Scoot Henderson had my attention, and I found a cold chill running down my spine in the middle of the night. “Are we sure Victor is the number one pick?”
The thought process continued to hammer home in my head, so I remembered my advice and packed my bags. My hope was to get a clearer picture. Can Wembanyama showcase that his motor will stay hot throughout the course of a game? Will Scoot show that the outside shot is on the right path? Does Victor have the tools to become a complete force on both sides of the court? Is this a pair of potential superstars, or are we chasing ghosts?
Walking into the Dollar Loan Center Arena in Henderson, Nevada, felt like walking into a powder keg ready to erupt. There was an amount of hype that circulated the arena like a wall of fog on a dark night. NBA executives and scouts looked like kids that just got the green light to go on a spending spree at a candy shop.
Basketball degenerates watched closely as an object that looked as if it was from Area 51 warmed up for his first game against the Ignite. Victor was locked in and looked to have the mentality of a robot. Artists always take their craft seriously, imagining every possible detail before they find themselves getting lost in an illustration. It was clear that Wembanyama was preparing to paint his first masterpiece of the 2023 NBA Draft cycle.
As scouts found themselves smitten with the pregame work of Victor, out came the heavyweight challenger. Scoot Henderson might not wow you on paper with his measurements. But when you get a chance to evaluate the measurables in person, you find yourself impressed. Henderson is a ball of muscle, listed at 6’2” and 195 pounds, with a frame that looks ideal to continue to dish out punishment on both sides of the floor. Like his counterpoint, Henderson had the mentality of an assassin in warmups. His preparation continued to impress me before game 1.
Game shot after game shot, an emphasis on footwork and repetition of shots that would translate over into the game—for a player that turned 18 years old in February, Henderson had the pregame routine of a savvy veteran. It didn’t take long before fans filled the arena on a Tuesday night, preparing to see if this was a game that would live up to the hype.
We all had no idea what we were in for.
Throughout the history of prospect evaluation, we always find ourselves with the rare opportunity to see some of the top prospects go toe-to-toe. One of the most legendary examples was during the 1979 NCAA Tournament championship game. That involved a pair of players by the names of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Given the circumstances of that showdown, some might say it was one of the top games when it comes to NBA Draft picks.
We’ve had other recent examples, such as last year when Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero faced each other. It quickly became clear that this wouldn’t be like those other games. If you were writing the perfect Hollywood script for a potential NBA Draft showdown, it would most likely look just like the first game between the Metropolitans 92 and G-League Ignite.
Ever since it was first announced by the NBA that the G-League Ignite would be hosting the Metropolitans 92 for a pair of exhibition games, you can bet that Scoot Henderson had these games circled. For a prospect that has the mentality teams dream of in a potential franchise point guard, Henderson had a number of different ways in which he could have approached this game. On the one hand, he could have tried to send an absolute message. That might have involved Henderson trying to go crazy and put up an eye-opening point total.
While it became obvious that Henderson could have done just that, I came away even more impressed with his mentality and composure throughout the game. A superstar should have the ability to take over a game in a variety of ways on any given night. Even if his shot might not be falling, he should still have the talent to make his team better whenever he’s on the court. That’s exactly what jumped out to me with Scoot.
Throughout the game, Henderson played with a jaw-dropping amount of composure. Like a top Hollywood actor/actress, Scoot adapted to any role that was required of him on the court.
The speed and athleticism of Scoot Henderson have always been marketed as the go-to tools for the talented floor general. Going into the first game, I was expecting to be impressed by the combination. What I wasn’t expecting was to be floored by the change of gears. When an elite point guard prospect has freakish speed, they tend to want to play faster. It can sometimes result in some “uncontrolled chaos.”
Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden has the famous saying: “be quick, but don’t be in a hurry.” That’s exactly what comes to mind with Henderson. He can be a blur on the court, but he also has the veteran-like composure to understand angles and create windows of opportunity.
When evaluating Scoot’s film throughout the 2021-22 season, I found myself intrigued by his ability to weave through traffic. A number of times on tape, Henderson would show brilliance when attacking the defense but would struggle to finish the play. It was important to remember that last year, this was a floor general at the age of 17 years old trying to adjust to a massive jump in competition. Scoot would appear to need to understand just what another split second or another dribble could do to create a better angle.
It quickly jumped out to me in the first quarter of action that the game was slowing down for Scoot. Notice the recognition away from the ball to set up defenders and create angles. The understanding of craft is something that is remarkable for a player of his age.
Throughout the game, I found myself fascinated with the rapid growth of Scoot on the defensive side of the ball. Heading into this matchup, Henderson had the potential to be an offensive force at the next level. What I wasn’t anticipating was the impressive showing of defensive tools. Scoot shows that in the first play here, as well as teasing us with just how effortless his explosiveness can be in the open court. The second play was enough to have executives in the stands chuckling, especially after the tough finish.
When I touched on “adapting to roles” earlier, this is exactly what I meant. Pay attention to these two sequences. The first one is no doubt eye-opening. Henderson was in a groove in the first half, getting to his spots and knocking down jumpers with ease. As the game went on, Scoot had the maturity on the court to understand the type of gravity he was pulling when it came to the defensive effort. Some young guards might still look to force that. Instead, Scoot took that as an opportunity to create some gorgeous looks for his teammates, as shown in the second clip.
Love this sequence from Scoot Henderson. One of the most impressive things I saw from the 18-year-old guard during this first game was the potential he showed on the defensive side of the ball. There’s definitely still some consistency that needs to be ironed out, but Scoot has the tools to be a force on both sides of the ball. That’s followed up by a beautiful dish in transition and then another gorgeous demonstration of patience to create a passing angle. Scoot would finish the first game with 28 points (11-of-21, 2-of-3 from three), five rebounds, and nine assists.
While Scoot Henderson was brilliant in his one game of action, it was the Victor Wembanyama show in Henderson, Nevada. Over the course of two games, the 7’4” big man went on to average 36.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 4.5 blocks while shooting 50% from the field and 50% from three-point range. Yes, you are allowed to re-read that previous sentence.
It took about two buckets before you started to feel a buzz around the entire gym. Victor was clearly teasing fans in the first half with his potential on the court. He was gliding all over the place, showcasing that he had the upside to be a force not only in the paint but also around the perimeter. Heading into the first half, his team found itself in a big hole. It was a great opportunity for scouts and evaluators. “What type of response will Victor have?”
A big one.
With his team down as much as 20 points at one point, Victor quickly went into “NBA Jam” mode. He was a one-man warpath, jumping out to the three-point line, hitting movement threes, and showcasing footwork in the face-up and post-game. You quickly looked around and saw every executive turning to their staff after each bucket with a grinch-like grin on their face. This was exactly what scouts had dreamed of seeing. Not only was Scoot Henderson still playing at a high level, but Victor was doing everything in his power to bring his team back into the game.
After a jaw-dropping 37-point performance in his first game, the basketball world couldn’t entirely process everything they had just witnessed. It was an incredible showing from the top two prospects in the 2023 NBA Draft. There was simply no way that Victor could put forth just as impressive of a performance as last time, right?
“Not so fast, my friends.”
After a slow start to the second game, Victor quickly started to find his groove, and basketball degenerates found themselves on the edge of their seats again. Wembanyama was hitting moves that had fans laughing out loud and falling out of their seats. The footwork was vicious, and even if a play was defended at a high level, it wasn’t stopping the 7’4” alien.
There are plenty of comedy shows in Las Vegas that will give you a good laugh. Some of the sequences that Victor Wembanyama showed in the second game against the Ignite might make you laugh until your ribs shatter. An emphatic rejection on the defensive side of the floor followed by Hugo Besson throwing a “just go get it, big fella” lob was one of the tops. That and the “screw it” transition corner three from Victor.
As my co-host of the No Ceilings podcast Tyler Metcalf said, Victor got to a point in the second game where he was simply just trying stuff for fun. A 30-footer “heat check” was followed by a vicious footwork sequence on the baseline. It was the cherry on top of an incredible display by Victor.
In the world of scouting, it’s always crucial to be able to take in an entire year of evaluation in order to get a firm grasp on every prospect. While Scoot Henderson left the second game of the week early due to a bone bruise, it was still a heck of a showing for the talented floor general.
As history has told us time and time again, nothing in the draft world is ever a guarantee. After an eye-opening display from the top two prospects in the 2023 draft class, there’s an argument to be made that there could be two winners on the night of the lottery.