Inside Out: Scoot Henderson Has All the Makings of an NBA Superstar
Scoot Henderson is one of the few players from the 2023 NBA Draft who has all the tools to reach NBA superstardom.
In 2015, Pixar released one of their instant classics: Inside Out. It was a touching movie about a young girl named Riley and the difficulties of growing up while battling conflicting emotions. It combated the notion that we must be happy all the time, and instead showed us the importance and power of acknowledging and expressing all our emotions. Once Riley finds that harmony between Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust, she’s able to better develop her relationships, work through tough times, create core memories, and grow as an individual. Just like how Riley’s emotions strived to make her the best person possible, Scoot Henderson’s arsenal of tools is striving to make him one of the superstars to come out of the 2023 NBA Draft.
Inside Out expresses the idea of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts through the difficulties of growing up. While it may not hit the same emotional notes, the same concept can be used in basketball to find players who not only show flashes in all areas of the game but also consistently unite them to achieve dominance. In the 2023 NBA Draft, Henderson is one of the few players who has the potential to harmonize all of the aspects that go into basketball to achieve superstar status.
Instead of playing his final year of high school basketball, Scoot Henderson joined the G-League Ignite two years ago as a 17-year-old. From day one, Henderson was one of the best athletes in the G-League. He was a blur in transition and regularly generated highlight play after highlight play. Between the highlights, though, there was a lot of inconsistency. He struggled with his shot, and there were plenty of turnovers and inconsistencies on defense. None of this should be surprising, though, because there is an astronomical leap between high school and professional basketball.
In year two, Henderson improved across the board as he proved that he’s one of the best athletes, playmakers, scorers, and overall players in the 2023 NBA Draft. Player comparisons run rampant at this time of the year, but they are important to figure out who a player resembles, and if that archetype has succeeded or not. One of the biggest arguments against Henderson is that “you can find 6’2” guards anywhere.” I promise that you can’t find this 6’2” guard anywhere. Henderson plays like the love child of Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook (I can’t imagine that being a happy marriage). He’s a freakish athlete with brutish strength who can change speeds and directions in the blink of an eye. He also has a preternatural understanding of the game and the ability to dictate everything on the court.
What sets Henderson apart from every other uber-athletic guard, though, is how he regularly combines all aspects of basketball to be the most well-rounded player he can possibly be. For most prospects, they’ll have to lean on one or two skills and find a career as a specialist or role player. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but for a player with Henderson’s pedigree, it would be a letdown. Riley reached (an assumption I’m making given the ending) her potential once her emotions learned how to work together. Henderson is well on his way to NBA superstardom, as he’s already unifying his myriad of skills.
On an important side note, before we go on, the name of the emotion from the movie that gets linked to the skill below does not represent how that skill should be viewed. Instead, focus more on what the emotion represents.
“She is lighthearted, optimistic, and determined to find the fun in every situation. Joy sees challenges in Riley’s life as opportunities, and the less happy moments as hiccups on the way back to something great.” —Pixar describing the character of Joy
When thinking about Henderson’s game, it is impossible to not immediately match his playmaking to that description. Henderson is an exquisite playmaker who consistently finds new, exciting ways of dissecting a defense. When the defense throws different coverages at him or collapses on his drives, he treats those situations as a fun opportunity to create for others. Even when Henderson committed turnovers, he treated them like learning experiences to improve on next time.
When it comes to playmaking, there isn’t anyone better in the 2023 NBA Draft class than Henderson. This year, Henderson averaged 6.8 assists and 3.4 turnovers. Henderson has been regularly ridiculed for his turnovers, and some have gone as far to say he hasn’t improved as a playmaker at all, which makes me question what games I was watching.
This season, Henderson had an assist rate of 29.8 and an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.98. Obviously, it isn’t a one-to-one comparison, but looking at the league can give us a decent benchmark of who those numbers compare to. His assist rate was higher than that of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, De’Aaron Fox, and Jalen Brunson, while his assist-to-turnover ratio was higher than that of Gilgeous-Alexander, Bradley Beal, and Steph Curry. Even among his peers in the G-League, Henderson had the seventh-best assist rate among players with a usage rate of at least 20 who had played at least 15 games. Oh, and he’s a teenager going against pros. Are we really going to underestimate what these Ignite prospects have done against grown men again?
Even ignoring the numbers, Henderson’s playmaking tape is absurd, which again makes me question where the disconnect comes in those who view it as a skill that hasn’t progressed. My hypothesis is that it is due to Henderson reining back the flashy, out-of-control assists we saw in year one in favor of further developing the more nuanced aspects of his playmaking.
In year one, Henderson’s overall possessions and assists generated 1.134 points per possession (PPP), which ranked in the 28th percentile, per Synergy. In the halfcourt, this number was 1.090 PPP (23rd percentile. In year two, though, Henderson overall generated 1.178 PPP (60th percentile) and 1.123 PPP (55th percentile) in the halfcourt. Year one’s assists may have been more prone to the highlight mix, but year two’s assists were much more effective.
Here, we see Henderson in his first season with the Ignite execute a gorgeous drive and kick. By receiving the handoff near midcourt, Henderson is able to get a full head of steam attacking the rim. This doesn’t allow his defender to get rim side and forces the full rotation from the help defender. Henderson elevates from outside the lane but can’t get a shot off. Instead, he levitates out of bounds while reading the lone weak side defender. Henderson sees the defender shade more toward the corner shooter, so he delivers a bullet of a pass for the open three above the break.
Just because Henderson toned back on the absurdity doesn’t mean that it disappeared altogether. Here, Henderson crosses over the defender after coming off the screen and explodes to the middle of the floor. His attack forces three defenders to collapse on him. As he elevates, Henderson is reading the weak side to see who becomes available. As the defender rotates to the corner, Henderson kicks it to the wing for the open three.
Very few players read and exploit the weak side of a defense like Henderson does. This time, a standard high pick-and-roll gets Henderson attacking the interior. Henderson quickly reads both defenders are staying with him and that the help defender has two feet in the lane to deal with the roller. Without hesitation, Henderson delivers a live dribble skip pass for the open three.
Henderson doesn’t even need to be attacking to make this type of play, though. Here, Henderson is on the wing and sees the help defender preemptively helping on Henderson’s rim pressure. Henderson catches the defender sleeping and delivers another perfect live dribble skip pass for the open three.
Exploiting the weak side of the floor has been a tool in Henderson’s bag for a while because his rim pressure regularly forces defensive rotations that create those opportunities. The more encouraging growth, though, came with some of the subtleties in his pick-and-roll playmaking, primarily to the roller.
Here, Henderson comes off the screen and explodes into what looks like a midrange pull-up. This action forces the drop defender to step to Henderson, which creates a bigger pocket for Eric Mika to roll into. At the same time, the low man weak side defender freezes for a second on his rotation, thinking he’s about to have to box out his man crashing the offensive glass. Mika gets an easy layup.
Henderson is the most polished and versatile playmaker in this class. He knows the weak side like the back of his hand, constantly forces defensive rotations that he’s eager to exploit, and improved tremendously at setting up the roller. Amy Poehler described Joy as “The engine. She keeps everyone moving and happy.” That is exactly what Henderson’s playmaking does.
Again, this is not me saying that Henderson’s defense engenders the feeling of sadness, no matter how underwhelming it was this season. Too frequently, elite prospects get a pass on their defense, or guards get hit with the label of “well, you can just hide him.” Henderson’s defense aligns with the character Sadness because it is misunderstood and too frequently misused.
Sadness spends most of the movie as a useless irritant who just makes things worse. That is until Joy recognizes her importance and that not everything can be masked over with a smile. Henderson’s defense is the same. Whatever team selects Henderson can try to hide his defense or not view it as a priority. He’ll still likely be an excellent player. However, if that team realizes his defensive potential and the importance of him being a good defender, the possibilities are endless.
Before diving into the good stuff, it’s important to note that Henderson was mostly a bad defender this season. The Ignite had a defensive rating of 118.4 with him on the court. Their overall defensive rating was 115.3, and the worst in the league was 120.6. Henderson consistently fell asleep off ball, and floundered defending the pick-and-roll with either lazy footwork or screwing up the coverage.
Here, Henderson prepares to defend the pick-and-roll by preemptively positioning against the screen. The ball-handler quickly denies the screen, and Henderson’s response is a halfhearted reach in. Henderson is immediately out of the play, and his teammate has to bail him out with a foul.
Away from the ball, Henderson constantly lost his man. Here, his ball-watching couldn’t be more obvious as he turns his back on his man and watches the ball for multiple passes before giving up the open layup.
Despite all of that, it’s tough to completely write him off as a bad defender. When he’s locked in (make sure to cross that off of your Cliché Bingo Card), Henderson is a terrific defender. Here, Henderson does a good job of denying the screen before disrupting the handoff by slithering around the screen. Henderson continues his pursuit by staying on the ball-handler’s hip, getting rim side, and not biting on the fake.
This time, Henderson shows terrific off-ball habits, screen navigation, and on-ball defense. After his man gives up the ball, Henderson sticks tight with him while he takes the scenic route for the handoff. Henderson does collide with his teammate, which causes him to be a fraction late to react to the drive. However, Henderson’s strength bumps the ball-handler off his line. Henderson stays on his hip and doesn’t jump on the fake shot, eventually creating an errant kickout.
Henderson has all the tools and plenty of tape to suggest that he’ll be a good defender. If his team doesn’t embrace the early struggles and the importance of it, though, it could quickly turn into the irritant that makes everyone start asking some uncomfortable questions.
Anger: On-ball Scoring
“He knows the group is well-meaning and they try hard, but they don’t get how things should work as well as he does.” —Lewis Black on his character Anger
Anger was very passionate about making sure things were fair for Riley. When they weren’t, he eagerly took over. Sometimes this was the necessary course of action, while others were an overreaction and lacked patience. Henderson’s on-ball scoring game is eerily similar. When things are rolling smoothly, Henderson will gladly sit back and play whatever role is required of him. When things aren’t going well, though, Henderson is more than capable of taking over as the dominant scorer even if it can result in some questionable shot selections.
What drives all of Henderson’s scoring potential is his ability to attack the rim. He has almost always had a physical advantage compared to his opponent given his special blend of strength, explosiveness, and balance. Unlike most young guards, Henderson plays at a myriad of speeds. He has a special ability to go from 0 to 60 and back to 0 before his defender has shifted out of first gear. Then his ability to finish through contact and brilliant understanding of finishing angles get added to the equation. In year one, Henderson shot 49% at the rim in the halfcourt. In year two, he shot 58.5%. It typically takes years for players to figure out how to blend power, finesse, and creativity at the rim, but Henderson is already doing it.
The further away from the rim we go, the more questions arise with Henderson’s scoring. However, the floater, which many consider a good indicator of future shooting potential, garners very few questions. This season, Henderson shot 48.6% on floaters, which generated 0.97 PPP (77th percentile). Since he doesn’t have elite positional size, the floater will be a crucial tool for Henderson in the NBA. It is a great counter to elite defenders restricting him from getting to the rim.
The biggest concern with Henderson’s scoring game is the jumper. From the midrange, Henderson has always looked extremely comfortable. He generates a ton of space, quickly elevates into his shot, and tends to have good touch. However, he shot just 36.9% on 2-point jumpers. For comparison, Cason Wallace shot 44.8% on 99 fewer attempts, and Amen Thompson shot 28.2% on 118 fewer attempts. It would be wonderful if Henderson’s midrange percentage was higher, but given the volume, difficulty, and variety of midrange shots he’s already taking, it would be surprising if he didn’t at least become league average.
Like the midrange, Henderson’s three-point shot has plenty of skeptics. This season, Henderson only shot 31.3% on 48 attempts on pull-up threes. The percentage is still far from where it needs to be, but it is heading in the right direction. Henderson didn’t shy away from taking advanced shot attempts like step backs and pull-ups out of the pick-and-roll. He looked much more comfortable with the NBA range than his first season, which shouldn’t be a surprise, and the fact that he was willing to attempt difficult shots that will be expected of him in the future is highly encouraging.
Henderson doesn’t always need, or even want, to take over as the primary scorer. However, if he needs too, he’ll gladly jump in and take over. Everything about his scoring game stems from his rim pressure. His power and creativity around the rim force the defense to collapse immediately. Once he masters the pull-up jumper that defenders will have to respect, the world will be his oyster.
Fear: Off-Ball Offense
"Fear’s main job is to protect Riley and keep her safe. He is constantly on the lookout for potential disasters, and spends time evaluating the possible dangers, pitfalls and risk involved in Riley’s everyday activities.” —Pixar describing the character Fear
Most primary ball-handlers succumb to fear and are unwilling to cede control of the offense. They see the shortcomings of their teammates and fail to recognize the importance of playing off ball. When Fear and Anger find synergy with each other, they help Riley properly determine her fight-or-flight response. Most primary initiators like Westbrook, Luka Doncic, and Trae Young have failed to find this synergy. Henderson has already achieved it.
Obviously, this is subject to change depending on how his new coaches decide to use him, but Henderson has already proven over multiple years with the Ignite that he is a capable off-ball player. He is a willing screener, can be put in motion, and is an effective cutter when he does so.
This season, Henderson only cut on about 4% of his possessions, but he ranked in the 95th percentile with 1.571 PPP. He has a great sense of open pockets that he can exploit and uses his athleticism to quickly dispatch defenders who are too eagerly playing ball denial. His willingness to set off-ball screens also helps him create mismatches and generate scoring opportunities for his teammates.
Here, Henderson sets a screen for his teammate in the corner. He initially fakes a cut, which forces the defender to switch. Desperate to not let Henderson get the ball and expose him on an island, the bigger defender tries to deny Henderson getting the ball. Henderson fakes as if he’s going for the handoff before exploding into a backdoor cut for the easy layup.
This time, Henderson runs a standard interchange in the corner before cutting baseline. The defensive rotation and slight bobble force Henderson away from the rim, but he doesn’t give up on the play. Instead, Henderson kicks out to the corner and sets a back screen, which leads to a layup.
Henderson isn’t going to be the world’s greatest screener, but the fact that he’s willing to do it makes all the difference. It forces defenders to always pay attention to him, generates plenty of switches that can be exploited, and allows the offense to run more creative sets.
When we think of players running off screens, we typically think of movement shooters. However, it is also an excellent tool to get high level athletes and creators in motion to exploit scrambling defenses.
Here, Henderson gives up the ball before running through and setting a back screen in the corner. From there, Henderson sprints off the down screen and curls into the lane. Now that his defender is taken out of the play, Henderson has a 2v1 situation at the free throw line. Given his adeptness on midrange jumpers and floaters, the defender steps toward Henderson. This movement creates a lane for Henderson to drop it off to his teammate, who gets fouled.
Henderson can be used in a myriad of ways away from the ball to either create for himself or others. The final area of his off-ball offense is the shooting. Henderson probably won’t ever be a high-level movement shooter, and it would be a weird way to use him, but his threat as a spot-up scorer seems to be very real.
This season, Henderson scored 1.034 PPP (67th percentile) when spotting up. He also shot 42.9% from three off the catch. It was low volume, which is important, but still an encouraging sign. Henderson doesn’t have to be a lethal shooter, but he must be good enough that defenders have to close out.
Here, Henderson’s defender weirdly loses track of him as London Johnson drives. As Henderson receives the kick out, he rapidly attacks the space that his defender is now scrambling back into. Henderson easily beats him to the space and shows off his athleticism by traversing the lane with a euro step into an inside hand reverse finish.
Elite offensive creators typically don’t have the courage to play off-ball as much as Henderson does. By properly understanding his Fear (off-ball offense) and Anger (on-ball scoring), Henderson has the tools to fit in any offensive scheme or role that is asked of him.
“Disgust always has the best of intentions and refuses to lower her standards." —Pixar describing the character Disgust
Again, to be clear, there is nothing disgusting about Henderson’s intangibles or work ethic. The character Disgust demands the very best for Riley. Her expectations are high, and she won’t settle for anything less. Henderson’s work ethic and character are the exact same.
Even just looking at the on-the-court product, Henderson is a natural leader. He’ll take a step back and feed the hot hand. He’ll sacrifice and do the dirty work. He’s constantly cheering on teammates, getting hyped for them when he’s on the bench, and directing traffic on offense.
Everything that you’ll hear about Henderson behind the scenes mirrors that as well. On a recent No Ceilings NBA Draft podcast episode, Coach Jason Hart echoed the same mindset. Coach Hart described Henderson as being very mature for his age, as someone who knows what he wants in life, having a work ethic that is second to none, and a gym rat.
Too often, these types of personality traits get overlooked in scouting as we get enamored solely with the on-court product. So, sure, Henderson may lack elite positional size, and he may not be an elite shooter. However, given his physical tools, on-court versatility, and intangibles, Scoot Henderson has everything an NBA team could dream of in a franchise cornerstone.