Scoot Henderson Is An Outlier
Consensus rankings say that Scoot Henderson is the 2023 NBA Draft's consolation prize, but if the Ignite star shows the kinds of improvements he’s capable of, that may not be set in stone.
When I was in high school, there were so few ways to discover up and coming hoops prospects. It was basically the once a year McDonald’s All-American game on ESPN or the random hoops magazine you’d skim through while filling up your Slurpee cup at 7-Eleven. I remember being super high on Amare Stoudemire in the 2002 NBA Draft solely because I stumbled across some random high school hoops article in the lobby of my high school, despite the fact that I watched absolutely no film on him. Those were dark times for scouting fiends, but the magic of the Internet has granted us an amount of access that would blow high school Corey’s mind into a million pieces, as you can now find full games of prospects all around the world with the click of a few buttons into the YouTube search bar.
An argument can be made, however, that there is almost too much access. For content creators, there’s this never-ending fight for eyeballs and clicks and likes and retweets and shares that creates this rush to clip up highlights of teenagers and bestow them as the next great whoever. The hyperbole seems innocuous enough, and at least now there are some NIL opportunities that come out of it, but I feel like the Internet hype machine can sometimes go way overboard and place these lofty expectations of greatness onto players that have real holes in their games simply because they have a dope Ballislife mixtape.
Not every NBA prospect can be a star, no matter how bad we want them to be. Stardom at the game’s highest level is reserved for basketball outliers. The hoopers whose tape immediately slaps you in the face when you hit play. You don’t need a mixtape to highlight the good and hide the bad. The full 48 does the selling for you.
These outlier prospects are the type of players that NBA teams hunt for, and while finding stars in the draft is an inexact science, a can’t-miss talent walks on the floor every once in a while and sends NBA teams into a tizzy. The 2023 NBA draft might have two.
When you watch the G-League Ignite’s Scoot Henderson, there aren’t many hypotheticals; you don’t need to be convinced to buy into flashes, his game speaks for itself. That Scoot film hits different.
What makes Henderson’s journey unique from the typical Ignite prospect of the team’s first two seasons is that while the past Ignite prospects were one and dones, Scoot will be entering his second season with the team since he wasn’t draft-eligible last season. We now get to witness a quasi-sophomore campaign where we will be able to watch Scoot take a leap in responsibility as the team’s primary option and also measure any tangible improvements to his burgeoning skillset.
As atypical as Scoot’s journey is, his game may be the same. As you jump levels in most sports, the hardest thing to adjust to is the speed and physicality of the game. We see plenty of prospects year after year struggle going from high school to college, let alone from high school to the pros. That wasn’t really an issue for Henderson. In just his second game with the team, Scoot came off the bench and put up a cool 31 points to go along with six rebounds, five assists, and two steals. He followed that game up with 22 and 27 point outings.
Scoot is a physical freak and a preposterous athlete. You’d be hard-pressed to find a basketball court that Scoot doesn’t stand out on physically. When he gets out in transition, he can not only beat you down the floor with his speed but also get you on your heels, absorb contact, and then put you on a poster.
Henderson is a relentless attacker of the rim. Whether you play up on him or give him a cushion, his first step burst allows him to blow by and effortlessly get into the teeth of the defense.
But what is so impressive about Scoot is the pace at which he attacks. Most young super athletes just hit the NOS and explode to the rim leading to awkward shot attempts and turnovers as smart help defenders slide into the paint for charges. But even as a teenager, Henderson plays at multiple speeds, using killer hesitations to freeze the defender and finish at the cup with either hand.
That isn’t to say that there’s no room for improvement at the rim, as Henderson finished just 51% of his shots there last season according to InStat. But even on some of his misses, you can see the craft and ease in which he gets to his spots. The process was there even if the results weren’t always. With another year of experience under his belt, I’m optimistic that we’ll see a rise in efficiency for Scoot at the rim next season.
Henderson is a ridiculous athlete, but he’s also supremely skilled and intelligent. He can use his physical gifts to attack the rim anytime he wants but the reason defenses have such a hard time playing him on his drives is because he’s already a deadly mid-range shooter. That pull-up ability makes him unpredictable in ball screens, an area where 28% of his possessions came out of last season. Defenders don’t know whether Scoot is going to come off of a screen and attack the rim or dribble into his spot for a pull-up middy. If a big sits too deep in a drop, Henderson will effortlessly knock down the elbow jumper. If they come up to the level and switch, he’ll blow by and attack. Scoot’s unpredictability as a shot creator makes him a mismatch nightmare in one of the most used NBA play types.
The ability to get buckets with the ball in your hands is a mandatory skill for primary options at the NBA level. In late-game situations, you want to know that the guy who is controlling the offense can make something positive happen when things break down. Can they leverage that scoring ability to take advantage of the attention the defense pays them and make plays for their teammates? It’s one thing to just get buckets—it’s another to orchestrate an offense. That’s what made Luka Doncic a generational prospect.
I’m not saying that Scoot Henderson can run an offense like teenage Luka could, but for a prospect that has been able to dominate his competition with his athleticism, Scoot has shown impressive flashes of just how nuanced and mature his playmaking can one day be. Take, for instance, these two possessions against the Santa Cruz Warriors. In the first clip, Scoot comes off the ball screen and hops into a potential elbow jumper against the drop. Instead of letting it fly, he notices the low man sunk into the paint to tag the roll and the weak-side wing that should be splitting the difference slightly out of position in case of a close-out, which allows Scoot to hit the shooter for the open corner three.
That’s an impressive read by itself, but what makes it even more impressive is the next offensive possession. The Ignite run the same set, and instead of picking up his dribble at the elbow, Scoot decides he can attack the big and pressure the rim. Scoot hits the Gretzky dribble and sees that the weak-side wing defender is starting to cheat to the corner shooter so that he doesn’t give up another open corner three and also that the low man buried himself in the paint. Scoot recognizes that if the weak-side wing defender is cheating to the corner and the low man is too deep to X-out to the wing, that means his wing shooter will be wide the fuck open. Those are two advanced reads for veteran guards and Henderson made them as a teenager.
For as dynamic as Scoot is as an offensive weapon, we do have to bring up the elephant in the room if we’re going to paint a full picture of his game. In a league dominated by long-range shooting, Henderson has a long way to go. In 21 games last season, Henderson shot just 19.6% from behind the line, placing him in the 21st percentile according to inStat. I’m an eye test guy when it comes to shooting projections, so I’m not going to panic that someone who should have been in high school last season struggled from deep, especially when the form is far broken. I’m not saying that it isn’t a major area for improvement, just that it’s way too early to panic. But teams will continue to play Henderson as if he’s a non-threat and try to force him to settle for the outside shot. He’ll need to prove that teams can’t just go under ball screens. He’ll have to make them pay to reach his full potential as a three-level primary scoring option.
Scoot’s dynamic offense is what has made him a basketball prodigy, but offense is just one half of the game. We would be doing Henderson a disservice to ignore the fact that he has the potential to be a true two-way star.
Henderson is an exceptional lateral mover that uses his imposing strength and plus wingspan to suffocate ball handlers. The best point of attack defenders get right up in your chest, make you uncomfortable, and dictate the possession. When Henderson dictates the possession, he hounds ball handlers, wearing their shirt, bodying up with active hands, beating them to the spot, often forcing them to pick up their dribble and move off the ball completely.
Scoot has two areas of his on the ball defensive game that stuck out to me as areas that he can look to improve on next season. Henderson can be an absolute pest when he gets in your shirt, but he’ll frequently play his man flat with a bit of cushion. When Scoot forces the ball handler to a side and gets up in him, he can dictate where the possession goes, but when he plays flat, the ball-handler gets to decide how to attack. Henderson is too good at pressuring the ball to not get up on his man more consistently.
Scoot also needs to do a better job of getting through ball screens. Too often, Scoot just gets rocked by the screener. If you’re going to get up and over a screen, you need to step over early so that you avoid getting taken out of the play. This is something that Davion Mitchell really excels at doing. For someone so strong who moves so well, I’ll be watching to see if Scoot makes strides in his screen navigation next season.
If we learned anything from the 2022 NBA Finals, it’s that at the game’s highest level, it’s imperative to not only be able to compete physically defensively but also to have the ability to think the game at a high level. You need to be switchable, disciplined, and make smart rotations off the ball. Scoot’s feel as a team defender has been a revelation. Henderson constantly has his head on a swivel so that he sees both ball and man and times his rotations so that he can meet drivers at the rim where he can use his strength and athleticism to contest shots.
Scoot will never impact the game defensively the way that an elite rim protector can, but the flashes that he’s shown both on and off the ball makes me optimistic that he’ll impact the game on both sides of the ball long-term.
Over the last few seasons, it has started to feel like the league has shifted away from the more traditional smallish point guard of the early 2000s, ushering in the era of big, switchable connectors. But when you’re an outlier talent, whatever archetypical trend is en vogue at the moment doesn’t really matter. What matters is your ability to impact the game. Every team wants a Scoot Henderson: a skilled, confident, mature, outlier talent who can lead your franchise on day one. Henderson would have been the first guard off the board in the 2022 NBA Draft if he was eligible. With another year of pro development under his belt, it’s hard to cap his potential. The consensus says that Henderson is the 2023 consolation prize. If Scoot Henderson shows the kinds of improvements he’s capable of, that may not be set in stone.
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