BROOKLYN, NY — Scoot Henderson has trained for years to make it to the NBA. Now, the 6-foot-2 guard and G League Ignite product will be teaming up with one of the league's best stars, Damian Lillard, on the Portland Trail Blazers after being selected third overall in the 2023 NBA Draft.
As a testament to his talent, consider that Henderson was the third overall pick and most talent evaluators believe that he fell too far in the draft. After generational, one-of-a-kind prospect Victor Wembanyama went first overall to the San Antonio Spurs, the Charlotte Hornets took Brandon Miller. The wing out of Alabama is an impressive three-point shooter and has the build to be a good, versatile defender, but Henderson's potential projects to be bigger.
But to him, it's no biggie.
“I'm glad to see Brandon go there,” Henderson told reporters in his post-selection press conference. “I'm pretty sure it's a great fit for him. That's how I move. I move with love. I'm not mad that I didn't go two or I didn't go one. I'm blessed to go three, and to be here with my family with me.”
Henderson may move with love off the court, but those senses of warmth and compassion vanish when he steps onto the court. He carries a dog mentality with him that, combined with his fantastic athleticism and floor-reading intelligence, makes him a force. Despite playing against older professionals as a teenager, he looked like he belonged. Even though he didn’t excel as a shooter, a worrisome trend for someone of his size, he manufactured results with one of the highest-powered motors of any prospect.
Scoot Henderson excited to play with Damian Lillard
In a Blazers backcourt alongside Lillard, assuming he sticks around, Henderson has the chance to grow his game in many ways. He can use his playmaking to help set Lillard up (as well as guys like Shaedon Sharpe and Anfernee Simons), while the seven-time All-Star can open up room for him. Henderson, who said that he and Lillard have been in contact recently, can step in as a main defender among Portland's guards, too.
“Yeah, I'm hoping to get to play with Dame, for sure,” Scoot Henderson said. “Special talent, special guard. One of my favorites to watch, especially film-wise. Just to pick out how he moves off the court, as well. Yeah, it would be cool to play with him.”
Henderson will be eager to help the Trail Blazers return to the playoffs. The front office feels the same way, shutting down ideas of a Lillard trade that made his on-court partnership with Henderson uncertain to happen. While there may be more moves on the horizon — perhaps trading away Simons for upgrades at the forward or center spot — the Blazers want to use Henderson as a springboard back into high-level basketball, not a cushion for their fall into a legitimate tank.
Expectations like these can often be daunting to young players. But Henderson doesn’t shrivel under the spotlight. G League Ignite is to thank for assisting him in the development of his unwavering confidence.
G League Ignite has Scoot Henderson ready to go
“I'm the most prepared player in the draft. That's what I say,” Henderson declared. “The fact that I went there for two years just taught me so much. On the court, as well, but a lot of things off the court. I learned how to be a pro off the court. Just so much time off and just trying to find what to do. I found the hobbies that I like to do. Ignite definitely showed me a lot of things that I wouldn't get anywhere else. I'm blessed that I did the two years that I did, and I grew so much from it.”
Two years with Ignite gave Henderson the experience, behind-the-scenes work and support system he needed before making the jump to the NBA. Lots of other players from the 2023 NBA Draft played in professional leagues, too, but Scoot firmly believes his path — the first to include two Ignite seasons — stands apart from the rest.
Scoot Henderson became the seventh player ever to be drafted out of Ignite and the second to be the No. 2 pick along with Jalen Green. The program also saw prospects Leonard Miller, Sidy Cissoko and Mojave King get their names called in 2023's second round. The chance to grow under the guidance of a pro team with an emphasis on developing young players attracts tons of top prospects, including two of 2024's biggest names, Matas Buzelis and Ron Holland.
“The G League experience has prepared me so much because I really got that feel for the game,” Leonard Miller said. “With the game that we play in the G League, it's the same thing as the NBA — the pace, the competitiveness and everything that goes to it. Guys that are coming up and down from the league, guys trying to make their way into the league. I already have that feel. Going into it, I feel like my game right now is ready, and I'm better than ever.”
Other rookies joining Henderson on the Trail Blazers include Iowa standout Kris Murray and Rayan Rupert of the NBL's New Zeland Breakers, who were drafted 23rd and 43rd overall, respectively. While those two will be allotted substantial time to prove their worth, Henderson won't. He will be expected to be a very good player right away and a star before his rookie contract is up.
For a multitude of factors, Scoot Henderson is built for it. The small guard has the massive shoulders to lift up the Blazers' hopes and become the jolt of confidence and talent they badly need.