Victor Wembanyama is generational, Scoot Henderson is unimaginable, and more from pre-NBA draft matchup

Victor Wembanyama is generational, Scoot Henderson is unimaginable, and more from pre-NBA draft matchup

 

The first matchup between Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson was supposed to happen after both were already in the NBA as the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks in the 2023 draft. For the first time since 2003, neither of the (projected) top-two picks were playing college basketball: Wembanyama, born and raised just outside Paris, plays for Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92 in the top French pro league, while Henderson took his own unique path by choosing the G League Ignite over a year on campus.

Instead, a made-for-TV matchup was put together at the last second, showcasing Wembanyama on American soil for the first time, and giving Henderson the chance to prove he could go toe-to-toe with one of the most tantalizing prospects ever. The idea sounded great on paper, but you’d be excused for thinking an exhibition like this with no real stakes would ultimately be a disappointment.

Well, Game 1 of a two-game set between Metropolitans 92 and the Ignite didn’t just meet the hype, it exceeded it in every way possible. Both Wembanyama and Henderson put a show that is going to be remembered for the rest of their lives. Both young stars essentially played a perfect game, and showed NBA fans and decision-makers what the future of the sport looks like. It was thrilling television from start to finish.

Wembanyama is something basketball fans have never seen before: 7’5 with an 8-foot wingspan, the shot-blocking skill of Rudy Gobert with the shooting skill of an elite wing scorer. Henderson, meanwhile, feels like the evolution of every supercharged American point guard to hit basketball over the last four decades: he has mind-blowing speed, yet he’s always in control, with sharpened skills as both a scorer and playmaker.

Let’s get into exactly what we saw.

Victor Wembanyama transcends hyperbole

When I published a huge breakdown of Wembanyama in June, I wrote that he was “the best prospect to hit the draft since LeBron James.” It also included the sentence: “The last prospect this big, this fluid, and this comfortable with the ball in his hands might be a young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor, when he entered UCLA in the mid-1960s.”

No pressure, kid — some nerd on the internet just compared you to two of the top-3 players in NBA history at 18 years old. Somehow, the man we call Wemby lived up to all of that hype and more in his American debut.

There were self-created layups:

There were smooth step-backs and one-dribble pull-up threes:

There were relocation threes to the corner and four-point plays off movement:

There were transition threes:

There were blocked shots all over the floor, from mid-range pull-ups that he erased:

To rejecting Henderson at the rim:

To ridiculous rotations to erase shots no one else should get to:

Wembanyama finished with 37 points on 11-of-20 shooting from the field, 7-of-11 shooting from three, and 8-of-12 shooting from the foul line. He had five blocks, four rebounds, a steal, and also threw some great passes despite not finishing with an assist. By the way: there’s only one game in NBA history with seven threes and five blocks. Wembanyama just did it at 18 years old going against other young professionals.

Those offensive moves would be impressive if Wembanyama was a 6’7 prospect at 18 years old. Again: he measured at 7’4 barefoot with an 8-foot wingspan. His defensive potential would be enough to get him drafted No. 1 overall even if he couldn’t shoot or dribble.

Basketball has never seen anything like this. Wembanyama will be one of the best rim protectors and lob catchers in league history if he stays healthy. He also has the offensive skill set of a wing shooter who can create off the dribble for himself and his teammates.

What I keep coming back to is this: how does Victor Wembanyama exist? This player, a 7’5 athletic freak who puts a lid on the rim and effortlessly strokes threes, should only be possible in a video game. Even then, it wouldn’t be fair. Somehow, Wembanyama is real, and there’s no amount of hyperbole that goes too far when trying to capture his talent.

We have conceptualized aliens before. No one could have ever dreamed of someone like Wemby.

Scoot Henderson is the point guard NBA fans dream about

Sterling ‘Scoot’ Henderson could be the biggest star in college basketball this season. Instead, the Atlanta native decided to essentially skip his senior year of high school and sign a two-year contract with the G League Ignite, the well-funded prospect incubator launched by the NBA two years ago.

Henderson was so impressive in his debut year with the Ignite that most agreed he would have gone No. 1 overall in the 2022 NBA Draft if he were old enough to enter. Now back for his second season, it’s clear the 6’2 point guard with a 6’8 wingspan is poised to take his game to new levels and establish himself as one of the best prospects of the last decade in his own right.

Henderson’s top-end speed, ridiculous change-of-pace ability, and finishing craft were all on display as he cooked Wembanyama for the most impressive bucket of the night:

Henderson’s body control is remarkable. One of his best attributes is his ‘decleration’ — the ability to hit the breaks at top speed and fake defenders out of their shoes. He got Wembanyama again here:

Ripping a stepback three over a guy with an 8-foot wingspan? Sure.

Henderson is going to be a monster in transition. He gets the steal here and it’s off to the races for a highlight reel dunk:

He showed off the mid-range game, too:

In the second half, Henderson really started to unlock his passing. This was a beautiful dime.

So was this one in transition:

So was this one:

He calmly stroked threes in rhythm, too.

Henderson finished with 28 points on 11-of-21 shooting from the field, 2-of-3 shooting from three, and 4-of-shooting from the free throw line. He had nine assists, five rebounds, two steals, and only two turnovers. He met the moment in every way and played an elite game with the whole world watching him against Wembanyama.

Henderson is going to be a monster as a downhill attacker, blessed with absurd speed, body-control, agility, and the power to finish through contact. He’s going to get his team so many easy buckets in transition simply by out-running everyone else, and he’s going to bend defenses in the halfcourt with that blazing first step. The big question for Henderson is his shooting ability — he shot only 11-for-51 from three with the Ignite last year, good for 21 percent — and it sure looked improved in his first game of his second season. Henderson’s ability to read the floor has also come under the microscope a bit — he averaged 3.8 assists per game last year — but he looked like an offensive maestro against Metropolitans.

It’s easy to think of players like Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and John Wall when watching Henderson go to work. His three-point shot is likely to eventually be better than all of those guys just because of the era he’s coming up in. For now, perhaps the best thing you can say about Scoot is that he feels like a sure thing: guards this fast, this strong, this crafty, and this competitive simply do not fail.

Scoot Henderson is a certain star, and in this draft that doesn’t even give you a shot to go No. 1 overall.

There is no debate for No. 1: It’s Victor Wembanyama every time

It’s possible Scoot Henderson has a better NBA career than Victor Wembanyama when it’s all said and done. He’s certainly the safer pick because his body seems like a better bet to hold up long-term, and because we’ve seen players with his traits succeed before. He still shouldn’t be in consideration for the No. 1 pick when the lucky lottery winner comes on the clock.

Wembanyama is not a perfect player, at all. You’d love to see someone his size play with more force and get easier buckets around the rim. He’s usually not that electric as a shooter, with a 31 percent career mark from three. His defensive technique needs lots of improvement, and his feel for the game, especially on the defensive end, is a bit of a question mark. But if Wembanyama puts it all together, and if he stays healthy, it’s not hyperbole to say he could be one of the best basketball players ever. If upside is as high as any prospect to ever enter any professional sport over the last 100 years.

The thing that makes the 2023 NBA Draft so special is that there are two No. 1 overall picks. Add in Amen Thompson, also playing outside of college basketball for Overtime Elite, and there might be a case to expand that number to three. Either way, Wembanyama feels like he’d at the very least get serious consideration for No. 1 overall in every draft in league history.

For one perfect night, Wembanyama and Henderson shared the floor before it happens for real in the NBA. If this is a sign of what’s to come, we can’t wait to see what happens next.

About the Author: camille r mercer

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