2023 Orlando Magic Draft Preview: Scoot Henderson getting out of the shadow

HENDERSON, NEVADA - DECEMBER 27: Scoot Henderson #0 of G League Ignite brings the ball up the court against the Ontario Clippers in the first quarter of their game at The Dollar Loan Center on December 27, 2022 in Henderson, Nevada. Ignite defeated the Clippers 114-108 in overtime. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
HENDERSON, NEVADA - DECEMBER 27: Scoot Henderson #0 of G League Ignite brings the ball up the court against the Ontario Clippers in the first quarter of their game at The Dollar Loan Center on December 27, 2022 in Henderson, Nevada. Ignite defeated the Clippers 114-108 in overtime. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /

The list of draft prospects throughout NBA history more highly touted than Victor Wembanyama is a short list.

He is viewed as a generational big man similar to the likes of Tim Duncan, Patrick Ewing and Shaquille O’Neal, with some even mentioning him in the stratosphere of LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabar. All this before he even steps on an NBA floor.

So with the monumental expectations of the top overall pick comes a shadow over other prospects.

Not that they do not get evaluated properly, but can you think of the No.2 selections behind the guys mentioned?

Maybe Darko Milicic, for all of the wrong reasons of course.

The point is: When there is a generational No.1, the next pick is not usually another top-flight player who would go top overall in a lot of other drafts.

Then again, a lot of those drafts did not have a prospect of the caliber of Scoot Henderson.

Scoot Henderson would be considered an elite prospect in almost any other NBA Draft. But working under Victor Wembanyama’s considerable shadow, his flaws have overtaken the conversation and hidden his star potential.

Is Henderson just as generational of talent as we have been led to believe, and if he is, would the Magic be wise to give up significant assets to move up to get him?

That is the question s a lot of teams are asking after Henderson wowed teams throughout his high school and early days in the G-League Ignite but struggled leaving doubt about his status in this draft class.

Everyone is high on Henderson, it would seem. But he is in a considerable shadow that has seemingly put light on his flaws ahead of the draft.

When evaluating Henderson, it is important to have perspective.

As a consensus 5-star prospect in high school, he dominated the competition in his sophomore and junior seasons, winning two Player of the Year Awards and earning First-Team All-State honors twice.

Henderson not only chose to reclassify into the Class of 2021, but he elected to join the G-League Ignite for two years, foregoing college ball to play professionally.

In his first year, he averaged 14.0 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.6 steals per game over 11 Showcase Cup. He proved he could play at the G-League level as he scored a career-high 31 points in his second game for the Ignite.

In his second year, he averaged 16.5 points, 6.5 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 1.6 stocks per game in 25 regular season games. His sophomore campaign was headlined by a 28-point, 9-assist, 5-rebound performance in a win over Wembanyama’s Metropolitans 92 during an exhibition game early in the season.

When you watch Henderson play, one thing jumps out immediately: His athleticism.

Measuring in at 6-foot-2-inches tall with a 6-foot-9-inch wingspan, he fills it out completely. Looking at him on the court, you can tell he has an NBA-ready body. And if he were on the Orlando Magic, he would arguably be the most explosive player on the team.

The next thing you notice is how he moves around in his muscle-bound frame. He has an extremely quick first step that allows him to blow by defenders with relative ease and is what helped him convert 16 dunks last season.

For the Magic, they do have some of that from the guard position with Cole Anthony catching lobs from time to time, but this would bring it to another level, especially in the half-court.

Henderson excels when going downhill as the pick-and-roll ball handler. On drives to the bucket, he routinely gets to the charity stripe attempting 2.9 free throws per game (the G-League uses the one free throw rule until the final two minutes, so his attempts are a bit depressed).

That driving ability and use of contact to get to the line is why he is being compared to guys like Russell Westbrook, John Wall and Derrick Rose.

He fills out the explosive point guard with huge upside prototype that has been in the league for the last 25-ish years.

When watching his game, you do see shades of those guys, but it is his playmaking and passing ability — which have flown under the radar — that make you believe he can be an engine to winning.

As mentioned earlier, he averaged 6.6 assists per game last season. That is a 3.0 increase from the previous year, along with performances that included a 16-assist night against the Santa Cruz Warriors, a 14-assist game against the Memphis Hustle and a 12-assist game against the College Park Skyhawks.

The notion that Henderson is a notorious ball-stopper or would not be able to work with certain players who also need the ball in their hands seems like a title that was just thrown on him because of his player comparisons.

Yes, 43.7 percent of possessions came as the pick-and-roll ball handler, he certainly does most of his work out of those areas, but he was a more than willing passer.

And for Orlando, although Markelle Fultz showed he can run the offense last year, it seems as though Henderson’s playmaking would help, not hinder, the development of Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner.

Now this is not to say that those player comparisons are completely wrong. Just some of the concerns are misplaced.

John Wall and Russell Westbrook both averaged double-digit assists and despite what you think about the stat-padding accusations, they are undeniably talented distributors. Same for Henderson, despite the connotations those names bring.

But, when you look at shooting efficiency and ability, the comparisons objectively ring true. And it is the biggest hole in Henderson’s game.

His biggest shooting struggles came from beyond the arc. He shot 32.4 percent (22 for 68) from three in his second season for the Ignite.

His shooting struggles were not limited there. His mid-range game was also a mixed bag. He shot 38.3 percent (54 for 141) last year on mid-range shots, and 42.5 percent (37 for 87) the year prior.

But one thing that sticks out about his shooting splits is his improvement between the two seasons in the G-League.

In his first year, he only shot 17.4 percent from three (4 for 23). So while shooting 45 more attempts from the year prior he almost doubled his overall efficiency.

For Henderson, shooting better was key but he also needed to add to his game or else defenders would still be able to focus on the drive.

So what did he do? He added a floater.

Last year he shot 48.6 percent (17 for 35) on floaters after it was non-existent in the previous season where he was just 2 for 7.

These developments indicate he could improve quickly to adequate-shooter status in the NBA if he continues to put the work in.

Another sentiment scouts share is that often when a player excels in shooting from a certain area on the court (i.e. mid-range, contested scoring, post scoring) then they might have a better chance of developing a reliable outside shooting stroke than somebody who does not shoot it well at all.

In other words, he has already got the ball rolling to expand his jumper.

Scouts have also pointed to his 41.6 percent (42 for 101, 99th percentile) shooting on contested deep midrange pull-ups as a sign of possibly more to come.

He did tend to settle for that shot at times as obviously that is not the most efficient of shot attempts, but if he can hit those at the next level it will open up his game.

For the Magic, Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs are not exactly world-class shooters so it is understandable why many fans are hesitant regarding the addition of Henderson. And it is hard to disagree, it is the opposite of what they need.

But Henderson is also an undeniable talent who can be an engine driving the team. With the areas he can still improve, he can still make a pretty clear impact on the team.

So what does this mean for the Magic? Could he fit in with Banchero and Wagner? If there was a trade scenario to move up, would it be worth the price to move up?

Well, after reviewing Henderson’s play with the Ignite, and evaluating how he projects to the NBA: Yes.

Henderson is head and shoulders above the players who will be available in the mid to late lottery and it would be foolish for teams to not take him just because of need.

He is an explosive, high-motor player oozing ridiculous upside with his playmaking, frame, and his improvement year-to-year. If he can tighten his handle and continue to improve his shot, he will grow quickly into the star point guards we see so commonly in the NBA while also having box office appeal.

But as far as the Magic are concerned, trading up might not be realistic because the Charlotte Hornets and Portland Trail Blazers are each at a crossroads in their franchise. And what the Magic can offer — or what they would be comfortable giving up — would not solve their problems, thus making it tough to foresee a deal.

The reality is it is tough to get a deal done in the NBA. Most teams would probably be better off staying put, especially with all of the unknowns.

Draft Preview: Bilal Coulibaly rises to the top. dark. Next

But because the Magic might not be able to scoop Henderson, does not mean he is not generational. And that is something the Magic have to consider as they evaluate this draft.