One is viewed as one of the best NBA Draft prospects since LeBron; the other is clipping at his heels. The potential top two 2023 picks square off on Tuesday in Las Vegas in G League preseason action.
The NBA is back (sort of). The preseason tipped off over the last week, and it was not short of storylines. The Lakers trio of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook played for the first time since missing the playoffs last year and what many would deem a tumultuous offseason. Ben Simmons played in his first game action with his new team against his old team. And the Phoenix Suns lost to the NBL’s Adelaide 36ers… at home!
Despite all that, the game that might draw the most eyes in the preseason’s first week comes from the NBA’s little brother when G League Ignite squares off against Metropolitans 92 of the LNB Pro A league in France on Tuesday night in Las Vegas (and again on Thursday).
Why? Because it could provide a brief glimpse of the future of the NBA.
Welcome to Scoot Henderson vs. Victor Wembanyama.
It happens every year. When fans of likely top lottery teams essentially bypass the start of actual basketball being played only to turn their eye toward the next NBA Draft in hopes of finding that one player who will blossom into a superstar and lead their team to prominence. However, it’s always a dangerous game. Comparisons are made, many being hyperbolic. Expectations are set, many being unrealistic. For some, disappointment will be inevitable.
This year, however, feels different. Frenchman Victor Wembanyama and Ignite’s Scoot Henderson are both viewed as can’t-miss NBA prospects. As such, many draft experts are penning them as the top two picks in the 2023 NBA Draft.
It’s possible that the two games they play against one another this week could be the best individual talent matchup they’ll see until stepping on an NBA court. And while it would be malpractice to make any sort of sweeping judgments of either player based on two preseason games nearly a year before the draft, it’s still pretty damn exciting to be able to see such a matchup so early on in their professional journeys.
So, what makes the Scoot Henderson vs. Victor Wembanyama question so mesmerizing (and occasionally polarizing)? Boardroom breaks down what they’re saying about the two NBA Draft prospects ahead of their first preseason matchup on Tuesday evening in Las Vegas.
Let’s make this as clear as possible: Wembanyama is the best NBA Draft prospect since LeBron James.
Yes, this author just got done touching on the dangers of making unfair comparisons. But this guy is, simply put, different. Without even getting into the nuances of his game just yet, just look at him. His height is somewhat of a conflicting factor at the moment, but depending on where you look, he’s anywhere from 7-foot-2 and 7-foot-4. ESPN’s Jonathan Givony wrote he’s on the latter end of that spectrum and boasts a stupid 8-foot wingspan. If those measurements are accurate, he would immediately become the tallest player in the NBA with the longest wingspan the second he’s drafted.
While this is true of really any NBA player, simply watching this guy walk around, he looks like a cartoon character.
Sure, he can stand to put on a few more pounds, but he’s certainly not in the Chet Holmgren tier of the worry scale when it comes to weight at roughly 235 pounds. Speaking of Holmgren — who has also received the unicorn designation at times — the second overall draft pick in the 2022 NBA Draft squared off against Wembanyama when Team USA and France played at the FIBA Under-19 World Cup last summer.
Holmgren had this to say of his giant counterpart, who put up 22 points, eight rebounds, and eight blocks against the Americans at the ripe age of 17:
“I don’t really give too many people credit, but I give credit to this guy right here,” the Gonzaga product said. “I thought I was tall, I thought I had long arms, but he takes it to a whole other level. He moves great. He’s got a shot. He’s got skills too. He’s gonna be a rich man one day.”
In addition to his rare size, Wembanyama has a unique set of skills. He has the size and length to be an elite shot-blocker and rim-runner, a la fellow Frenchman Rudy Gobert. But where Gobert lacks — on offense — Wembanyama thrives. Another comparison he’s drawn is Wizards big man Kristaps Porzingis. But the truth is, he’s neither of them. There’s not any player in the current NBA who he compares to; he’s an anamoly.
“Wembanyama moves like a guy five inches shorter than he is, with real coordination,” The Athletic’s NBA Draft expert Sam Vecenie said. “He’s not very explosive, but his balance is wild for someone with this kind of length. … Wembanyama projects to be an incredible defender. But his craziest stuff actually tends to come on offense. He can take and knock down 3s with confidence, as well as showcase some real skill off the bounce as a straight-line driver. He’s even flashed the ability to hit stepback pull-up jumpers, again showcasing his coordination and balance. Guys this big shouldn’t be able to have this kind of impact at this level.”
It’s easy to see the hype around this guy when watching him play; it’s even easier when you consider his competition of playing in professional leagues. Some may see his averages of 6.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game in the 13 games played in EuroLeague last season and not think much of them. But remember, he’s just 18 years old playing against grown men a decade his senior. There are many who had similar things to say about Luka Dončić when he was coming to the NBA.
Look how that turned out.
To further illustrate how he’s viewed in NBA circles, in NBA.com’s annual anonymous GM survey, Wembanyama was comfortably voted as the best international player in the world playing outside the NBA. In last year’s survey, that title was given to four-time All-EuroLeague selection Nikola Mirotić, who played five seasons in the NBA before returning to Spain’s ACB with Barcelona.
Nothing is ever a sure thing in “this league.” Especially with men his size, a group that has long seemed to be more prone to injury than most. But assuming he can stay healthy, Wembanyama is set up for success at the NBA level.
He recently told the Associated Press that he wants to “be like something you’ve never seen,” and he might just be right.
Most years in most NBA Drafts, Henderson would be a surefire No. 1 pick. He just happens to be competing with a one-of-a-kind player for that top spot.
But make no mistake: Henderson is also THAT dude. He may not be towering over his opponents like his Wembanyama, but in today’s NBA, scoring combo guards with an elite bag can essentially carry a team — and Henderson very much fits the archetype.
At 6-foot-2, he’s a foot shorter than his competition for the No. 1 pick but compares favorably (height-wise, anyway) to top NBA guards such as Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, and Kyrie Irving. And just like those guys, Henderson’s natural feel for the game coupled with his impressive handle allows him to manipulate defenders in a way that sometimes can’t be taught. Throw in his athleticism and explosiveness, and it’s clear he has the chance to join the list of great guards in the NBA.
“I’m not quite of the opinion that the race for No. 1 overall is a done deal, largely because Henderson exists and is terrific in his own right. … He is remarkably explosive as an athlete and yet plays with tremendous pace and craft and with real creativity. I think he would have likely been the No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft if he would have been eligible,” Vecenie wrote over the summer.
Henderson going No. 1 in 2022 had he been eligible is high praise from Vecenie. While none of the top three picks are viewed as generational as Wembanyama could be, Paolo Banchero (Orlando Magic), Holmgren (Oklahoma City Thunder), and Jabari Smith (Houston Rockets) are no joke. Each one of them could boast multiple All-Star selections in the future, and Henderson might just be better than them all.
After all, this is being said after just one season in the G League in which he averaged 14 points, five rebounds, and four assists per game. Oh, and Henderson was only 17 years old at the time after he reclassified to the Class of 2022 and committed to playing for Ignite.
Now in Year 2 and a “veteran” at age 18, he’s ready for his encore. The shifty guard’s numbers should improve across the board, though NBA scouts hope to see that 3-point shooting percentage improve from the 21.6% figure he logged a season ago.
One thing Henderson doesn’t have to work on? His wallet. While many college athletes are raking in the NIL cash these days, Henderson secured his own bag when he signed with Ignite for a reported $1 million. On top of that, the guard reportedly will make seven figures through the multi-year deal he signed with Puma over the summer, with language in place to potentially reach eight figures should he hit certain marks.
The race for the No. 1 pick is on, and it all starts on Tuesday night in Las Vegas. And one thing is clear — while there’s a mutual respect between the two players, each is confident in their respective games.
Just ask Wembanyama.
“He’s really a great player. If I was never born, I think he would deserve the first spot,” the Frenchman said of Henderson on Monday ahead of Tueday’s game.
Meanwhile, Henderson doesn’t hide his confidence, either. He’s certain he’ll make whichever team that holds the No. 1 pick next summer happy should they select him.
“Of course, I feel like I’m the No. 1 player,” Henderson told Stadium’s Shams Charania. “I work hard and my competitive side makes me want to be the No. 1 player. … I just feel like I have the No. 1 mentality.”
How to watch Scoot Henderson vs. Victor Wembanyama
WHEN: Tuesday, 10 p.m. ET & Thursday, 3 p.m. ET
WHERE: Dollar Loan Center, Las Vegas, Nevada
TV: ESPN2, NBA app
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