First, the excellent news: Scoot Henderson, the third general choose within the 2023 NBA Draft, all the time tries his greatest. For a younger guard who’s already spent extra time as an expert basketball participant than he spent as a highschool pupil, his motor runs uncommonly sizzling: on protection, he gamely tries to repel ball-handlers; he heaves himself rimward with super gusto; when he dunks, it rings by way of the sector with the sudden, taut pop of a champagne cork. By all accounts, he’s real, type and hard-working. To borrow a football-ism, he’s a forwards-hat type of man.
Now, the unhealthy information: by way of the primary 35 video games of his profession, Scoot Henderson is plumbing new depths for the way poorly an NBA participant can play. That he’s stinking so redolently will change how each different small guard prospect is evaluated. It’s means too early to write down him off, however the line between granting him grace and huffing copium is more and more skinny.
Henderson’s stats are uniformly dreadful. Look upon his Basketball Reference page and despair. His -6.2 Estimated Plus-Minus is the worst of any high-minute participant of the final decade. His 45.6 p.c True Capturing is the bottom of any qualifying participant within the league. Draymond Inexperienced at present shoots a greater proportion from 3 (44.2 p.c) than Henderson does on the rim (42.9 p.c). Damian Lillard, Henderson’s predecessor in Portland, may miss his subsequent 120 photographs and nonetheless have a better discipline objective proportion for the season than Henderson. Portland is outscored by 12.3 per 100 possessions when Henderson is on the courtroom.
Thoughts you, previous to the draft, Henderson was hailed as the perfect level guard prospect in years, which made good sense, since he was the perfect level guard prospect in years. By skipping his senior 12 months of highschool to affix the G League Ignite in 2021, Henderson grew to become the youngest skilled basketball participant in fashionable American historical past, leaping straight from eleventh grade to the second-best league in all the world.
Throughout his G League layover, Henderson appeared like a certainty amidst a sea of almosts, averaging 22.9 factors and 6.3 assists per 36 minutes as a 17 and 18 year-old. Though Henderson was an inconsistent shooter, he nonetheless dominated as a result of he was the uncommon guard who, like Russell Westbrook or Ja Morant, may assume as rapidly and powerfully as he moved. At his greatest, he carried the menace of a card shark — his athleticism compelled defenses to tip their hand and reveal primary, circumscribed schemes, for which he had lengthy divined options.
Past the Path Blazers, Henderson’s execrable rookie 12 months is a vital battleground within the NBA’s chilly battle on level guards. Simply because the Warriors dynasty popularized small-ball, the NBA’s present period has recentered the significance of dimension and size. For essentially the most half, the upsizing has centered round energy forwards and facilities, however its materials results have been felt most acutely by the league’s smallest gamers as conventional playmaking duties are hoovered up by their greater friends. Of the 500ish gamers within the NBA, solely 66 (together with Henderson) of them are 6’3″ or shorter, down from 91 in 2014. And of these 66, solely 29 play greater than quarter-hour per sport; then, of these 29, simply 22 have a optimistic EPM.
Accordingly, to be able to thrive as a brief king, you have to be exceptional in ways in which no taller gamers can approximate. Up to now, Henderson hasn’t impressed a lot perception that this specialness is inside his grasp. He’s very explosive, however he’s not De’Aaron Fox or Ja Morant. He’s a intelligent passer, however lacks Trae Younger’s omniscience. He’s artful, however can’t approximate Jalen Brunson’s pivot-y genius. Even energetic, score-first guys like Colin Sexton and Terry Rozier pull from deeper offensive reservoirs than Henderson can entry.
In opposition to NBA competitors, Henderson appears bizarre in ways in which by no means appeared possible throughout his spectacular two-year G League layover. Like print journalism or the music of Elegant, Henderson’s sport was calibrated for a world that not exists. His complete gestalt collapses as soon as he’s not a game-breaking athlete; certain, he’s quick and long-limbed and has shoulders match for the quilt of a romance novel, however most NBA gamers can say the identical.
With out the power to blast his solution to the rim at will, his playmaking is defanged; Henderson can’t exploit rotations if he can’t provoke them within the first place. Equally, his wobbly capturing is now a debilitating weak spot, empowering defenses to sag off him and cordon off the paint. Whereas G-League defenses may solely hope to comprise Henderson’s pick-and-roll sport by way of voodoo or prayer, NBA groups have reliable solutions. Right here, massive males are higher outfitted to stymie him within the paint; the guards are fast sufficient to dart beneath ball-screens and meet him on the opposite aspect.
Within the NBA, each discrete component of the sport is a contemporary battle for Henderson, every minor deficiency compounding to the purpose that success on any given possession is now practically unattainable. Since he can’t shoot, defenders can dangle far sufficient again that he can’t beat them cleanly off the dribble, which implies he has to carve wider, loopier routes to the basket, which implies that he has to complete at extra extreme angles on the rim. And if he can’t reliably put stress on the rim, he can’t create good photographs for himself or his teammates on the rim, which implies he has to rely extra on his iffy jumper.
As such, Henderson is now marooned on a receding shoreline of prospects. He’s not essentially doomed for bust-dom; he merely has a slender, troublesome path to stardom. For Henderson and everyone else who can comfortably fly in coach, excessive greatness is the one solution to obtain goodness.