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3 Ways in Which Scoot Henderson’s Game is Improving

The rookie campaign has been spotty, but we’re seeing growth.

Portland Trail Blazers v LA Clippers Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images

Portland Trail Blazers guard Scoot Henderson posted a career-high 19 points on Monday night versus the Los Angeles Clippers, shooting 8-16 from the field while attacking the halfcourt like it was his own, personal football field.

This marked his 8th game since returning from injury. Henderson has shot 40% or better from the field in 5 of those games, committed 3 or fewer turnovers in 6, and scored in double figures in 5. He’s even shot 40% or better from three-point range 4 times. These may seem like modest achievements, but compared to some of his worst outings so far as a rookie, they’re a godsend.

The recent uptick has not gone without notice, as this reader notes in the Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.

Dave!

Scoot just scored a career high and he’s looking better and better to my untrained eyes. Do you think he’s arriving as we speak? Is it time for his critics to admit they buried him too quickly?

Paul

There’s plenty to celebrate. Henderson’s court reads, decision-making, and shot making have all shown marked improvement since his return from injury. He’s unlikely to look brilliant, scoring 19 points per game from here on out, though. Rookie progress is like the tide. It’s going to go in and out. You have to measure in large swaths of time. Don’t ask how fast and big this wave is. After it goes out, is the waterline higher than it was before? If so, that’s a step ahead.

I like to point out the things that have been there pretty much from the beginning with Scoot.

Portland’s defense doesn’t suffer with him in the lineup. You already know what a critical failure at the guard spot looks like. It’s not just one player screwing up. A hole in the defense cascades into a breach. All of a sudden it looks like nobody can defend, because the opponent just pours around any defenders still standing. Henderson looks pretty good defensively, but just as importantly, everyone around him looks effective as well. You don’t see the Blazers falling apart when he enters the game. Most times, you can’t tell a difference. That’s a strong recommendation for a young player.

Scoot’s confidence remains strong too, a point of emphasis for him, stated by coaches and teammates alike. He’s made more mistakes on offense than anybody wants to see. He’s still not hesitating. He’s making errors of commission, not omission. Without that swagger, we would not have seen the recent surge in his performance.

I’m starting to like Scoot’s use of, and defense of, screens more. At the beginning of the season, it felt like he was processing pick plays in real time, hesitating and telegraphing his read. Now it feels like he comes off screens cleaner and quicker, which probably means he’s reading the court farther out and anticipating opponent actions instead of trying to decipher them as he dribbles. Ditto on the defensive end. His analysis of the action and/or communication looks more synced up with teammates than we were seeing earlier. I’m starting to not notice Scoot on defense more, which paradoxically is a good sign.

Think of all of this like the underbody parts of a nice sports car. We know Henderson has a big engine and a fine chassis. Without the spark plugs gapped right, the carburetor tuned, and the transmission hooked up, it’s just a lot of revving noise in the showroom. Scoot will look great on those poke-away steals no matter what. Watching his game grow around those highlight moments is encouraging.

I think critics are right that maybe we shouldn’t have to be talking this way about a third-overall pick that was heralded as a potential number one overall. Many prized rookies come ready-made. But that hardly matters. You don’t draft theoretical players. You get the guy you’ve got and work with it. Measured against Scoot Henderson, Scoot Henderson is doing pretty well right now and appears to be progressing towards a solid NBA game. 22 games into the team’s season, 13 into his (due to injury), that’s not a bad thing.

Thanks for the question! You can send yours to blazersub@gmail.com and we’ll try to get to as many as we can!