The Portland Trail Blazers kick off their Las Vegas Summer League schedule today against the Houston Rockets. Friday’s matchup will serve as a distraction from the ongoing Damian Lillard trade request saga and provide fans with an introductory look at Scoot Henderson in a Blazers jersey. With the latter in mind, let’s examine what to watch for when it comes to Henderson’s debut in red and black.
Rising to the Competition
Portland’s opening four-game run in Las Vegas presents a quartet of interesting matchups for Henderson. In the opening game, the Rockets feature a pair of interesting backcourt matchups. Amen Thompson, who was selected at No. 4 after Henderson, boasts similar eye-popping athleticism and he possesses a 6-7 frame. For those that are worried about Henderson’s height, going toe-to-toe with Thompson should generate early feedback.
Outside of Thompson, I’m interested to see how much time Jalen Lecque will see on the floor for the Rockets. Lecque was billed as a hyper-athletic downhill threat when he was drafted by the Suns in 2019. On the defensive end, I’m excited to see if Henderson can contain an explosive guard.
In the next three games, matchups with Blake Wesley (San Antonio Spurs), James Bouknight (Charlotte Hornets), Anthony Black (Orlando Magic), and Tyger Campbell (Magic) should all present learning opportunities for Henderson.
Control the Pace
Summer League features a ton of direct drives to the basket with little ball movement. Henderson is perfectly equipped to thrive in that environment. However, if Henderson is going to take the keys to the Blazers kingdom, it would be nice to see his decision making in halfcourt sets.
As The Ringer’s J. Kyle Mann pointed out in his video deep dive into Henderson, the former G League Ignite guard has worked on slowing down the action. I don’t expect Henderson to match JD Davison’s 8.2 assists per game average from last summer, but it would be nice for the Blazers rookie to maintain a favorable assist to turnover ratio.
Henderson can bolster his assist numbers and keep his turnovers in check by avoiding problem areas. Like most young guards, Henderson must avoid driving to the baseline and leaving his feet before he has a target in mind. I’m also interested to see how Henderson maximizes the space he generates. Will he use open areas for his own shot, or will he find an open teammate?
The Blazers have a strong history of lottery-selected rookies putting up big numbers in Las Vegas. Is Henderson destined to join that list? Both Jerryd Bayless and Damian Lillard led all scorers during their debut Summer League appearances. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Anfernee Simons posted a modest 11 points per game in his first trip to Las Vegas.
I certainly believe Henderson can post numbers similar to Bayless and Lillard, but the presence of Shaedon Sharpe could curb some of that output. Simons shared backcourt minutes with Gary Trent Jr. and Wade Baldwin IV (who was only two years removed from being the No. 17 pick at that point). Both Bayless and Lillard were the clear-cut backcourt leaders on their respective summer league squads.
Even with Sharpe on the floor, the emphasis on isolation scoring and open-floor action should allow Henderson to post solid numbers over the next 10 days.