The Portland Trail Blazers will enter the 2023-24 season with a changing, or fully-changed, starting lineup. Point guard Scoot Henderson—the third overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft—is expected to assume a prominent role immediately. Long-time franchise cornerstone Damian Lillard appears to be on his way out the door.
This creates an unprecedented situation for the Blazers, at least during Lillard’s 11-year tenure with the team. Dame started from Day 1. The team has been built around him. But he and Henderson are completely different players. How might that affect Portland’s evolution heading into the future?
This is the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
I’m not worried at all about Scoot taking over the team. It was a smart move to get him. I am worried about the pieces around him. The team still seems unbalanced and I don’t know if there’s enough matching talent here yet. If you were to build a team around Scoot, what would it look like? How many of the Blazers now would stay?
For purposes of the question, at least for now, let’s assume that we’re getting the current Scoot Henderson for the foreseeable future. He’s athletic, can defend some, and is pretty amazing when driving to the cup. He can pass too. He’s not got a long-range shot, though.
It’d be all too easy to anticipate him developing his three-point game. That’d open up a world of possibilities. It’d also make this question moot as Henderson would then become more of an “anytime, with anyone” player. The limitations give the discussion more texture, so we’re keeping them.
Two words are going to dominate this discussion on offense: space and options. We’ve got to give both to Scoot in order to maximize his potential. Ideally, the lineup around him would provide both without sacrificing on the defensive end.
At shooting guard, I think I can get away with a traditional three-point shooter. I don’t need a ton of ball-handling or hyper-athleticism. I want a guy who can hit a catch-and-shoot three without blinking, providing a constant threat that keeps the defense home on that side of the floor. I want a little height, though. 6’6 would be ideal. I’d like to switch a lot on defense, which requires some size from all players involved outside of Henderson himself. I can hide Scoot on a switch, particularly given his athleticism. I don’t want to be scratching my head trying to avoid getting bowled over with a pair of 6’2 guards on the floor.
I’m sacrificing a little defense for shooting skill at the two spot because I’m going with a traditional three-and-D small forward. Like our shooting guard, our three needs to have range to keep opponents from collapsing to the lane on Scoot. He’s also going to carry weight on those defensive switches and doubling from the perimeter. The more athletic he is, the better, as I see him and Henderson creating all kinds of chaos on sneaky doubles and traps. 6’6 or above too, please, with 6’7 or 6’8 being ideal.
The small forward would also become the secondary ball-handler when the defense was committed to keeping the rock out of Scoot’s hands. I need my three to be able to drive to the hoop and get his own shot.
That just leaves our bigs. Either the power forward or center could fill the role I’m about to describe, but to simplify things, let’s go with power forward.
I want my four to be a pick and roll/pick and pop player. He’s going to bring a defender close to Henderson at the initial point of attack with a screen. This seems counter-intuitive, since we want to create more space for Scoot, but you know defenders are going to meet our young star somewhere. Setting a screen up high concentrates the defense on the perimeter. If Henderson can get past the initial pair of defenders (his own and the power forward’s), the floor is wide open for him below that top layer of defense. That’s what we want. If the pick is solid, Scoot’s athleticism and direction-changing ability are plenty good enough to get him where he needs to go.
In order to make that work, though, our power forward needs to be a threat on the pop shot. Otherwise both defenders are going to play back against the drive. A face-up jumper from mid-range is a must. Think classic Blazers LaMarcus Aldridge and you’ll get the idea. If our four can also roll down the lane with Scoot occasionally, so much the better.
Between these four players, you’ve created quite a puzzle for defenses trying to solve Henderson. With the wings spreading the floor at the three-point arc, Scoot and the power forward are free to run screen action in the middle to their heart’s content. If their defenders leave either one alone, its an automatic bucket. If the defenders switch or stay home, Scoot gets a one-on-one drive opportunity, perhaps with a big power forward rolling beside him. If any other defenders come to help, Scoot gets to flick a quick pass to the perimeter for a triple. Simple, effective, devastating.
That just leaves our center. I don’t need him much for offense, so I’m going to go with tall, agile, and athletic as his primary traits. I want him to be able to cut to the rim if his defender goes to help in the middle of the floor, leaving Scoot a huge alley-oop target for morale-busting slams. I wouldn’t mind a little offensive rebounding either. But I want my center to be my utility defender on the other end, able to cover the whole floor quickly and block shots, at least from the help position. When he gets a rebound, I want him to spin and get it to Scoot as quickly as possible. Give or take a shooting guard, the players we’ve just described should be pretty decent on the break. Fast points are always welcome.
I’d take a center and power forward who were both 6’11. I’d give up an inch at the four spot if necessary. I’d also take one or two at the five if I could.
I think this kind of lineup would give Henderson a good foundation for his start. The basketball would be basic, almost classic, but Scoot should fit in immediately and begin to grow with every rep on the court. The team could probably net some wins too. In a couple years, with more bench prowess, who knows?
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