Portland Trail Blazers rookie Scoot Henderson has had an undistinguished season measured against the expectations placed upon him as the #3 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. 12.2 points, 4.6 assists, and 3.0 turnovers in 26.4 minutes per game don’t exactly scream “star material”. Less so 37.0% shooting from the field and 30.6% from the three-point arc.
But not all is as it seems. Henderson has turned in strong performances in recent weeks, including a 22-point outing on 56% shooting, 3-4 from the arc, in Portland’s last game versus the Philadelphia 76’ers.
That performance, and a couple more like it, have rekindled hope for the young guard. That’s the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
Scoot scored 20 against the 76ers and hit threes! Is this a sign he’s turned the infamous corner? Should we expect to have a functional point guard soon? I’m a devotee so please say yes!
Look, I’m not sure we’ve got a full yes yet, but I’m going to give you a few reasons to sparkle over Scoot.
Yes, Henderson’s three-point shot is becoming more regular. He’s over 30% for the season now, a near-miracle considering where he started. (Anybody remember the 8.9% days?) But I’m not banking on that yet. It’s a streaky skill when under development and he’s a streaky player.
Scoot’s point-guarding is getting better. Passes are starting to get through instead of falling into the hands of opponents. Turnovers are coming down, though there are still too many. Defense is a work in progress. Sometimes he’s good, but he still misses plays. I have wondered a couple times whether Chauncey Billups was calling a timeout just because of Scoot. That’s not a good suspicion to have.
But let’s get real. Henderson is still a rookie, still under 21, and had zero college experience coming into the league. All of the things above are part of the package. Just as crucially, all of the things above, if corrected, would turn him into a serviceable point guard, not necessarily a great one. When you’re drafted third overall, excellence is mandatory.
Let’s assume that, over time, the basic gaps in Henderson’s game will fill in, including shooting proficiency, playmaking, and defense. Once that happens, the unique parts of his game will become clearer. He’s showing some of those even now.
Henderson absorbs contact on the drive like a champ. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him knocked off course. Heck, he barely even deviates. When any defenders short of a bulky center hit him, they bounce back. That’s not just amazing, it’s scary.
Henderson’s change of direction ability is amazing. I remember being floored by Brandon Roy’s ability to move 90 degrees to the right or left effortlessly. Scoot doesn’t have Roy’s repertoire of shots, but he changes directions 180 degrees in a blink. Sometimes he’ll drive, bull his way right-to-left in a way that has defenders scrambling, then suddenly he’ll be moving the opposite direction faster than you (or they) can track. He’s basically a video game glitch. Combined with the ability to change tempo, that mobility could make him a terror.
The most recent development happened in the Philadelphia game you reference. Amid the fourth-quarter threes, he hit a couple pull-up shots in the lane that had me flying out of my seat.
Most NBA guards have some kind of floater in the arsenal. They drive, slow down before they reach a defender, then go up with a soft shot one-handed. It’s a finesse move, requiring space and timing both in execution and release.
Against Philly, Scoot did something I’ve hardly seen before. He hard-charged into the lane, then rose at full speed into a near-perfect vertical, and while still drifting towards the bucket swished a picture-perfect jumper right around the foul line area. And he did it twice.
Anyone who’s tried shooting with momentum towards the bucket can tell you that’s an incredibly hard feat to pull off.
Executing a fade-away shot simply requires you to shoot harder. It’s the same basic idea as a normal shot, just with a little more “oomph” behind it. Piece of cake.
Most players, when executing a pull-up jumper on a drive, come to a complete stop and then go vertical. That nullifies their forward momentum, allowing them to shoot normally.
Critically, both the fade-away and pull-up take an extra beat to execute, allowing defenses to respond.
Shooting a jump shot while still sailing towards the basket gives a retreating defender no chance to adjust. It’s a lightning-quick attempt. But it’s tricky as heck. It requires the shooter to ease back off the shot while body and ball are both hurtling forward. It tries to deny, or at least compensate for, the law of physics that says a released object will retain the momentum it had before the release. Almost inevitably, the attempt fails as the ball goes way long. The faster you’re going as you take the shot, the harder it is to make it work.
Scoot not only swished those shots, he did it at full speed, quick as a hiccup, with his normal jump shot form, two times in a row. I was floored. The combination of athleticism, touch, and unconscious surety he displayed in those attempts was incredible.
100% of the time, defenders are going to be charging backwards when he pulls up for that shot, expecting him to continue to the hoop instead. It’s the kind of move that, combined with drive-and-finish ability, could make him unstoppable.
Plays like that make Henderson stand out, for potential if nothing else. Those are the moments that make you hope the Blazers have a future star on their hands, a unique player, not just a buff version of a normal point guard.
Obviously Scoot has a long ways to go, but the candle you’re holding out for him is not in vain. He’s flashing little signs amid the big learning curve. We’re just going to have to see whether, and how quickly, they develop. Every NBA player has some kind of spark. Let’s hope Henderson’s blossoms into a flame.
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