Tuesday, June 25, 2024

2023 NBA Draft: Five takeaways following two showdowns between Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson in Las Vegas

The second of two head-to-head matchups this week featuring No. 1 prospect Victor Wembanyama and No. 2 prospect Scoot Henderson, the clear (as of now!) prizes of the 2023 NBA Draft class, fizzled a bit late Thursday afternoon with Henderson getting injured in the first half and not returning. But Wembanyama grabbed the spotlight down the stretch in the final exhibition match between his Mets 92 team and the G League Ignite, turning in 36 points and putting on a dazzling display in the process to solidify his standing — in a way LeBron James might put it — as the most intriguing alien of next year’s draft class.

Wembanyama made seven 3s in the first showdown on Tuesday en route to a 37-point eruption and followed it up by nailing just two triples in his encore on Thursday, his second-ever competition on U.S. soil. But from start to finish it was arguably an even more impressive showing than his first. The dream shake, the stepback, the fadeaway, the swat-into-the-stands stuffs — he had a little of everything working. Wembanyana expertly picked apart his defenders on offense and affected nearly everything that came into his space on defense. It was so dominant yet looked so effortless, the hyperbole is sure to reach deafening levels in the aftermath of (another) stunning showing . . . and it’s hard not to agree with most of it. He looks like the generational talent he’s long been billed.

Henderson’s early injury Thursday put a damper on what was unmistakably a great week for both he and Wembanyama, but he also did major damage Tuesday and was off to a great start before getting dinged up. 

There are sure to be some declarative statements made after what we witnessed the last few days — some of which may very well be proven right! — but I will reserve such statements for a later date. I do, though, have some takeaways from what we saw on the court this week (and what it might mean in the months to come). So let’s dive into five takeaways.

1. Henderson dinged up Thursday

G League Ignite got the win over Mets 92 on Tuesday and Henderson had nine assists and 28 points in that effort, but he wasn’t able to try to replicate that showing like Wembanyama after injuring his knee early in the game. Henderson exited after playing just five total minutes and left with one rebound, one assist and an 0-for-2 shooting start. 

The good news is that Henderson after the game was reported to be listed as “day to day.” He has a bone bruise that isn’t considered to linger long-term.

Henderson did very well for himself this week on the whole still. His pace and control of the game on Tuesday was evident late in the contest and he was a huge reason G League Ignite was able to cruise to a win. He emphasized getting his teammates involved, effortlessly controlled tempo and played with such an edge and IQ that he knew precisely when his team needed him to take over.

2. Wembanyama’s defense ➡️ offense 

Here is but a sample of what Wembanyama’s mobility can add to a team dynamic. There are only a handful of players on planet Earth who could do something like he does in this sequence, swatting a shot on one end and then gliding to the other to finish above the rim in transition.

He finished with four blocks, but perhaps more impressively, was a plus-26 (!) in the box score.

3. Stars weigh in

If you’re in the NBA or around the NBA this week, it’s been impossible to ignore the goodness that has come from Scoot and Wembanyama going head-to-head. So, when asked about their takes this week on Wembanyama in particular, stars of the league shared some pretty extensive thoughts. 

First, there was this from LeBron: “Everybody’s been a unicorn over the last few years, but [Wembanyama] is more like an alien.”

Then this, on Thursday morning, from NBA commissioner Adam Silver: “Oh, my. He certainly has all the attributes of a true game-changer. … I know that many of our NBA teams are salivating at the notion that potentially, through our lottery, they could get him, so they should all compete very hard next season.”

Then this from Stephen Curry: “He’s like a 2K create-a-player. Cheat code type vibes. He’s a solid player.”

Finally, there was this from yet another former MVP winner, Giannis Antetokounmpo: “He’s incredible man. I believe in 2045, everybody’s going to look like Victor. The way he can shoot the ball, the way he can move, he’s extremely fast for his size, can block shots, he’s unbelievable. He has the chance to be one of the best to ever play this game. We have never seen something like that before. We gotta get ready for this kid, he’s going to be really good.”

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4. The race for No. 1 

It’s been pretty clear for a while now that Wembanyama was considered the consensus No. 1 over Henderson, but this week further cemented his status in that regard. Yes, Henderson is a great, great prize, but he’s in a class with a generationally good talent at the top ahead of him. It happens!

It’s not over, either, just to be clear. Remember: the draft isn’t until next summer. And Wembanyama has dealt with nagging injuries on and off again the last few years, though nothing that seems chronic or long-term. It’d have to be something catastrophic to knock Wembanyama off course from going No. 1, but when both LeBron and Giannis were asked about him this week, it should be noted that both in their responses clearly emphasized wishing him good health; the longevity of 7-foot-4 unicorns just seems like a total unknown. But right now it’s Wembanyama in his own tier at the top, Henderson just behind him, then everyone else.

5. Wembanyama’s acrobatics

Just . . . look at this.

Or this:

It is laughable just how good Wembanyama is. The body control, the movement, the skill, the length, the production: he checks all the boxes. Every one of them. 

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