The past few weeks in the NBA have been filled with players like Lance Stephenson, Isaiah Thomas, Mario Chalmers and DeMarcus Cousins, and more than 100 G League players signing 10-day contracts. It's all thanks to the new hardship rule due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
One player you won't hear getting called up, even though many teams would love to, is 17-year-old Scoot Henderson from the G League Ignite.
"The only thing holding Scoot back from getting a chance in the league right now is his age," one NBA team scout told Yahoo Sports. "I'm sure there's a lot of teams out there wishing they could add him to their roster right now, he's that good."
As a junior at Kell High School in Marietta, Georgia, Henderson, a five-star prospect, made the bold move to reclassify a year up and sign with the G League Ignite, becoming the youngest player to sign with a G League team. Because of his age, Henderson won't qualify for the NBA draft until he's 19. He reportedly signed a two-year contract for $1 million. The 6-foot-4 point guard chose the professional route over Kansas, Kentucky, Auburn, Alabama, Florida and other colleges.
"The G League was the best option for me and just developing my game more and getting better going up against professionals," Henderson told Yahoo Sports last June. "I'm excited to get to work and learn from my teammates and coaches, and have two years to settle into the pace and spacing of the NBA game."
The past two summers, Henderson has traveled to Las Vegas to work out at Impact Basketball with trainer Joe Abunassar, who has trained top draft prospects for 25 years.
Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Garnett, Chauncey Billups, Kristaps Porzingis, Myles Turner, Tyrese Haliburton, Malachi Flynn and Ziaire Williams all trained with Abunassar and his staff while gearing up for the draft. At just 16, Henderson entered the gym while Haliburton, Flynn and Josh Green, all first-round draft picks, were working out and was ready to go.
"Within the first 10 minutes he was on the court, I was like, 'Whoa this kid is pretty good,' " Abunassar told Yahoo Sports. "Physically, for a kid his age, he was just a strong body and then you add speed and control around the rim, he's something special."
Henderson spent two weeks at Impact that first summer, and what impressed Abunassar the most was his work ethic.
"A lot of young kids come to work out with us during the summers and they kind of get overwhelmed by the pro schedule: morning and afternoon workouts, weights, nutrition," Abunassar added. "Scoot had no problem. He's a hard worker, very skilled and checks all the boxes for an NBA pro. He matches the intensity level of whoever is on the court, and that's not a very common thing for a young player to be able to do that."
Newly signed G League Ignite guard Scoot Henderson working out with NBA draft prospects in Las Vegas. Henderson became the first player to sign a 2-year deal with the Ignite and will play alongside Jaden Hardy and Mike Foster next year. pic.twitter.com/HCE604rWp7
— Krysten Peek (@krystenpeek) June 7, 2021
Scoot Henderson dominating G League among older players
Henderson arrived to Walnut Creek, California, in August to begin his professional career on the G League Ignite team under new head coach Jason Hart.
"When I saw him the first time in a workout, it shocked me," Hart told Yahoo Sports. "So now in a game I'm like, 'What are you going to do next?' And it doesn't really shock me anymore. His game is so mature for a player his age. He's getting better daily, and he's a player that wants to get better."
Henderson is playing alongside 2022 NBA draft prospects Jaden Hardy, Dyson Daniels, MarJon Beauchamp and Michael Foster. He was sidelined the first three games with a cracked rib he suffered during the preseason and returned to the court in mid-November.
It was his second game back against the Santa Cruz Warriors that got everyone's attention. Every NBA team had a scout in the building as Henderson looked well beyond his years, finishing with 31 points on 10-of-15 shooting, six rebounds, five assists and three steals.
"He's strong with the ball and has another level most players don't have," one scout said after seeing Henderson play. "If he's playing like this as a teenager in the G League, I can't wait to see the player he becomes at the NBA level."
The scouting report is out, and Henderson has found ways to adjust to defenses and positively impact the game. He had his first double-double (19 points, 10 assists) last week in a loss to the Mexico City Capitanes.
"I'm loving it so far," Henderson told Yahoo Sports. "I'm loving the ups and downs and that's what builds you as a player and your character, honestly. As I play more, I think the pace will slow down for me and my mindset will slow down and I'll be able to read things better."
— NBA G League (@nbagleague) January 8, 2022
Where Henderson is projected in 2023 NBA draft
Henderson might not be getting a call-up to play in the NBA right now, but if he continues down this path, he'll hear his name called toward the top of the 2023 draft.
"I try to treat it like I'm going into the draft this year, that's how I look at it and how I'm trying to play this season," Henderson said.
There aren't a ton of great lead guards in the 2022 draft class. Projected toward the top of the draft are forwards/centers Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren, Jalen Duren and shooting guards Jaden Ivey, Johnny Davis and Hardy. The desire for a lead guard to build a franchise around becomes more appealing and knowing Henderson will be there already has many teams looking forward to the following year's draft.
Some early 2023 NBA mock drafts have Henderson as a top-three pick. Where does Henderson think he'll hear his name called?
"No. 1. I think I'm the best player in my draft class," Henderson told Yahoo Sports without any hesitation. "Just in how unique I am, how poised I am on the court and confident. LaMelo [Ball] is a prime example. He came in acting like he'd been in the league for three years and that's how I want to be."
"I'm rolling with him, he'll be No. 1," Hart told Yahoo Sports. "That's the goal, and we're going to work on making him the No. 1 pick."
The early success as a teenager in the G League means Henderson could be the next great point guard to take over the NBA. He watches a lot of film on Chris Paul, Jrue Holiday and Ja Morant and tries to draw different things from their game.
"He reminds me of a young Derrick Rose," Hart added. "And I say that watching Derrick Rose in high school and in college. He's on that same trajectory. I think at the NBA level he has a potential to be an All-Star. His dreams are far exceeding what I'm telling you he's going to be because you can see how he works, so the sky's the limit for him."
It will be nearly two more years until we see Henderson play his first NBA game. He still has another summer to work out with Abunassar and draft prospects in Las Vegas, and continue to improve his already impressive skills. In the meantime, Henderson will continue to dominate professionals — some, twice his age — in the G League.