Even with the NBA preseason ramping up and four games scheduled in the Association on Tuesday evening, the eyes of many basketball observers were trained on the Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nevada. The venue is the new home of the G League Ignite, and it also hosted the first of two exhibition matchups against Metropolitans 92. The contests are made-for-tv (and scouting) events pitting the top two prospects in the 2023 NBA Draft against one another, and both Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson fueled the imagination and vigor of fans, scouts, and league personnel.
Wembanyama is the widely projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 draft, and the big man is listed at 7’3 with a wingspan approaching eight feet. The 18-year-old is also blessed with a unique profile that includes ball-handling, shooting on the move, and elite rim protection, and Wembanyama showed the whole package in the early going.
Within the first handful of minutes, the visiting uber-prospect executed an impressive isolation move to the rim, knocked down a pull-up three, and also rejected a shot in memorable fashion.
Wembanyama then went on to show the little things that he can do with a sequence displaying his defensive aptitude in space. He followed that with a ho-hum finish of a lob dunk, and Wembanyama finished the first half with nine points (despite three fouls) and plenty of flash plays.
On the other side, Henderson was the story of the first half, finishing with 18 points in fewer than 13 minutes on the floor. He began the scoring with a pull-up jumper and flashed a wonderful finishing package.
Henderson, a 6’2 guard from Marietta, Georgia, is playing his second season with G League Ignite, and he certainly appears to be ready to roll. His second-quarter performance included a huge dunk in transition following a steal he created, and Henderson also showcased his nifty ball-handling ability with a finish over Wembanyama’s outstretched arms.
Following the halftime break, both prospects kept it going. It was Wembanyama drawing first blood, this time with a flurry of jumpers, both with his feet set and on the move.
Henderson continued to dig into his bag of tricks, including a moment in which he slammed on the breaks, creating a fly-by situation and finishing in the lane.
Still, the third quarter belonged to Wembanyama. After Henderson had the better statistical showing in the first half, Wembanyama erupted for 17 points in fewer than nine minutes, pairing his long-range shooting with a varied and effective face-up game and bringing Metropolitans 92 back into the game after a double-digit deficit.
Metropolitans 92 trailed by as many as 22 points in the first half, only to come all the way back to take the lead in the fourth quarter. That comeback bid was thwarted by G League Ignite, though, and Henderson strung together a sequence with a three-pointer and a gorgeous pocket pass to extend his team’s lead back to seven.
While his team went down, Wembanyama did not slow down his individual brilliance down the stretch. Henderson attempted to finish over him before a Wembanyama rejection, and he continued to flash his shooting ability.
All told, G League Ignite managed to pick up a 122-115 victory but, no matter the result on the scoreboard, Wembanyama and Henderson absolutely blew away even the most outsized expectations. Wembanyama further cemented his status as a potentially generational prospect, finishing with 37 points (on 11-for-20 from the floor and 7-for-11 from three-point range) and five blocks. Henderson was also exceptional, producing 28 points, nine assists, and five rebounds in the process of affirming his status as the top challenger to Wembanyama at the top of the draft board.
Basketball enthusiasts can look forward to another matchup between Wembanyama and Henderson on Thursday, further kickstarting a months-long conversation about which prospect should land at No. 1 overall. With other high-end talents like twins Amen and Ausar Thompson of Overtime Elite also in the mix, things are heating up considerably at this very early stage, but the focus will seemingly be on Wembanyama’s unbelievable potential and the more traditional appeal of a do-everything guard like Henderson, with plenty of fun along the way.