EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The arrival of college basketball usually starts the countdown to the next NBA Draft, but this year’s draft cycle started earlier than usual thanks in part to the G League Ignite.
Projected top two picks Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson’s showdown kicked off the festivities in Henderson, Nevada last month and did something that can feel impossible in draft discussions — live up to the hype.
Now, Ignite is settling into its first ever regular season. Unlike before, the team is eligible for the G League Championship, although the 50-game schedule seems more geared towards providing the Ignite prospects with something even closer to the professional grind.
This Ignite generation is led by projected number two pick Scoot Henderson and features a record seven draft-eligible prospects. Three games in, here are some very early season thoughts.
G League Ignite: Scoot Henderson’s start
Scoot Henderson is still my projected second overall pick in the 2023 draft and I don’t expect that to change before next summer.
Henderson is as good as advertised. The Ignite point guard plays like a veteran in the midrange and makes impressive pick-and-roll reads that should turn into assists even more once he’s in the league. It’s early days but Scoot might have made another step-up with his playmaking — more games are needed to confirm, though.
So far this season, Henderson is stuffing the stat sheet with 25 points, five rebounds, and six assists in 30 minutes a night. That’s only two games in, but I’d expect his figures to remain around that given his talent level and featured role.
Henderson’s efficiency has dropped to below 40 percent from the field, but that can’t be considered a red flag with such a small sample size. It’s something to monitor with the caveat of the early adjustments that come with playing a bigger role on offense.
Going forward, I’m still looking for more threes from Henderson. The percentage is up (25 percent after 17 percent last season). Yet, I’m looking at his attempts per game — just two — and the fact that just 6 percent of Henderson’s points come from deep. That’s lower than in his first Ignite season.
To be clear, Henderson is so good that this doesn’t matter most nights. At the next level, this lack of outside shooting might not be a problem if he’s surrounded by snipers. But it’s also worth keeping in mind that few NBA point guards have Scoot’s shot diet.
Still, Ignite needs Henderson in the half-court. He was a last minute scratch on Monday against the South Bay Lakers because of slight quad discomfort, the team told me, and his absence was palpable on the court. (Henderson is not injured, but the move to rest him out of precaution made sense on Ignite’s first ever back-to-back.)
No one was capable of generating advantages for Ignite as often as Henderson. The team struggled to get into a rhythm and create easy looks against South Bay’s set defense.
Although Scoot scores little threes himself, he creates space and good shots from deep with how easily he gets into the paint. Henderson keeps the offense moving and is always there as an emergency exit if a possession breaks down. He can get to the rim or into his pull-up practically at will.
Finally, I’ve also liked his defense this season. His step forward started in Vegas against Metropolitans 92 and has carried into the G League. Henderson should primarily be known for his offense, but he’s capable of becoming a two-way guard with his tools, athleticism, and improving instincts.
G League Ignite: Mo King, Mo Problems
Mojave King has boosted his stock as much as any Ignite prospect despite his signing being met with little fanfare.
The New Zealand native’s trajectory until now speaks to how Ignite’s recruitment has evolved since the project’s inception. Certainly, King is not the type of big name signing that Jalen Green or Jonathan Kuminga were two years ago.
King’s development started in Canberra, Australia at the NBA Global Academy, which has recently produced lottery picks Josh Giddey and Dyson Daniels. King then signed a Next Stars deal with the Australian NBL, again like Giddey or fellow lotto pick LaMelo Ball, but he never carved out a role down under despite his high potential.
In all fairness, King’s circumstances in the NBL were atypical for a prospect his age. He first played for the worst team in the league and, after switching clubs, was then stuck behind established veterans for most of last season. Really, this is the 20-year-old’s first time with guaranteed rotation minutes as a pro.
That said, I’ve been watching King since he was 17 and he’s never played with the confidence he has right now. I’m sure the minutes help, but he also has a defined role that plays to his strengths — spacing the floor and defending at the point of attack. Those are fundamental parts of his NBA outlook if he gets drafted.
It’s a tiny sample size, but King is shooting more triples than ever at six a game. The hope is that his 33% from deep goes up too, but I’m also interested in how he’s getting those shots. King’s easier looks come when he spots up, but he’s also pulling up out of hand-offs and sprinting into threes.
I got a different look at King on Monday in El Segundo when he played the South Bay Lakers.
Scoot Henderson was a last minute absence, which meant that King was among those who took on larger creation duties. I don’t expect NBA teams to ask that from him down the line, but any glimpses of pull-up shooting or secondary playmaking to counter being run off the perimeter will help King as we roll towards the next draft.
Broadly, I see him as an athletic 3-and-D guard who can defend both backcourt positions and smaller wings while needing few touches on offense. As of today, I think King is starting to play himself into mid-to-late second round contention.
G League Ignite: Breaking down the new signings
Senegal wing Babacar Sane and Jamaican guard London Johnson have signed for Ignite since the team’s season started. Both are getting some run early on.
Sane and Johnson are on similar deals to Scoot Henderson’s. They signed with Ignite for two seasons and are eligible for the 2024 NBA Draft, which allows the team to take an even longer view on their development. In my eyes, this is the right move because both can benefit from some extra seasoning for slightly different reasons.
Johnson, who is one of the first guards off the bench for coach Jason Hart, is likely the prospect on the team in need of the most physical development. However, people rave about him as a hard worker and he clearly has touch extending out to very deep. That should eventually translate.
Sane is Ignite’s first ever signing from the NBA Academy Africa in Saly, Senegal. He also played in the Basketball Africa League last season and has represented his national team at basically every level. Patience is prudent since Sane has to adjust to a different country, culture, and style of basketball.
However, it seems like Ignite sees him in a similar light to Sidy Cissoko. Both came into the program having mostly played in the backcourt and are now used at the 3 or even the 4 given their wing size. At this stage of his development, Sane is at his best in transition and on defense but the game really needs to slow down for him still.