Fans tuned in Tuesday night for possibly the most hyped draft prospect the NBA has seen since LeBron James when French international prospect Victor Wembanyama of the Metropolitans 92 faced off against Scoot Henderson of the G League Ignite.
Wembanyama appeared confident while speaking to reporters about the battle for the number one pick between himself and Henderson, who some see as his only challenge in the explosive guard.
“If I was never born I think [Henderson] would deserve the first spot,” Wembanyama stated, setting the stage for a competitive matchup for years to come.
Although the league and fans worldwide have been hyping up the French seven-foot-five prospect, Henderson has also garnered intrigue from scouts. Henderson has been compared to Ja Morant and Derrick Rose in recognition of his explosiveness as a smaller guard; his performance on Tuesday night supported such comparisons.
In a back-and-forth matchup, Henderson finished with 28 points in a 112–115 victory against Metropolitans 92, displaying impressive athleticism and composure. Wembanyama made sure to show out as well, shooting fadeaway jumpers from three and getting multiple dunks, ultimately finishing with 37 points.
Before seeing the two prospects matchup, teams have already made strides to retool their rosters and garner picks with young talent, especially given the possibility of landing franchise-altering stars. One team showing promise of landing one of the stars is the Utah Jazz, who traded away franchise cornerstones Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Donovan Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers in an effort to begin rebuilding their team.
This move is similar to what the Oklahoma City Thunder decided to do in 2019 when they traded away Paul George and Russel Westbrook to rebuild the franchise. Amid such reconstruction efforts, the Thunder landed Chef Holmgren in this year’s draft. Holmgren is viewed as a “unicorn” prospect and has garnered comparisons to the Washington Wizards power forward Kristaps Porziņģis — or even Wembanyama, before last year’s draft.
Holmgren also showed out during the NBA Summer League and Pro-AM leagues across the U.S. alongside other stars. However, he suffered an injury in one of those games which is likely to keep him out this season. The seven-foot-two Gonzaga star’s injury now has fans speculating that the Thunder could land Wembanyama and have the best young team in the coming years. This move could create one of the most hyped forward and center duos since the Tim Duncan and David Robinson’s San Antonio Spurs run, which saw their team bring home two championships.
ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski, one of the most touted reporters in the NBA, tweeted following Tuesday’s game, “One GM tells ESPN: It feels like last night will start a race to the bottom like we’ve never seen.”
After Tuesday night, there was speculation that Wembanyama would shut down his season to have more draft security. However, this was quickly debunked in a statement released by his agent to ESPN on Wednesday which informed fans and scouts that he would continue to play this season.
Wembanyama followed up Tuesday’s performance during a rematch against Henderson on Thursday with a win in another dominant 36-point outing, along with eleven rebounds and four blocks. However, the G League Ignite guard was injured after colliding with Wembanyama in the first quarter and had to leave the game prematurely. Henderson did not return to the game, but it is believed he only had a minor injury and was pulled as a precaution.
Knowing what fans and those within the NBA have seen this week, the hype for Wembanyama is clear. Richard Jefferson, a former teammate of LeBron James, said he thinks, “Lebron James would be number two if he was the exact same age coming into the exact same draft,” which had fans buzzing all over social media.
This year’s finals MVP Steph Curry added in a press conference, “[Wembanyama’s] like a [NBA] 2k create-a-player,” which was a reference to his video game-like height and skill.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver brought light to the situation and the possibility of teams tanking for the French prospect.
“I know that many of our NBA teams are salivating at the notion that potentially, through our lottery, that they could get [Wembanyama], so they should all still compete very hard this season,” Silver said.
Silver’s comments stress that he will not allow teams to tank in the future; perhaps this is one of his biggest tests yet as NBA commissioner.
The NBA draft will happen once the 2023 season is completed, so organizations, fans and players will have to wait and see if they land one of the most intriguing prospects in NBA history.