Portland Trail Blazers guard Scoot Henderson, coach Chauncey Billups are already creating a bond
The 2023 No. 3 draft pick has a valuable mentor and head coach in the five-time All-Star
LAS VEGAS – At 46 years old and nearly 20 years removed from winning an NBA championship, Portland Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups believes most young players have very little knowledge of his respected playing career. Occasionally, however, there are exceptions like heralded Blazers draft pick Scoot Henderson, as “Mr. Big Shot” learned during a recent dinner.
“I asked him, honestly, like, ‘How does it feel to be Chauncey Billups?’ ” Henderson told Andscape. “That’s crazy. I’m sitting in front of an NBA Finals MVP. It’s crazy.”
Said Billups to Andscape: “He knows more than most of the guys his age about what I have done.”
The Blazers selected Henderson with the third overall pick in the 2023 NBA draft. The former G League Ignite star was the highest-rated point guard in the draft and was considered for the second overall selection by the Charlotte Hornets. With a trade request by Blazers star guard Damian Lillard expected to be fulfilled, 19-year-old Henderson could soon be the new face of the franchise.
Henderson, who is expected to make his NBA summer league debut Friday against the Houston Rockets (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) believes it was God’s destiny that he ended up in Portland to be groomed by Billups. And Billups is equally excited to help mold the willing-to-listen-and-learn teenager into a star.
“He is chasing greatness, and when he gets there, he is going to find something else to chase,” said Billups, who is in his third season as Portland’s coach. “That is already who he is. That is his mojo. That is his superpower.”
Henderson and Billups were both basketball phenoms before turning 20 years old. After forgoing his senior year in high school, Henderson played two seasons for the G League Ignite. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound guard averaged 16.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 6.5 assists in 19 regular-season games this past season against NBA players and prospects. Billups was impressed by Henderson’s ability to “lead men already” in the G League and how the league prepared him for the NBA.
While Henderson has been a Blazer only since June 22, Billups believes he has the makeup of a budding superstar with what he has seen in summer league practices and workouts.
“He is just one of those guys that has that ‘it’ factor,” Billups said. “He is charismatic. He is obviously ultratalented. He is a tireless worker. You have to keep him out of the gym and get him some rest. He studies the game. He just wants to be great.”
Despite Henderson’s familiarity with Billups’ successes on the court, the former NBA journeyman didn’t think Henderson was familiar with his early struggles. Billups was a McDonald’s All American who became a consensus second-team All-American during his sophomore season at the University of Colorado. Like Henderson, Billups was also selected third overall when he was picked in the 1997 NBA draft by the Boston Celtics.
Billups, however, struggled on the court and with injuries during the first three seasons of his NBA career between Boston, the Toronto Raptors, Denver Nuggets and the Orlando Magic. It wasn’t until Billups had a breakthrough with the Minnesota Timberwolves during the 2001-02 season that he finally solidified his career.
Billups hopes to ensure that Henderson doesn’t have struggles early on in the NBA like he did.
“I’m going to be for him what I needed,” Billups said. “What I needed at that time was a coach that was going to be patient and believe in what I was trying to do, a coach that has been through a lot of this stuff that I’m about to see and speak to me from experience. And I had none of those. I had to just kind of do it and find it on my own. And it didn’t work, and I’d go on to the next city. I didn’t have that luxury. I’m going to be for him what I needed at that time when I was the third pick of the draft like he is …
“I tell people all the time that there were lots of players in the league that struggled early. The outlier for me was that I was always a humble, good dude. When you carry yourself a certain way, you always get another chance. There was no reason to throw me away. So, that to me always gave me the opportunity to stick around and work it out. God had a plan.”
Billups finally lived up to his draft billing while playing for the Detroit Pistons from 2002 to 2008. The 6-3 combo guard was named 2004 NBA Finals MVP after leading the Pistons to a title that season. Billups played in two NBA Finals and was a five-time NBA All-Star. Detroit would later retire his No. 1 jersey. The Denver native also earned the 2009 NBA Sportsmanship award and the 2013 Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award. Billups was a candidate for the Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2023 and is expected to be a candidate next year.
Henderson said he was quite familiar with Billups’ game, leadership and shooting ability from hearing about him from his father Chris and watching clips on YouTube long before he became his coach on the Blazers.
“He could do pretty much everything,” Henderson said. “He can really shoot the ball and he could play defense a little bit. He’s a great leader, still. He had to lead that Detroit team, and that was not an easy lead.”
Billups and Henderson have already gone to dinner twice since the latter was drafted by the Blazers. Billups hasn’t been the only one doing the talking when they break bread, as Henderson has been inquisitive and is eager to learn from the former NBA star about his career, his time in Portland and his upbringing in Denver. With many more dinners to come, Billups added that the off-court meetings have been important in building trust with Henderson.
“That is just how I lead anyway,” Billups said. “I want to get to know you because there are going to be times where I am going to challenge you. You have to know it’s coming from a good place.
“I’ve definitely been getting to know him, get to know what he likes, what he is into. That’s always a fun process.”
Henderson had been in communication with Lillard before the 2023 NBA draft and was hoping to learn from the seven-time NBA All-Star, a source said. It was reported, however, on July 1 that Lillard wanted to be traded, preferably to the Miami Heat. With that evolving news about Lillard, the Blazers will likely be leaning more on Henderson as a rookie.
Even with Lillard likely on the way out, Henderson is still ecstatic about having two former NBA point guard mentors to learn from daily in Billups and former Ignite teammate Pooh Jeter, a new Blazers player development coach and assistant general manager of the G League Rip City Remix.
“I would love to play with him,” Henderson said of Lillard. “I would have loved to be mentored by him or practice or whatever. But I’m going to be ready either way whether he stays or whether he leaves. It would be great if he does [stay], but sometimes things just don’t go as planned, I guess.”
Even with Lillard’s potential departure, Billups doesn’t believe that there is an urgency to get Henderson ready for a major role next season. Billups noted that Blazers fifth-year guard Anfernee Simons, who averaged 21.1 points last season, is poised fill the mammoth scoring void that may be created if Lillard leaves the team. The Blazers also agreed in principle to re-sign veteran free agent forward Jerami Grant, who averaged 20.5 points and 4.5 rebounds last season.
“We don’t know how the Dame situation is going to play out,” Billups said. “But you got Ant Simons over here who I’ve also been pouring into the last couple of years. If you look at where he is at this point of his career, I think it will be a great opportunity. If it is that way, Scoot can learn from Ant similar to how Ant learned from Dame. So, I don’t think the urgency is there at all …
“[Simons] is All-Star potential, All-Star close already. There are some people that [Henderson] can learn from, which is great.”
Henderson hopes to implement some of the tips he received from Billups in his first summer league game, which includes letting “everyone know I am the best player on the court every time.” Billups’ advice for Henderson has also included making an impact on both ends of the court in every possession with his presence and offensive ability, picking up defensively early, and taking care of the ball.
“It’s a blessing that I’m here,” Henderson said. “Like, God does everything for a reason and he put me and coach Chauncey together for a reason. And I’m just blessed to learn from him every single day. I’m always all ears whenever he’s talking and I’m always just trying to pick his brain, really.
“So, whenever I get a chance to sit down with him, it’s a good conversation. It’s crazy that I’m being coached by him.”