Portland Trail Blazers rookie Scoot Henderson has the support system to be successful
No. 3 pick in the 2023 NBA draft is being mentored by a slew of former and current pro point guards
PHOENIX – Portland Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups has made a pledge to give heralded rookie point guard Scoot Henderson “what I needed.”
Like Henderson, Billups was the third overall pick in the NBA draft. Unlike Henderson, Billups didn’t have much of a support system entering the NBA and was traded during his rookie season.
“One of the main things I told him was, ‘I’m going to be for you what I needed at this age,’ ” Billups told Andscape. “I needed somebody that knew what I should be doing. I needed somebody that could help me learn the game. I didn’t have that. Somebody that was going to be patient with me, knowing that there’s going to be some nasty, ugly games. Someone that was going to be patient, that understood it. I didn’t have that.
“I told him, ‘I’m going to be what I needed as the third pick in the draft at 20 years old. I’m going to be that guy for you.’ I promised him that. And that’s exactly what I’m going to be the whole time. I’m always going to be consistent.”
Henderson was the top point guard selected in the 2023 NBA draft. The opportunity came for him to become the Blazers’ starting point guard when the franchise’s career leading scorer Damian Lillard was dealt to the Milwaukee Bucks on Sept. 27. Henderson (6-feet-2, 195 pounds) averaged 13.5 points, 5.7 assists and 5.7 assists in four preseason games for the Blazers.
To aid Henderson, the Blazers offer a unique point guard support group tailor-made for future success. Most notably, Billups was a 17-season NBA veteran at point guard who was the 2004 NBA Finals MVP and a five-time All-Star. Blazers assistant coach Scott Brooks played point guard in the NBA for 10 seasons and is a former NBA head coach who launched Russell Westbrook’s illustrious career. The Blazers traded for veteran guard Malcolm Brogdon, a seven-year veteran who is already mentoring Henderson, on Oct. 1. And former NBA point guard Pooh Jeter, Henderson’s former teammate and confidante with the G League Ignite, is also a first-year Blazers player development coach.
“Support is everything, especially from the coaching staff,” Henderson, 19, told Andscape. “That is huge, knowing they have your back. Everyone in the Portland organization, the coaching staff, everybody behind the scenes, they are pitching a lot into the players. The doctors and medical staff are pitching in a certain way you may not think they would. But I’m watching, observing …
“I’m going to take the pressure all on me. But knowing that I have the confidence from the coaching staff, I’m going to respect them a lot more.”
Billups said, “We have to be able to support our guys. You don’t just bring these type of guys in and say, ‘All right, let’s go.’ We got to have a support system around them and we’ve done a really good job of doing that. And he’s like Play-Doh. You can shape him how you want. He listens to everything, tries everything you ask him, so competitive. I’m excited about that.”
Billups starred at the University of Colorado for two seasons and was named a second-team All-American as a sophomore in 1997. The Denver native was selected with the third overall pick in the 1997 NBA draft by the Boston Celtics.
Billups had his ups and downs early, as he averaged 11.1 points, 4.3 assists and 2.3 turnovers while starting in 44 of 51 games for the Celtics during the 1997-98 season. Celtics coach Rick Pitino didn’t have the patience to groom Billups and wanted to win. On Feb. 18, 1998, the Celtics traded Billups, guard Dee Brown, center Roy Rogers and forward John Thomas to the Toronto Raptors for veteran point guard Kenny Anderson, center Popeye Jones and center Zan Tabak.
Billups played for Toronto, Denver and Minnesota and battled injuries before finally solidifying himself as an elite point guard in NBA with the Detroit Pistons. In Detroit, “Mr. Big Shot” became an NBA champion and had his No. 1 jersey retired by the franchise. Reflecting on Billups trade to Grantland in 2012, Pitino said, “We were struggling at the time and we needed it ‘now.’ Probably, that was a mistake. We should have taken our lumps and stayed with him.”
“Chauncey was the third pick in the draft and he got traded before the All-Star break,” Rogers, now a Blazers assistant coach, said to Andscape. “That doesn’t happen in today’s game. He came in with high expectations. So, to be traded so soon, Boston gave up on him. We laugh about it and joke about it now. It took several trades for Chauncey to make his footing in the NBA. Who knows if he was Mr. Big Shot if that didn’t happen?
“He was traded. He had injuries. He had all that to battle through. It hardened him and made him into the player that he was.”
Upon learning about Billups’ trade as a rookie after the Blazers’ 117-106 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Monday, a stunned Henderson said, “I ain’t never heard about that. I’m pretty sure that’s impossible to do now. I don’t know if it was the same at that time. But I know now you got to do something crazy before that happens now.”
When asked to compare Henderson’s support system in Portland as a rookie to his, Billups said: “I didn’t have any of that, man. I had a lot of pressure. We were needing to win. I had a coach that had no patience. Great coach, but no patience, which is something that is necessary to have for rookies, especially that position. I didn’t have a coach that was a good NBA point guard [as a player], an assistant coach that was a good NBA point guard. Pooh was [Henderson’s] teammate last year with the G League. That his comfort blanket.
“I didn’t have all these things to make me comfortable. If I did, maybe my career would have been a ton different.”
Los Angeles Clippers guard Westbrook, a nine-time NBA All-Star, was coached by Brooks when he began his career with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Henderson was a huge fan of the NBA 75th Anniversary Team member when he was growing up in Marietta, Georgia, and patterned some of his game after him.
Brooks believes that Henderson has the ability to be “Westbrook 2.0,” and that there are a “lot of similarities” in their games.
“They’re both extremely smart, tough, competitive and determined,” Brooks told Andscape. “Their will to prepare is just as great as their will to win. And that’s rare. That’s not even talking about the athleticism and the size for this position. But there are a lot of similarities that it’s uncanny. I had Russell for eight years, since he was 20 years old. Scoot is 19, and he has Chauncey to really help him take him to another level. But there’s a lot of similarities, a lot and competitive and serious and wants to get better and coachable. Everything you want as a young player he has, so you know that he’s on the right path for greatness.”
Billups told Andscape he believes Lillard would have been a great mentor and teacher for Henderson if he had not been traded. Lillard has credited former NBA guards Mo Williams and Earl Watson for taking him under their wings early in his career with the Blazers. Henderson does have a veteran guard on the roster who is already mentoring him — newcomer Malcolm Brogdon.
Henderson said Brogdon gives him words of wisdom about playing in the NBA. He said that the seven-year NBA veteran asked him how he was handling his finances. Henderson is making $9.8 million his rookie season and his four-year contract will be worth more than $44 million.
Brogdon said he is very impressed by what he has seen from Henderson.
“I hope I give to him a calming presence just by how he observes me and the way I carry myself,” Brogdon told Andscape. “But also on the court, being able to slow the game down. And then the other thing I think of is professionalism. I want him to understand what it’s like to be a pro and what it looks like. I’m a guy that has had success and Scoot is going to have far more success than I’ve had in the NBA. But what does it look like for a guy that has made money but also still works on this game every day, still loves the game and that still treats people right on and off the court?
“Everybody sees the skill set. They see his explosiveness, his athleticism. He can really do it all as a teenager. What really struck me and surprised me is his ability to listen to critique, to take constructive criticism, to internalize it, and then to go out and immediately correct his game. I think he’s incredibly humble. You hear that about a lot of guys. ‘He’s so humble.’ No. With this kid, there is the way he looks at you when you’re speaking to him. He looks you right in the eyes. You can tell he’s raised right and just has a grounding behind him that he has a total confidence.”
Henderson said of Brogdon: “There are a lot of little things that I will benefit a lot from.”
The last piece of Henderson’s point guard mentoring team with the Blazers is Jeter, who was a mentor with the Ignite during Henderson’s two seasons there. Coincidentally, the Blazers hired the former University of Portland star as a player development coach and assistant general manager of their new G League team weeks before Henderson was drafted. Henderson was ecstatic to see a familiar face upon his arrival in Portland.
“Pooh is always talking to me throughout the game,” Henderson said. “He was telling me to breathe [against the Suns]. He has my back. That like my bro-uncle. So, I still treat him like a brother and somebody I always go to. He always respected me as well as a player and as a person, too. He took me [under] his wing quick.
“I’ve been in a blessed position. I had [Ignite coach and former NBA point guard] Jason Hart. So, I’ve been surrounded by guards that know the game well. I’m just trying to make them proud, too.”
San Antonio Spurs rookie center Victor Wembanyama, the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA draft, has former Spurs stars Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to lean on locally. But there may not be an NBA rookie who has a better support system every day than Henderson.