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Top two NBA draft prospects star in G League exhibition

Updated October 5, 2022 - 5:47 am

More than 200 NBA scouts and executives trickled into the Dollar Loan Center on Tuesday night, preparing to study the presumptive top two picks in the 2023 draft.

Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson ensured the trip was worth their while.

The two 18-year-old phenoms showcased their prodigious sets of skills in an exhibition won 122-115 by Henderson’s NBA G League Ignite over Wembanyama’s Metropolitans 92. They’ll run it back at noon Thursday, providing the droves of decision makers an additional opportunity to see the two share the basketball court.

But the first battle belonged to Henderson, a fearless 6-foot-3-inch floor general with a ferocious first step and penchant for maintaining the pace of play.

“I didn’t really think about (the matchup with Wembanyama) too much. I was there to win,” Henderson said after scoring 28 points on 11-of-21 shooting. “They talk the talk. I don’t really pay attention to all that. Try to stay off social media as much as I can when it comes to trying to compare and contrast players. … I don’t really feed into that. I focus on winning. The main goal.”

Among draft-eligible prospects, Henderson is considered second to Wembanyama, a nimble 7-3 Frenchman who protects the basket on the defensive end and terrorizes it on the offensive end. He moves more like a guard, fluidly handling and shooting the ball from the perimeter while doubling as the ultimate lob threat when he’s near the basket.

Wembanyama erased a layup on his first defensive possession, grabbed a rebound to cap the second one and dribbled all the way to the basket — rejecting a ball screen to pirouette around a defender and bank a floater off the backboard. He scored 28 of his game-high 37 points in the second half, making 11 of 20 field goals and 7 of 11 3-pointers.

He can shoot off the catch or create space with his dribble.

“At some point, it was just about taking over,” Wembanyama said.

Defensively, Wembanyama seemed to alter everything near the rim — save for a couple sensational finishes by Henderson.

He blocked Henderson three times, swatting a pair of jumpers and stonewalling a dunk attempt in the fourth. But Henderson returned the favor, twice contorting around Wembanyama’s outstretched arms to finish reverse layups that sent the flock of fans stationed throughout the 5,600 venue into a frenzy.

Aces superstars A’ja Wilson and Chelsea Gray watched from one of the baselines with their WNBA championship trophy beside them. Phoenix Suns standouts Chris Paul and Devin Booker also sat comfortably in courtside seats.

Henderson pressured the rim all evening, finishing at the basket, pulling up over defenders or kicking to shooters he opened with his relentless aggression.

“He’s tough to guard, just what I expected. The biggest part of his game is his aggressiveness,” Wembanyama said. “It’s even something you feel on the court. You know he’s going to do something dangerous.”

Henderson also was complimentary of Wembanyama, whom he greeted after the game in a sign of sportsmanship between future franchise players. Teams expected to vie for the No. 1 overall pick include the San Antonio Spurs, Utah Jazz, Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Hornets.

They’ll also vie for the No. 2 pick as well.

Can’t go wrong either way.

“Some players are just special … and (Wembanyama) is a special talent,” Ignite coach Jason Hart said. “Victor’s very good, but Scoot is pretty good, and the difference with Scoot is he’s learning how to control tempo. He’s learning how to control flow. … He has way more responsibility and that’s the beauty of him. He’s growing. He has a fierce competitive spirit. And he willed us to that victory.”

Contact Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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