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Victor Wembanyama, top 2023 NBA draft prospect, scores 37 points

Victor Wembanyama, top 2023 NBA draft prospect, scores 37 points

Metropolitans 92 star Victor Wembanyama described Wednesday’s exhibition game against Scoot Henderson and the G League Ignite as “the biggest game I’ve played in my life.”

The marquee matchup didn’t disappoint, offering a glimpse of the two top projected picks in the 2023 NBA draft going head-to-head as more than 100 NBA and international scouts looked on.

Henderson led the Ignite to a 122-115 win over Wembanyama and Metropolitans 92 at the Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nevada. Henderson finished the game with 28 points, 9 assists and 2 steals, while Wembanyama put up 37 points, five blocks and four rebounds.

The team teams will play again Thursday (3 p.m. ET, ESPN2, NBA app).

The NBA and G League are promoting heavily this exhibition series and with good reason. Wembanyama is expected to go No. 1 and Henderson No. 2 in next June’s draft, and if that happens, it will mark the first time since the NBA eliminated high schoolers from entering the draft in 2005 that neither of the top two picks attended a U.S. university.

Born in France, Wembanyama is just 18 but has been on NBA radar for at least four years because of an impressive skillset at his size – he’s listed between 7-2 and 7-5 depending on where you look. At 15, he made his pro debut for a second-tier French team and made his top-tier French pro debut at 16.

His stats are not eye-popping all the time but you have to remember European pro leagues don’t give out minutes easily to young players. He played just 18.5 minutes per game last season though that will increase this season. It’s what he’s capable of that impresses scouts.

At his height with his wingspan (7-9), he is a shotblocker who can protect the paint, defend shooters on the perimeter and collective defensive rebounds.

Offensively, he is a mobile pick-and-roll player who slips to the basket for easy dunks. Lob the ball at the rim and he can get higher than most players to finish. He will need to get stronger in the NBA but he can still overpower opponents with his height. He runs the court well, has good hands and while he can improve as a shooter, he can make 3-pointers and mid-range shots. Wembanyama is also growing as a passer

There’s a reason why scouts envision him as the next Giannis Antetokounmpo. But don’t forget, it took time for Antetokounmpo to become who is today. With that said, Wembanyama has had much more training and development from an earlier age with high-level clubs.

Generational is the word used to describe Wembanyama.

International players at the top of the draft is nothing new. But more U.S.-born are joining the G League or Overtime Elite. In the 2022 draft, Dyson Daniels, the No. 8 pick, and MarJon Beauchamp, the No. 24 pick, bypassed college for the G League. Besides Henderson, Overtime Elite twin brothers Amen Thompson and Ausar Thompson are projected top-10 picks in 2023.

Henderson, also 18, took an unconventional path that is however becoming less uncommon. Instead of playing a senior year of high school ball last season, Henderson reclassified and graduated a year early and joined the G League Ignite as a 17-year-old, signing a two-year $1 million contract. London Johnson is following Henderson’s steps and this week signed a two-year deal to play with the Ignite.

A 6-2 guard, Henderson averaged 13.9 points, 4.2 assists, four rebounds and 1.6 steals and shot 44.9% from the field in 21 games.

In a way, Henderson’s route to the NBA is more like Wembanyama. In the G League, Henderson has full-time access to high-level training, development and coaching. Jason Hart, a former NBA player who played at Syracuse, is the Ignite coach.

An explosive runner and leaper, Henderson is effective in the open court with or without the ball – he can take it to the rim himself or catch alley-oop passes from teammates. He also uses defense (steals, rebounds) to create offense in transition.

He shot just 22% on 3-pointers last season, and at his position in the NBA his jump shot needs to improve. It’s not a bad shot, he just needs to make it with more consistency.

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