The Stretch 4: What if Scoot Henderson would have come to Auburn?
(Don't worry, there are also some positive Auburn basketball stories in here on Tahaad Pettiford, Addarin Scott and Jaylin Williams.)
Former Auburn target Scoot Henderson (Instagram)
The NBA Draft is Thursday night, and for the first time since 2018, Auburn basketball isn’t expected to have a player selected.
It’s the end of a pretty impressive streak for the program, which went 18 years between any draft picks when Chuma Okeke ended the drought in 2019. That run included a pair of top-five selections in Isaac Okoro and Jabari Smith, while Walker Kessler thoroughly outplayed his No. 22 spot during a phenomenal rookie season.
But Auburn will still have something of a connection to the 2023 NBA Draft — although it’s one that will make Tigers fans groan more than anything else.
Scoot Henderson is widely projected to go inside the top three in Thursday night’s draft, following the can’t-miss No. 1 selection of French phenom Victor Wembanyama by the San Antonio Spurs.
Alabama star Brandon Miller has become a recent favorite to go No. 2 to the Charlotte Hornets — who already have a franchise lead guard in LaMelo Ball. That would put Henderson with the Portland Trail Blazers, where superstar Damian Lillard could be on the move this offseason.
Henderson, a 6-foot-3 point guard from the Atlanta area, was one of the top prospects in the Class of 2022 before he reclassified to the 2021 class and decided to take an unprecedented two-year deal with the NBA’s G-League.
Before Henderson went pro, it seemed like Auburn was the favorite to land him. And, according to a story this week from 247Sports’ Travis Branham, that held up.
“Had Henderson played college basketball, he was a lock to suit up for Bruce Pearl and the Auburn Tigers,” Branham wrote. “In fact, Henderson had actually silently committed to Auburn behind the scenes in the spring of 2021 before the talks of reclassifying and going pro had really surfaced.”
Henderson’s interest in Auburn before going to the G-League feels like it has more legitimacy than what happened with Jalen Green — another top-three NBA Draft pick who now plays with Smith on the Houston Rockets. (Green said he would have played at Auburn if he went to college, but he also said that about Memphis at one point.)
In this special offseason edition of The Stretch 4, let’s take a trip down an alternate timeline in which Henderson suits up for Auburn and what that could have meant for the Tigers.
And, because I’m not interested in writing something that will only make Auburn fans sad or frustrated, this newsletter also features much more positive notes on Tahaad Pettiford, Addarin Scott and Jaylin Williams.
The alternate universe where Scoot is a Tiger
Since the NBA requires players to be 19 years old before they enter the draft, Henderson was always going to be a 2023 prospect for the league.
Henderson announced his decision to reclassify and take the G-League Ignite offer on May 21, 2021. Why is that date important? NIL didn’t officially become a thing until July 2021, after the Supreme Court ruled in the NCAA vs. Alston case in June. Auburn’s NIL operation wasn’t at full strength by the 2021-22 season, but it might have been more competitive with the G-League’s offer if the timing worked out.
In his story, Branham suggested a timeline in which Henderson plays the 2021-22 season at Auburn before jumping to the G-League for the 2022-23 season. It’s a best of both worlds scenario — Auburn gets an elite one-and-done talent, while Henderson still gets to raise his draft stock against pros right before going to the draft.
Henderson would have plugged into a 2021-22 Auburn roster that will already go down as one of the best and most-talented squads in program history. The Tigers would have started three Atlanta area former 5-stars on the same team, joining him up with the likes of Smith and Kessler.
No disrespect to Wendell Green Jr. and Zep Jasper — two transfers who played key roles on that squad — but a taller and more highly regarded point guard like Henderson could have helped the Tigers out tremendously in some of the games in which they fell short in the SEC title-winning season. And, considering Henderson averaged 14.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game in his first season against pros with the G-League Ignite, he would’ve been ready for SEC ball.
With Henderson on the squad, Auburn would have had a real chance to snag a No. 1 seed and make a deeper run in the NCAA Tournament. Considering Auburn’s guard struggles in their losses that season, Henderson’s presence would’ve gone a long way.
“Had Henderson gone to Auburn for even just a year, his explosiveness and ability to get downhill would have made him nearly impossible to contain,” Branham wrote. “In a comparison with Brandon Miller, who faced college guys and not pros, Scoot would be a lock to go second in Thursday's 2023 NBA Draft.”
And how about this for an even wilder timeline? Right before Henderson made his decision to go pro, Sharife Cooper did the same thing — along with JT Thor. Both Cooper and Thor ended up getting picked in the second round of the NBA Draft, but, again, a world in which NIL was a more legitimate deal could have helped them stay on the Plains and raised their stocks even further.
Henderson was known as a scoring-first point guard, and while he’s not a highly touted 3-point shooter — he went 27.5% on 2.7 attempts per game this past season with the Ignite — he could have fit in as a 2 guard next to a sophomore Cooper.
Put those two together with some combination of Smith and Thor at the 3 and the 4 with Kessler at the 5? You’re talking about a starting lineup of five Georgia products who were ranked as 5-stars at some point in their prep careers.
That’s a mind-boggling collection of talent, and it isn’t a massive stretch to say it could have happened with better timing on the NIL front.
Tahaad Pettiford continues to rocket up the rankings
With that being said, let’s look to the future when it comes to Auburn basketball’s backcourt.
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