PORTLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers selected point guard Scoot Henderson of the NBA G League with the third overall pick in the NBA draft on Thursday night.
The pick touched off speculation that Henderson could be packaged in a trade if Portland pursues a high-profile veteran to join All-Star guard Damian Lillard.
Or, should Lillard ask for a trade, Henderson could be part of a rebuild. Or the Blazers could play them both.
Blazers general manager Joe Cronin was clear: The Trail Blazers want Lillard to stay in Portland, and they want to build a winning team around him.
“I would say that my goal is to keep both of them,” Cronin said. “I would love to see Dame retire a Trail Blazer. I have zero desire to trade him. I really hopes this works out here. And I think you can tell how excited I am about Scoot Henderson. He has a chance to be a special player in this league.”
Henderson scouted himself as “somebody that’s going to come in and attack the basket every single time, put pressure on the defense and play both sides of the floor. And a winner.”
Henderson, a 6-foot-2 teenager from Georgia who has been compared to Russell Westbrook, spent two years with the G League Ignite. He has also connected with Golden State guard Stephen Curry, who offered Henderson support and resources.
Last season with Ignite, Henderson averaged 17.6 points and a team-high 6.5 assists. He also brings defense — something the Blazers have sorely needed. He graduated from high school in Marietta, Georgia, early to become the youngest player ever in the G League.
Henderson, 19, wore a black suit coat bedazzled with rhinestones for the draft.
“I’m young but I’ve got a mature mindset, and that’s to come in and work and make a real impact, not just on the basketball side but in the community,” he said.
Henderson’s full name is Sterling Jewell Henderson. He earned the nickname Scoot when he was a toddler and used to scoot around on the floor. He’s from a basketball family, too. Younger sister Crystal “Moochie” Henderson is headed to Georgia State.
With the 23rd pick Thursday night, the Blazers selected forward Kris Murray, twin brother of Sacramento Kings forward Keegan Murray. Kris Murray averaged 20.2 points last season as a junior at Iowa.
Portland also added French guard Rayan Rupert with the 43rd selection.
The Blazers missed the playoffs this season for the second straight year, finishing 33-49 and in 13th in the Western Conference. That was despite the best efforts of Lillard, who averaged a career-high 32.2 points a game, third-best in the league. But in the end, Portland was plagued by inopportune injuries and inconsistent play.
The season wasn’t without some high points — namely Lillard’s 71-point game. He set the franchise and career record in a late February game against the Houston Rockets. He also finished the game with 13 3-pointers.
Should Portland decide to play Henderson with Lillard, Anfernee Simons’ role in the backcourt could be uncertain. Simons started 62 games last season, averaging 21.1 points and 4.1 assists.
The team also has rookie Shaedon Sharpe, the seventh overall pick in the 2022 draft. He averaged 9.8 points but wowed fans with highlight-reel dunks, showing his potential at the end of the season when many of the starters were shut down.
Cronin suggested the team isn’t done.
“There’s other stuff to do here. I feel like we’ve done a good job of putting ourselves in a good position to make these moves and start to get aggressive and push our chips in,” he said. “We’ve got good picks, we’ve got good players, we’ve got a lot of talent in this building. And we’ve just got to fine tune it and get it balanced and ready to go.”