The Portland Trail Blazers are expected to lose one of the best players in franchise history in Damian Lillard, whether it’s sometime this summer or during the 2023-24 season. That begs the question: Once Dame is gone, who will take over as Rip City’s main attraction?
This article identifies three standout contenders to be the Blazers’ best player five years from now. Then, it provides a prediction after analyzing various factors, including each candidate’s skill set, strengths, weaknesses and developmental trajectory.
There are legitimate cases to be made for each player, which is an excellent sign that the Blazers are on track to have a promising future in the post-Lillard era as they begin to retool around these players.
Candidate No. 1: Scoot Henderson
Scoot Henderson was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft out of the G League Ignite. Last season with the Ignite, Henderson averaged 16.5 points, 6.5 assists, 5.4 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 3.5 turnovers on 43/28/76 shooting splits in 30.7 minutes per game.
The case for Henderson
Henderson is still only 19 years old and has plenty of time to maximize his untapped potential and reach his ceiling. By most NBA players’ career standards, he will still not have entered his prime five years from now. However, athletic guards tend to enter their peak a bit earlier.
For example, Derrick Rose won his MVP at age 22. Henderson, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound guard, has a highly similar play style to Rose, utilizing his explosiveness to complement his downhill attacking style. Henderson frequently gets by the first level of defense due to his ballhandling and athleticism.
As a result, he also gets teammates involved when necessary, as off-ball defenders are forced to help on his drives.
While Rose was an MVP outlier as the youngest player to win the award, it shows that athletic guards entering the league can succeed early. As a result of these players’ similarities, Henderson could enter his prime a bit earlier than typical NBA players.
Additionally, five years will be plenty of time for Henderson to improve his current weaknesses, primarily his shooting. If he can become a reliable 3-point shooter in the next half-decade, Henderson has a legitimate case to become an all-star. He’ll have every opportunity to develop in Portland as the organization looks to retool around its youth.
The case against Henderson
There is no concrete history of how Henderson will fare in the NBA. Henderson’s G League experience will benefit his NBA readiness compared to other rookies, giving him a solid case to be considered one of the favorites for Rookie of the Year. Still, Henderson will have a steeper learning curve to acclimate to the NBA style of play than the other Blazers players who have been around longer.
Additionally, Henderson needs to become a more well-rounded and versatile player. The primary aspects he needs to improve are his shooting, decision-making and defensive impact.
If Henderson can’t develop his weaknesses in the next half-decade, he could become closer in talent to someone like Collin Sexton rather than Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook. He’s already a starting-level player on day one entering the league, but he won’t be the best Blazers player in five years unless he can unlock more aspects of his game.