When you land in the territory of the draft lottery, most likely, the feasible thing to do is get the best talent available. That’s exactly what the Utah Jazz did with their ninth pick in the 2023 NBA Draft in getting Taylor Hendricks.
For a squad that just acquired John Collins and with an already formidable frontcourt in Lauri Markkanen, Kelly Olynyk, and Walker Kessler, you could argue that adding another one would just make the roster composition somehow redundant. But it’s important to understand the context of the Jazz itself, a team gearing towards the future, so in hindsight the Hendricks inclusion will only strengthen the young core.
Moreover, we should not discount his talent at all. There’s a reason why Hendricks was picked that high, having been named in the second team All-AAC and AAC All-Freshman team at age 19 for UCF.
Now, we’ve reached the heart of this piece by going through film of his games and why Hendricks could be a vital cog for the Jazz even in his rookie year.
One word that fully encapsulates the game of Hendricks was mentioned in the headline: versatile. It’s also worth noting that he stands 6’9” while having a 7’0 ½ “ wingspan, a height that slots into a perfect mold of a modern big man in the NBA.
The raw averages that Hendricks had was quite impressive with a stat line of 15.1 points, 7 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks on an efficient 58.6 true shooting percentage (TS%). These numbers do provide intrigue and it’s only fitting that we dissect more in detail.
Hendricks’ defense pops up first when you watch his games. He’s an intimidating presence at the cup as a rim protector, can defend at the post, and laterally quick to take on switches versus quicker perimeter players. Even though the NBA is a whole different in terms of the quality of basketball, the aspect that probably got the interest of the Jazz was his discipline on this end at a young age.
Watch him defend in the post through this clip. Notice how Hendricks doesn’t put his hands in the cookie jar and makes sure that he’ll be bothersome through his length in contesting shots. Per Synergy, he allows a low 0.4 points per possessions when guarding post-ups. Real good stuff.
Circling back to the switching aspect of the NBA, when we assess the depth chart of the Jazz, Hendricks is assumed to play in the second unit as the backup center. Knowing that Walker Kessler was terrific defensively last season, an element that the 19-year old rookie can bring to the table is he possessed some reps of being a primary defender to guards/wings in college. It’s exciting to see if Hendricks will have that opportunity, knowing he may play alongside other bigs on the court as well.
The offensive part of Hendricks showed promising flashes in his lone college season with UCF. His play-finishing in terms of shooting was impeccable, whether as the pop man in the pick-and-roll or a trail big that can shoot above the break in transition.
Here are statistical nuggets why we need to be bullish with his scoring so far: Hendricks shot 55.6% from deep in transition and 61.5% from deep in pick-and-pops, per Synergy. Surrounding him with enough playmakers should be key to unlock this early in his career, as the on-ball skills might still be lacking in Hendricks’ repertoire.
Next step in Hendricks’ growth to be a complete offensive player is his shot selection. The lack of patience to find better looks for himself and for his teammates is something to keep an eye on in his early years in the NBA. A good start could be learning to become a hand-off hub that can flow into different actions and prevent tough shots to be put up early in the shot clock.
This must not come as a knock to Hendricks because the numbers still say that he’s good on spot-ups, with a 37.4% clip from downtown. What it intends to tell us is there’s so much to improve that can help him and the team in hopes to compete against the upper tier of the league.
Not to sound like a broken recorder here, but the truth of the matter is Hendricks’ might be the most ready rookie to contribute for the Jazz and could find himself stuck on the bench. The silver lining in this situation is head coach Will Hardy has a good problem in his hands, choosing which archetype of a big he can throw at the floor.
It sucks not to see him play in the Summer League, but Jazz fans should understand that Taylor Hendricks is a legit talent. If everything falls into place, slot him in as one the cornerstones of the franchise moving forward.