Breaking Down Taylor Hendricks's Defense | The Friday Screener
Taylor Hendricks is one of the most versatile and game-wrecking defenders in the 2023 NBA Draft.
Taylor Hendricks certainly wasn’t an unknown entity coming into his freshman season, as he was a Top 60 recruit, but he has vastly exceeded expectations. At 6’9” and 210 pounds, Hendricks has been one of the most impressive freshmen in the country. His off-ball shooting gives him exciting offensive upside, but the UCF Knights’ forward is dripping All-NBA Defensive potential.
This season, Hendricks averaged 1.8 blocks and 0.9 steals per game. He was also only one of three freshmen from true high major conferences to record a block rate of at least 6.0 and a steal rate of at least 1.5, per Barttorvik—the others being Dereck Lively and Adem Bona. Individual stats are great and all, but they can also be inflated and misleading. Not with Hendricks, though. When Hendricks was on the court, UCF had a defensive rating of 93.7, which ranked 27th. When Hendricks was off the court, UCF’s defensive rating skyrocketed to 108.2, which ranked 257th. Hendricks is a defensive playmaker, but it isn’t due to reckless gambling or chasing stats. He has astounding physical tools that pair perfectly with his elite awareness and timing.
The first thing that stands out about Hendricks is his rim protection. His combination of size, length, and timing make him an absurdly effective weak side rim protector. A current trend with NBA defenses is to put their most rangy and athletic defender in the low-man position so they can rotate to protect the rim and scramble back to shooters. Hendricks fits seamlessly into this role.
Here, Temple pushes their early offense and quickly attack the rim once they see the paint is empty. Meanwhile, Hendricks is the low man and is well-positioned to keep his eyes on the ball and his man on the wing. As the ball-handler attacks, Hendricks makes his rotation. Hendricks times his contest perfectly and controls his body in a way that ensures he doesn’t commit a foul.
This time, Hendricks is lurking on the weak side as his teammate bites on a shot fake. Hendricks again times his rotation perfectly, which allows him to synchronize his leap with the ball-handler and stay vertical. In mid-air, the ball-handler adjusts his shot to avoid Hendricks. Instead of wildly swiping down, Hendricks is patient, locates the ball, and denies the shot.
Hendricks’s rim protection isn’t solely limited to the halfcourt, either. His timing and motor also are disruptive in transition. Here, Hendricks’s teammate makes a lazy pass that should end up in a transition dunk. Hendricks doesn’t give up on the play, though. Hendricks sprints back at full speed in an attempt to beat the opponent to the rim. By recovering like this, Hendricks is able to chop his steps before he elevates for the shot contest. This is important because it ensures that he is under control when he jumps and that he can better time his leap with the ball-handler. Everything Hendricks does works perfectly as he turns away the dunk attempt.
Hendricks’s weak side defense isn’t useful for just rim protection, either. Here, Florida run a high pick-and-roll while lifting a player out of the post to the perimeter in an attempt to set up an easy bucket for the roller. While this is happening, Hendricks is lurking in the right corner keeping tabs on his man and the play at large. As the play develops, we can see Hendricks subtly inching closer to the lane. Once Hendricks’s teammate moves to recover to the perimeter after softly tagging the roller, the ball-handler initiates the pass to the roller thinking they have an easy score. Unfortunately for Florida, Hendricks is reading the exact same thing as he rotates and deflects the pass.
This time, Hendricks’s man is above the break on the wing. The ball-handler uses a shot fake to generate a driving lane, forcing the defense to collapse. As the ball-handler gets in the lane, he has essentially a 3v1 situation with the defender in the lane and two teammates in either dunker spot. Hendricks again quickly reads the play as he collapses to the ball and deflects the dump-off pass.
With his off-ball defense on its own, Hendricks would be a highly desired prospect. What takes his defense to the next level and gives him terrifyingly high defensive upside, though, is what he can do on-ball. Hendricks has tremendous feet, great balance, and a knack for mirroring the ball-handler’s movement. His ability to switch multiple positions at his size makes him incredibly malleable and will provide his team with tremendous lineup versatility.
Here, Hendricks gets matched up with the opposing guard in transition. As the guard attacks left, Hendricks slides his feet perfectly to cut off the drive. The ball-handler attempts an in-and-out dribble to attack baseline again, but Hendricks yet again cuts him off. Hendricks’s perfect footwork and anticipation force the beleaguered guard into making a lazy pass that gets picked off going the other way.
Hendricks again does a great job of suffocating multiple drive attempts. After shutting down the first one, Hendricks repositions himself and actually ends up a little more square than he’d want to be. The ball-handler quickly attacks to the right again, but Hendricks shows off his hip flexibility by quickly turning and cutting off the drive. The footwork isn’t pristine, but Hendricks’s long strides allow him to cross his feet only once before immediately regaining his balance. The defeated guard again reluctantly gives up the ball.
Going forward, Hendricks would likely provide the most value by continuing to quicken his footspeed and improve his hip flexibility to guard down the lineup on the perimeter instead of bulking up to defend in the post. With that said, there is still potential to play sporadic minutes with Hendricks as a small-ball center in a 5-out offense. He could still act as a quality rim protector and has the ability to switch on the perimeter. Hendricks has also shown encouraging flashes of defending the pick-and-roll in drop coverage.
Here, South Florida run a standard pick-and-roll as Hendricks acts as the drop defender. He initially shows to the ball-handler, but steadily recovers to stay between the ball and the roller. As the ball-handler attacks, Hendricks stalks him without abandoning the roller. The ball-handler burst to the rim and likely thinks he has a layup guaranteed. Hendricks employs his perfect timing and length, though, to block the shot at the apex.
Projecting forward, it’s hard not to envision Hendricks as a Jaden McDaniels-esque defender. McDaniels has been one of the premier defenders since he entered the league, and he provides the Minnesota Timberwolves with an extraordinary amount of versatility. McDaniels constantly guards the opposing team’s best perimeter player, whether they are a speedy guard, bruising forward, or sharpshooting wing. McDaniels also has a block rate that ranks in the 98th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass. By continuing to improve his flexibility and agility, Hendricks could have a similar defensive impact.
Taylor Hendricks has been one of the breakout stars this season. The offensive upside is tantalizing, but it is his defense that will make him an early contributor to winning basketball. In the 2023 NBA Draft, Hendricks is easily one of the most versatile defenders. Given his ability to switch on the perimeter and protect the rim, there aren’t many projections for him that feel unattainable.
As a Pacers fan I am intrigued by his potential fit in Indiana. If the Pacers fall to 9 or 10 (or later) I'd fully endorse drafting him in that range.