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Taylor Hendricks: Ahead of Schedule
UCF's Taylor Hendricks flew up draft boards as a freshman, blowing past initial expectations. In the NBA, a new set of challenges await him. Maxwell examines his skill set and potential outcomes.
When our daughter was born, she was on the smaller side—33rd percentile for height, and 28th for weight. But every nurse in the hospital kept commenting that her feet were absolutely enormous. As a 6’5” guy who wears size 15 shoes, I knew my genetics were to blame. My wife is built like a normal human being, so I couldn’t pin this one on her. Our little girl grew like a weed once she was out of the womb. Most kids first stand up around the age of eight months, but our kid was standing at around six and a half. Walking typically begins between ten and twelve months. Our girl was on the go before the nine-month mark.
Seeing something come to fruition ahead of schedule is exciting, and I cannot express how proud we were. But it was also daunting. As a first-time parent, having a little toddler who could suddenly go wherever she wanted was terrifying. There was now a persistent, increased level of danger. It was the most jittery I’d found myself as a dad, constantly worrying about her toppling over or bumping her head on something. While I was initially full of enthusiasm, my daughter walking ahead of schedule was also an intimidating process that brought with it a new set of challenges.
Perhaps no player in college basketball was more ahead of schedule than Taylor Hendricks. The 46th-rated recruit in his high school class using the RSCI metric attended UCF, a place where he could potentially see the floor right away. At 6’8.25” barefoot with a workable jump shot and good mobility for his size, Hendricks was expected to see the floor out of the gate. However, he wasn’t included on mainstream big boards or mock drafts out of the gate. That changed during the month of November, when Hendricks averaged 14.7 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.7 BPG, and 0.9 SPG with shooting splits of 46.9/40.0/71.4. It was becoming clear that Hendricks was the best player on his team, one of the better players in the country, and increasingly unlikely to be a multi-year college player.
While that sounds great on paper, there were challenges that came along with it. His emergence would be treated as a pleasant surprise at first, but nothing lasts forever. He’d be moved to the top of the scouting report for opposing teams. Soon, Hendricks would find himself under a microscope. Evaluators from all corners would be going through his film with a fine-tooth comb to search for exploitable flaws. Then, there’s the human side of it. The fans begging for autographs, the exposure, the social media chatter, the agency game, NBA front offices digging for intel—it’s a lot to deal with. In spite of all of that, Hendricks kept his head down and did the work, maintaining a high level of production throughout the season.
Now, he heads into the NBA Draft as a projected Top 10 pick. Hendricks surpassed the initial set of expectations that were put on him in college, but now, he’ll face a new series of challenges in the NBA. That’s what comes along with being ahead of schedule. Today, I’ll be diving into Hendricks’s game, examining what those new expectations should be, and projecting what he can become at the NBA level.
All statistics courtesy of Synergy Sports and Sports-Reference.
19.5 years old, 6’8.25” barefoot, 7’0.5” wingspan, 213 pounds, 8’11” standing reach
32.5” standing vertical, 36” max vertical
15.1 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.4 TOV, 1.7 BPG, 0.9 SPG
Size and Shooting
The easy sales pitch with Taylor Hendricks’s offense boils down to this: he’s tall and he can shoot. Coming into the year, everyone knew he wasn’t exactly a shrimp (listed at 6’9”), and his jumper had shown promise. Using the data from the past two years that is available in Synergy, he was a 31.2% three-point shooter across high school, club, and EYBL play. That’s a rock-solid mark for a player his size at his age, but it didn’t fully indicate what we would see from him this season.
Hendricks came out of the gate scorching from deep. He would end the year at 39.4% from deep while taking 4.6 3PA per game, which equated to 8.0 attempts per 100 possessions. That puts him in rare company for a freshman his size in terms of volume, efficiency, and level of competition.
The icing on the cake was how pretty, confident, and consistent the shot looked. If one wanted to pick nits, they could argue that he’s not totally square, with his right foot always out a little bit in front of the other. His base can be on the narrow side. I’m not concerned, though. He always goes straight up and straight down, and his body flows in one movement. There’s no “jump, then use your arms to push the ball” nonsense. He keeps his release high, and his shot looks the same every time, no matter what.
Most of his perimeter looks, especially early on in his career, will come off the catch. He’s great at those. Hendricks converted 40.9% of his catch-and-shoot threes. He brings real, true gravity to the floor and can’t be ignored from the outside. Leaving him open is dangerous and ill-advised. Hendricks converted 42.1% of his unguarded catch-and-shoot threes. Here’s the icing on the cake, though—most of his looks were guarded. Of his 132 catch-and-shoot threes, Synergy only categorized 38 of them as unguarded, meaning that he had a hand in his face or a defender on him for 94 of these shots. He made 40.4% of those guarded shots.
This is where Hendricks’s length, consistent mechanics, and high release do him wonders. He doesn’t let his opponent alter his shot or get sped up by contests. Herein lies Hendricks’s value: if you leave him open, he’ll make you pay. If you don’t leave him open…there’s still a really good chance he’s going to make you pay. Having Hendricks on the floor makes an offense better, period. His gravity is undeniable, and on an NBA floor, he’s going to open up a great deal of space for his teammates. Even still, he can bring production to the table with his ability to shoot with a hand in his face.
There’s sneaky upside to Hendricks as a movement shooter, too. That’s probably not going to be the best use of him, but in a pinch, he can do it, and there aren’t going to be a lot of players with comparable size who will be comfortable chasing him. Per Synergy, he made 10-of-18 transition threes, 8-of-13 threes off the pop, and 3-of-8 threes coming off screens. When he comes into his shot off movement, it’s largely the same story as off the catch. He gets his feet under him in the same exact way, he’s on balance, and the stroke remains unchanged. Hendricks won’t be a shooter who has to remain parked in the corner; there’s more dynamism to him than that.
Despite being utilized as a floor spacer who is often further away from the basket, Hendricks found a way to get involved on the offensive glass. This is another area where being a tall, bouncy guy helps him add value. His 8.1 Offensive Rebound Percentage grades out well for a forward, and despite being on the skinny side, he can still manage to generate extra possessions. Hendricks dunked the ball 36 times this year and is capable of finishing above the rim on putbacks.
In the last decade, only two players at the loose-high-major level and above shot over 38% from three on more than 150 attempts, dunked over 30 times, and had an OREB% over 8%: Taylor Hendricks and sophomore year Keegan Murray. Murray’s impact during his rookie campaign with the Kings should show the value of size, shooting, and play finishing at the NBA level.
Playmaking and Connectivity
Let’s start by setting expectations: by no means is Taylor Hendricks a point-forward or lead initiator type. That said, I think merely looking at his 1.4 APG and 8.6 AST% would undermine the value he brings when it comes to making plays and keeping an offense humming.
There are things Taylor Hendricks doesn’t have—a deep bag of counters, gaudy offensive footwork to generate space for himself, complete ambidexterity, and a live dribble passing arsenal. But walking comes before running, and Taylor Hendricks knows how to walk. Players still develop when they get to the league, and just because he may not have a well-rounded playmaking repertoire now doesn’t mean that he can’t advance or make progress in those areas later. I think he’s on a better path than he gets credit for, given his baseline fundamentals.
The biggest, and perhaps simplest element of Hendricks’s passing game that I love, is how quickly he makes decisions. On occasion, he may stop the ball to jab step or see if he can take advantage of a defender. But in general, he knows where his teammates are and he’s ready to make a decision the moment he gets the ball. Given that he often operated without the ball at UCF, he won’t have to go through the “how do I operate when everything isn’t running through me?” conundrum that faces many players as they go into the NBA. He has the floor mapped and can make a snappy “.5” skip pass to hit the open man.
As the year progressed, Hendricks grew more comfortable and adventurous as a passer. He began to leverage the defensive attention he received, attacking closeouts and then making wrap-around interior dump passes when a helping big man came to meet him at the rim. Hendricks avoids bouts of tunnel vision and won’t hesitate to move on if he can’t get a clean look. When driving, he has a little bit of bend to him, he doesn’t dribble too high, and he doesn’t let the ball get too far away from his body. He’s unlikely to put his defender on roller skates, but he’ll limit his mistakes and use his tools to get where he needs to go. There’s some quickness here, too. When defenders play tight on him in handoff settings, his standstill burst can enable him to turn the corner and get to the rim. Add his shooting to the mix, and that’s a dangerous play type for him. After averaging 0.7 APG through the first 10 games, he averaged 1.6 APG in the following 24.
A skeptic could look at Taylor Hendricks’ counting numbers, as well as his film, and be dismissive of his playmaking upside. I come out of the past year of data and tape with a different outlook. To me, Hendricks is a guy who really knows how to play a complementary role. If he doesn’t get the ball, he’s not going to sulk. Even when he doesn’t have the ball, the spacing he provides is going to make his teammates better. When he does get the ball, he’s going to make a move in a timely fashion. If he’s chased off the line, he brings more athleticism to the table than most others his size, he rarely makes mistakes, and he’s starting to see plays as they develop. His selflessness and basics give him a respectable floor here, removing serious downside while creating room for solid improvement.
The Finishing Issue
So, here’s the big knock on Taylor Hendricks: if it’s not a dunk, he struggles at the rim in the halfcourt. His 53.7% at the rim in the halfcourt isn’t horrific, but it’s disappointing for his size. He only made 40% of his lay-ups at the rim in that setting, though. Let’s dig into why he has this issue, and then, why I’m optimistic.
The first part of the equation is one of Hendricks’s frame. He’s narrow through his shoulders and generally on the skinnier side of the coin. At 213 pounds, he weighs the same as Victor Oladipo and Josh Okogie, and he only has 3 pounds on Bennedict Mathurin. This affects him in two ways: his ability to get to his spots, and the angles he takes at the rim when does get to his spots. Simply put, it’s too easy to move him right now. When he’s driving, a lot of NBA defenders will be able to knock him off balance when they bump into him. In situations where Hendricks gets inside, he will sometimes opt for a shot with a higher degree of difficulty rather than trying to play through contact at the basket. This is part of why his .286 free throw rate is as low as it is. Going through his film actually reminded me a lot of another recent prospect’s college film—Moses Moody.
Moody would similarly clam up at the basket. He’d also try to lob looping shots over opponents at the basket instead of going into them. He did draw a ton of fouls, but many of them actually came on jump shots as opposed to downhill attacks. Only 18.1% of Moody’s halfcourt looks came at the basket, and he converted a measly 42.9% of his shots there. He was even worse on layups than Hendricks was, too, making only 39.0% of those attempts.
Since going to the NBA, Moody has turned a corner as a finisher. Part of it is how well he’s filled out his frame, an advantage he has over Hendricks as a broad-shouldered individual. But there’s a mentality difference, too. Moody is more aggressive, welcoming of contact, and willing to fight for better angles at the cup. This past season, 26.4% of his halfcourt shots came at the rim, and he made 64.3% of them.
There are stark differences between Hendricks and Moody, to be fair. I mentioned the body types already. As a more traditional wing, Moody boasted greater polish in terms of his handle, which makes it easier for him to create those opportunities on his own. Still, their misses looked eerily similar digging through the tape, and they both shot poorly on layups despite other positive touch indicators.
Both thrived as freshmen from beyond the arc and at the free-throw line. Regardless of what the numbers say, I don’t believe the issue to be one related to touch. Hendricks doesn’t have ugly misses; it’s more an issue of generating cleaner looks. His other “touch” shots graded out well, even if the volume was small. He made 10-of-17 floaters and 6-of-12 hook shots.
Despite their differences, Moody shows that Hendricks isn’t helpless here. By gaining strength and playing with a sharpened sense of determination, he can turn the corner as an interior finisher.
Taylor Hendricks’s defensive playmaking gets a lot of love, and most of that happens off the ball. We’ll get to that in a moment, but I want to start with the on-ball stuff because he made serious strides in this department throughout the season. In particular, I remember watching his game against Wichita State back on December 28th. When switched onto the perimeter, Hendricks left a lot to be desired. His defensive versatility felt a lot more theoretical than actualized. If he improved, sat lower in his stance, and utilized his length better, he could be impactful in those settings. Typically, I don’t sweat that type of stuff with younger freshmen. Many of them haven’t devoted a ton of attention to their defense, and few have been rigorously coached/guided on that front. Nevertheless, against the Shockers, Hendricks frustrated me. He’d be too upright, his hands at his side and in too close to his body. Sometimes, instead of getting low, he’d simply put his hands all over the ball handler to contain them. The habits he was displaying could be exploited and punished at the NBA level. Still, the potential was always in there.
By season’s end, the potential was already manifesting itself. His stance was more consistent. From a physical standpoint, Hendricks is light on his feet. Lateral movement feels easy for him, especially when he isn’t too narrow. This helps his shot contests, too. He goes from playing low to springing into the air with grace. Hendricks cuts players off and prevents them from gaining penetration, then forces them into taking bad, smothered shots when they put the ball up. By the time he played against Florida in the NIT, he looked like a different player than the dude who irked me against Wichita State. He put on a masterclass “staying in front” performance, stifling drive after drive. As he continues to round out his game, he’s going to be a true switchable defender. Guards who test him on an island find themselves stranded. Per Synergy, pick-and-roll ball handlers only scored 0.611 points per possession against him, and on isolation plays, Hendricks held opponents to 0.625 points per possession. He simply won’t be taken advantage of the way many other players his size will be.
The last bit of Hendricks’ game that I want to touch on is his post-up defense, which is way better than I’d anticipated before doing my final film dive on him. Though he wasn’t posted up often, opponents only scored on 6-of-22 attempts against Hendricks on post plays, per Synergy. It’s surprising given his narrow body and interior struggles on the other end of the floor. Continuing to fill out his frame will be essential at the next level, but he plays stronger through his chest with his arms over his head than I expected. His understanding of positioning is strong, using his feet to entice players into going the wrong direction, whether it’s their off-hand, a bad angle, or into heavy traffic. I wouldn’t be playing him as a smallball big, especially out of the gate given his body type and lack of positional size for a center. That said, he won’t be an opponent’s lunch around the basket.
Believe it or not, this may actually be the more exciting aspect of Hendricks’s defense. The man creates havoc. His BLK% of 6.2 and STL% of 1.6 are both excellent marks for a forward prospect, especially one that is a freshman. He possesses a beautiful blend of mental and physical traits that make him a force in this department.
Hendricks is an in-tune defender who doesn’t get caught napping. He tracks man and ball well, a basic principle of defensive fundamentals. What differentiates Hendricks on a “thinking the game” level is that he understands the scouting report. He knows where his man and the ball are, but he also knows who his man is, and what the man handling the ball is and isn’t capable of. Digging through the film, many of his blocks as a weakside rim protector came when he knew he was able to abandon his man without being punished for it. Additionally, he often seemed to know which ball handlers would be more likely to drive without an alternative plan in the event that he met them at the basket. He reads poor passes and times his rotations well. This enables him to gamble when he knows he has a good chance to win. Hendricks often gets slapped with the “toolsy defender” label, but that undersells his intelligence.
He is toolsy, though. His arms are long, he’s quick, and he can jump. I’d like to see Hendricks transition into springing off of one foot more—almost everything he does is off two. Still, because he gets up so easily and isn’t a load leaper, it doesn’t inhibit him much at this point. Just as he does when attacking the basket on offense, Hendricks glides across the floor with long strides when he has to rotate. His ground coverage is top-of-the-line, and it’s aided by his knowledge of where he needs to go. Even when things can get chaotic, or if he has to cover for another teammate’s error, he’s physically capable of getting into position and preventing easy baskets. Hendricks is more than happy to clean up the messes made by others.
Conclusion and Projection
Taylor Hendricks has a lot of skills that are valued by NBA teams, and he packs them into a body with NBA length and athleticism. Few players his size have ever shot threes at his clip with his efficiency as college freshmen playing against good competition. Though he needs to improve as a ball handler and is currently a basic passer, he limits his mistakes and manages to play within himself. He will likely struggle at the basket initially, but he has good touch, and if he bulks up (which he’s likely to do), he’ll be able to hold his own there. On the defensive end, he’s going to be able to cover multiple positions at the point of attack while acting as an alert playmaker off the ball.
Taylor Hendricks currently ranks eighth on my big board. Anything as high as #4 would be reasonable to me (though I don’t love the fit in Houston), and if he falls past #10, I will lose my mind. With Taylor Hendricks, you’re getting floor spacing, defensive versatility, and someone who moves the ball quickly while standing nearly 6’9”. Those types of players A) are coveted by every playoff team and B) tend to make a lot of money in their NBA careers.
The number of “disaster level outcomes” appears pretty low. Even if he simply had a hot shooting season and is more average from distance than he appears, his mobility and defensive acumen should keep him in the league. A massive playmaking leap could get him into All-Star consideration at some point, but I haven’t seen enough on that front to convince myself it’s a likely outcome at this stage, especially with how deep the league has become and how many star players are managing to lengthen their peaks. I see Hendricks eventually becoming a good, long-term starter at the NBA level who becomes even more valuable during the playoffs. If his college career was any indication, it may even happen sooner than expected.
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