Taylor Made: Taylor Hendricks & His NBA Game | The Weekend Warrior
PRELUDE: The Evolving NBA | FEATURING: UCF's freshman forward, Taylor Hendricks | ALSO: Weekend Warrior Awards
The Evolving NBA
The NBA is an ever-evolving league. The status quo doesn’t last as long as we sometimes think it does. There was a time in which the thought process was: “you could not win an NBA Championship without an elite big man.” That era lasted a long time, too. The days of Wilt and Russell handed the baton off to Kareem and McHale. From there, we were introduced to players like Hakeem, and then Shaq. The era of centers lasted a long time. Then, we started to see the importance of the guards. Oscar Robertson paved the way for the jumbo initiators that have started to be in such high demand. Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas soon had the basketball world believing that an elite table-setter that can also score is the most important player for a team’s success. Though he never won an NBA Championship, John Stockton would be revered for his two-way ability at the point. Gary Payton would enforce the importance of point-of-attack defense that the draft community has waxed and waned on over the years.
The NBA has given birth to a number of floor-benders. These are players that have laid the foundation for the “position-less” basketball we so easily assume just sprouted up out of nowhere. Larry Bird is lauded for his shooting, but his ball handling, rebounding, and playmaking at his size were a cheat code for his time. Luka Doncic has been in circulation for doing his best Larry Legend fake-pass-to-layup move. Charles Barkley’s archetype is rarely ever used for today’s players. We use legendary players consistently for comps to up-and-coming NBA talent, but Sir Charles’s style is left out. I blame the fact that he hasn’t been in many NBA video games, but the undersized giant played multiple positions, rebounded the hell out of the ball, could handle the rock, played defense, and eventually stretched his shot to the three-point line. Dirk Nowitzki wasn’t the first international player that graced the NBA court, but his game was oft-attempted to be replicated. Remember Andrea Bargnani? Dirk actually started out as a 3 for Dallas but, as the game changed during his time, he found a real niche as a stretch-four. Kevin Garnett is one of the “OG” players that could actually guard positions 1 through 5. That skill set is now one of the most coveted and one that NBA teams obsess over so much, that they will routinely force square pegs into round holes to find that player.
Draymond Green and Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors are some of the latest floor-benders, and Golden State has been fortunate to have had two such players on their roster for as long as they have. Curry has obviously revolutionized the way the game is played offensively, as he has grown into the best shooter in NBA history. Draymond isn’t the first player to show how valuable defensive versatility is—see players like Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman—but combining that with top-tier passing, good rebounding, and intangibles, we now see that Draymond is now one of these “often replicated, never duplicated” player types.
Power wings have been in the fold for a little while now, but they are probably some of the newest player archetypes that the league has seen. LeBron James is this player type personified, but now we see players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Zion Williamson take that play style, and apply it to the forward position. Players like James Harden and Luka Doncic have taken that style and given it to the guard spot. Kevin Durant’s floor-bending game has given birth to larger, skill-based “position-less” players that have now infiltrated the NBA. Orlando has Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero, and *gulp* Bol Bol. Cleveland has Evan Mobley. Kevin Durant has carried the torch of versatility combined with size that Larry Bird perfected—that players like Hedo Turkoglu, Lamar Odom, and Rashard Lewis popularized in their time—and turned it into something that is now being emulated.
As much as player types have changed and evolved, so have rotational strategies. Once upon a time, utilizing a “Twin Tower” lineup was thought to be the correct way to play the game. It’s now thought to be archaic two have two players that are most effective around the rim on the court together, especially considering what that does to floor spacing. But what we are starting to see become more of a trend is a modernized version of the “Twin Tower” concept. Never mind what Minnesota is doing with Gobert and Towns—that’s not the modernized concept I’m speaking of here. Take note of what Orlando, Cleveland, and Utah are doing. Multiple, bigger players that are skilled enough to line up at multiple positions.
This concept of a modernized “Twin Towers” lineup is why I was high on Jaden McDaniels in his draft class. It’s why many were high on Mobley. Paolo brought this style to Orlando while being taken as the number one pick in last year’s draft, with Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith going behind him. The idea of versatility on both sides of the ball, coupled with size, looks to be the new wave of the NBA. I mean, my goodness, look at what Victor Wembanyama is doing to NBA Draft sites, shows, podcasts, etc. But this player type isn’t reserved for the highest-end players. Similar to the previously mentioned Jaden McDaniels, players like Jarred Vanderbilt and Aleksej Pokusevski bring a multitude of skills and lineup versatility to the Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
This new wave is now giving talent evaluators new ways of projecting prospects into the league, with a new way of determining who’s who relative to their peers. This relatively new way of playing basketball leads us to this week’s featured prospect: UCF’s freshman forward Taylor Hendricks.
Taylor Hendricks & His NBA Game
What a start to the 2023 NBA draft cycle it has been! A number of prospects have risen from a lack of relevancy or projection to now becoming some of the more prominent players that look to be drafted in the coming months. One such prospect is Taylor Hendricks of UCF. Hendricks is a freshman, listed at 6’9” and 210 pounds. Although he is one of the hottest risers for this class, Taylor wasn’t exactly an unknown during the preseason. His RSCI ranking for the 2022 class was in the Top 50—46 to be exact. His ranking was above the recently-featured Brice Sensabaugh, as well as Leonard Miller and Noah Clowney.
Hendricks was not in the first installment of IPOs for this draft class, as complied by Corey Tulaba. He was left off of several 1.0 Mock Drafts and Big Boards alike. But now? The Athletic had Hendricks ranked 47th on Sam Vecenie’s Top 100 Big Board by late November. Krysten Peek had Taylor going 26th to the Memphis Grizzles on Yahoo Sports’ latest Mock, released on December 23rd. Bleacher Report dropped a Mock Draft prior to Christmas, having Hendricks at 25 to the Utah Jazz. On the latest No Ceilings BIG Board, Hendricks came in at 44. On the most recent “Mockposite Draft” conducted on Draft Deeper, Hendricks was taken at 17th to the Utah Jazz. The rise for Hendricks has been rapid, and there seems to be no ceiling as to how high he can climb.
And it’s easy to see why. With teams becoming more and more comfortable playing bigger players, Hendricks’s archetype is as much in demand as it has ever been. Utah is fortunate enough to have these large, multi-positional players on a roster that has turned heads this season, in terms of surpassing expectations. Lauri Markkanen and Jarred Vanderbilt have different playstyles and roles, but both fit the mold of this versatile player type. Their abilities have been utilized extensively. Markkanen frequents the 3 in the two most used lineups Utah features. Vanderbilt lines up at the 4 in those same units. In Utah’s third most used lineup, both players slide to the 4 and the 5, respectively. That accounts for close to 23% of Utah’s total possessions on the season, per Cleaning the Glass.
Cavs forward Evan Mobley also showcases a versatile skill set, but he has been exclusively a 4 for the most part. Although he’s “only” playing mainly one position in a sense, his skill set gives his team so much roster flexibility that he is featured in 9 of 10 of Cleveland’s most used lineups—one of which, Mobley is featured at the 5. That equates to about 36% of their total possessions on the season. Franz Wagner is one of the more popular players among NBA media at large, and it is partially because he is large and is a malleable player. Listed at 6’10”, Wagner plays the 2 and the 3 for the Magic—giving them a ton of lineup flexibility. In lineups that have been featured in over 50 possessions on the season, Franz has played 809 possessions at the 2 and 324 at the 3. Orlando’s rookie, Paolo Banchero, within that same criteria has played 598 possessions at the 3 and 197 at the 4.
Despite the failure that the Towns-Gobert pairing has been relative to expectations, Minnesota does have one of these modernized 4s on their roster that could be more indicative of the role and status that Hendricks could have once he enters the league: Jaden McDaniels. Despite the dialogue that surrounds Jaden being featured more at the 3, the lineups in which he is slotted at that position have been pretty successful. Three of the four most used lineups the Wolves put on the floor have McDaniels at the 3. Those lineups are +5.4, +10.6, +5.4, respectively. He also spends some time at the 4—273 possessions in lineups that have around 50 total possessions.
All of that discussion about current NBA players, roster construction, and schematical approach all plays into the type of player that Taylor Hendricks projects to be. He is a versatile offensive player that has the upside to become even better with added strength. We’ll take a look at what Hendricks brings to the table on that side of the ball.
What makes the aforementioned NBA players and schemes work is how versatile these larger players have to be. It is imperative that these forwards have a requisite skillset that opens the floor for others. Floor spacing is vital. The shooting that Hendricks has displayed at his height is a valuable commodity at the next level, and he has shown a level of consistency that players of his age—especially at his size—simply just don’t display all that often.
Per BartTorvik, Hendricks is 18th among all freshmen players in three-point percentage. That is without a qualifier in quantity, so there are players listed ahead of him that are 1-for-1 from deep. Within the Top 30 of freshmen with the highest three-point percentage, there are only five players that have made more three-pointers. While standing at a reported height of 6’9”, Hendricks is joined only by Brandon Miller of Alabama, Jalen Reed of LSU, and Justin Abson of Appalachian State (one-of-one on the year) as the 30 most efficient freshmen shooters at 6’9 or taller.
Beyond where he ranks offensively among freshmen, Hendricks is one of only seven players in all of college basketball with 20+ dunks that shoot at least 40% from deep on the season. Taylor has 20 dunks and is shooting 41% from distance. And he’s the only freshman in that group.
When looking at the 14 games Taylor has played in, there has only been one game in which he did not register a made three-pointer. Within those same 14 games, he has made 3+ in four of them. When looking at his film and the way he gets to his jumper, it’s easy to see how translatable his floor spacing could be.
In this clip against Ole Miss, we get to see how quickly Taylor can get into his shot. As UCF corrals the rebound, they are looking to push the break. Darius Johnson (#3) gets to halfcourt in a hurry, but Myles Burns (#3) and Daeshun Ruffin (#24) meet him with some pressure. Ruffin stumbles a bit, which prompts Johnson to kick the ball to CJ Kelly (#13). Kelly receiving the ball forces Josh Mballa (#33) to step out on him, leaving our guy open on the wing. Kelly recognizes the open man and kicks the rock to Hendricks. Two things to pay attention to here: 1) Hendricks is not hugging the line; he has good range. 2) Hendricks’ ability to get into his stance and let the ball fly didn’t take long at all. UCF’s possession is over in just seven seconds.
This is an instance that I will occasionally use an example of offensive strength against a zone defense. In these moments, I will often say it is important to take note of where the play is taking place. Santa Clara is in a pretty standard 2-3 zone here. You can’t see our guy in the opening moments of this play, but Taylor is posted in the left corner. As the pick-and-roll is being run, the Broncos are concerned with the two UCF players in the action. Again, while this is taking place against a zone, oftentimes in the NBA a dominant ball handler will attract significant attention from the defense. Depending on the player, the defense may wall-off the paint to prevent rim pressure. With Tyem Freeman (#11) driving, the Broncos clog the paint and force Freeman to make the pass. Instead of hitting the man next to him, CJ Kelly, he whips the ball to Hendricks in the corner for an easy three-pointer. The level of consistency and productivity that Taylor displays from beyond the arc is what I referenced earlier: a modernized, multi-positional player that has the skill set to maximize rotational flexibility.
What makes Hendricks such an intriguing offensive player is how he can impact the game from various areas of the court. As impressive as his outside shooting is, it’s far from being his only weapon. Taylor is currently 50.5% on his two-point attempts, with about 49 attempts coming from inside the three-point line. InStat shows that he is 25-of-51 (49%) from the restricted area, and 50% from floater range—on a very limited sample size (3-of-6 overall).
Cutting seems to be an area where Hendricks could become more of an impact player, especially as he gets stronger. When the defense scrambles, he shows a nose to get to the rim and uses his great length and athleticism to finish the play. In this clip against Oklahoma State, we see the ball being swung to Ithiel Horton (#12). As Horton is working to attack the basket, CJ Walker (#21) seals off a driving lane for him. Three players engage on Horton, and he makes a pass along the baseline to our guy. The work that Hendricks did before he caught the ball was impressive. He starts off in the right corner, away from everything. He slowly paces himself to the lane as he sees Horton drive. He gets the ball on the righthand, short corner, and recognizes that there will be two defenders in his path—both of which will be recovering, as they have their backs to Taylor when he catches the ball. Moussa Cisse (#33) and Tyreek Smith (#23) converge on Hendricks, but he uses their momentum against them. As they engage, Hendricks takes one power dribble, spins in between them, and flushes the dunk. Patience, preparation, skill, and athleticism: all on display for the young forward.
Another example of Hendricks seeing a hole and filling it here. At the onset of this play, we see Jayhlon Young (#1) with the ball at the top of the key, working it over to Hendricks on the left wing. A very simple set designed to get the ball to Michael Durr (#2), who wants to post up freshman Cameron Corhen (#3) on the block. Hendricks hits Durr with a good entry pass—a skill that gets talked about a ton as a skill that doesn’t get talked about enough. As Durr looks to go to work, Taylor lulls his man, Cam’Ron Fletcher (#21) to sleep with a couple of strides to the top of the key. Perhaps this gave Fletcher a false sense of security, as he looks to see if Corhen might need some assistance with his assignment. Recognizing that his man isn’t looking at him, Hendricks makes a good cut to the lane. Durr does a good job of using his and his teammate’s size to his advantage. The pass comes from and goes to a high point, which makes the recovering Fletcher have to lunge to the ball. Caleb Mills (#4) does his best to help off and stop him, but Taylor stops to avoid a potential charge and lays the ball in.
This game against UNC Asheville was a heck of an introduction to the game of Hendricks, as well as UNCA’s Drew Pember (#4). In this clip, we get to see Taylor finish a play in the way that makes everybody happy. Not too much to describe on this possession. We see Young bring the ball up the floor for the Knights. He hits his defender, Trent Stephney (#0), with a behind-the-back dribble and drives down the center of the lane. Pember has the unfortunate assignment of Hendricks here, and he steps away from him to prevent an easy bucket from Young. With what shot he took away from Young, Pember gave to the lurking Hendricks, who was stationed in the dunker spot for this very opportunity. He finishes the alley-oop with ease, thanks to his instant verticality.
Besides being a stationary outside shooter or lob threat, Hendricks does display some encouraging flashes off of the bounce—though I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is a major strength currently. It’s easy to envision Hendricks being asked to run a similar set at the next level, as a number of NBA offenses run plays through their frontcourt on DHOs. This play starts with Young initiating the offense just inside the halfcourt line. UCF uses four players along the baseline, with Hendricks and Durr flashing to the elbows in a Horns set. Hendricks and Durr come high—to about the top of the key—with Durr setting a screen for Hendricks. As Taylor curls to the left wing, Young gets him the ball. Oklahoma State declines to switch on the big-to-big screen action, leaving Kalib Boone (#22) on our guy. While Taylor faces up, we see Young running to him. Hendricks gets into a handoff stance with Young curling around Taylor’s outside shoulder. Hendricks could have easily handed the ball off, as many frontcourt players do to give their playmaker a head of steam gunning to the rim. Instead, we see Hendricks keep the ball. What gives Hendricks separation was Young’s defender, John-Michael Wright (#51), going under the handoff. Boone had to give way to his teammate, but this gave Hendricks room to keep the ball and make a decision. It’s only natural that Boone—having just sacrificed space—would assume that the dribbling Hendricks would attack on the drive. But, after one dribble, he pulls up for an open three-pointer. Hendricks’s options were available throughout this set, but this clip illustrates Taylor’s ability to go through his progressions and chose the correct way to punish the defense. And speaking of defense…
Part of being a versatile player in the NBA isn’t “just” having a number of ways you can be implemented on offense. Nay. The ability to defend up and down the opposing team’s lineups may be the determining factor in that regard. With the philosophy of “your position is who you defend” becoming more and more prevalent, the idea of a modernized Twin Tower lineup means covering more ground in more ways. And Hendricks can do just that.
According to Synergy, Hendricks ranks in the 81st percentile (Very Good) among all defenders against “All Field Goal Attempts”—an incredible feat for any player, let alone a freshman. He ranks in the 83rd percentile (Very Good) in defending jump shots, and in the 64th percentile (Very Good) in defending at-rim attempts. When looking at how he defends attempts based on range, Hendricks ranks in the 94th percentile (Excellent) in the “Short to 17” feet category, and in the 61st Percentile (Good) defending “Long 3 pts” shots. Interestingly enough, Synergy has no grade or rank for Hendricks in the “Medium 17 to < 3 Pts” category, due to only having four possessions logged for him while defending in that range.
InStat’s representation of Taylor’s “Opponent’s Field Goals” chart is also pretty encouraging. This graphic shows that Hendricks is allowing a three-point percentage of about 24%, roughly 9% from mid-range, approximately 30% from floater range, and about 49% at the basket.
If stats aren’t your thing, I’ll put it simply: Hendricks has that dawg in him. We’ll take a look at how his defense should translate, starting with his rim protection.
This clip shows more of the positives that Hendricks has shown while being the lone man defending the paint. Oklahoma State has a couple of passes on the outside before Boone receives the rock along the free-throw line. By the time Boone goes to face up, our guy is right in front of him, putting his chest into Boone’s airspace. Boone takes a few dribbles and begins to back Taylor down. As Boone sets his back to the basket and begins to go to work, Hendricks does a great job of getting his hands up to avoid a tacky foul. Boone fakes to the inside, then quickly turns baseline. Hendricks actually bit on the fake but never sold out of his position. His length and athleticism are enough to make up for the slight separation that Taylor gave up, as he gets vertical and gets his hand extended to block the shot. Good ball tracking as well.
Here’s an instance of Hendricks being required to switch onto a smaller player, something I’m sure that will be asked of him in the NBA from time to time. As Stetson is working the pick-and-roll here, we see Hendricks switched onto guard Stephan Swenson (#30). Swenson tries his best to poke and prod his way into the paint, first by crossing and driving to the left, then with a spin and a little bit of an armbar with his offhand. Taylor does a great job of sliding with Swenson on both sides and keeping his hands up to avoid a cheap foul. Swenson tries to sell a little fake to his left as he reaches the block but then spins to the lane. After an upfake, Swenson tries to get into Hendricks’ chest. That doesn’t do much. Taylor does a great job of maintaining his position—not pushing back into Swenson as he goes up and then gets vertical. His reach proved to be a real challenge that Stetson’s guard couldn’t adequately deal with, as Taylor gobbles up the ball before it really even stood a chance to go in. Hendricks does a great job of sliding with the smaller man and using his advantages to…his advantage.
In the same game, we see another example of how our guy can be positionally versatile on defense. Stetson got a matchup advantage they believed was favorable, as Cyncier Harrison (#10) looks to take Taylor off of the bounce. Harrison drives to his left as Hendricks meets him at the top of the key, likely assuming his speed could overcome the length that is across from him. Hendricks does get a little bit of help from teammate CJ Kelly, as he reaches from his denial stance but doesn’t do much beyond that. Harrison counters by picking up his dribble and reaching high to prevent the poke out. Hendricks does a terrific job maintaining parallel with Harrison while he takes his two steps and goes into a running jumper. Henricks sends it flying to the left corner. Rejected. This is an example as to why Synergy has Hendricks graded out in the 97th percentile (Excellent) while defending the “Dribble Jumper”—allowing only 0.308 points per possession on 26 attempts.
If you are a threat to deter shots at the basket, teams will often look for ways to pull you out. If you can counter with sound footwork and superb use of length, you now become a rare breed of defender that is positionally versatile. I love this play because we see Hendricks look to position himself as a rim defender due to the threat of Matthew Murrell (#11) attacking off the pick-and-roll. Mississippi works the ball around the perimeter with two quick passes that results in the ball being in the opposite corner. That means Hendricks has to quickly go from helping rim defender on the block. to closing out in an on-ball stance in the corner. Hendricks’ man, Myles Burns (#3), catches the ball and drives to the elbow. Hendricks closes off his lane with good footwork and forces Burns to make an immediate decision. Coming off his dribble, Burns tries to sell the pump fake and then goes into his jumper. The length and timing of Hendricks prove to be too much for the senior guard, as the ball comes well short of the rim. It’s important to note that the discipline that Taylor exhibits on this play is not what you typically see from a young shot blocker. For a freshman that has a 6.0 block percentage to average only 1.9 fouls per game—that’s just impressive.
With the skill that we are witnessing Hendricks demonstrate on both ends of the floor, it should come across as no surprise that we are seeing such a rapid ascent in his value at this point in the season.
Weekend Warrior Awards
Kendric Davis | Guard | Memphis
24.0 PPG | 9.0 APG | 2.0 RPG | 5.0 SPG | 0.0 BPG | 54.5 FG% | 50.0 3P% | 83.3 FT% | 4.0 TOPG | 2.0 FPG
Dariq Whitehead | Wing | Duke
16.0 PPG | 2.0 APG | 1.0 RPG | 1.0 SPG | 0.0 BPG | 54.5 FG% | 33.3 3P% | 100.0 FT% | 2.0 TOPG | 2.0 FPG
Marcus Carr | Guard | Texas
27.0 PPG | 3.0 APG | 1.0 RPG | 3.0 SPG | 0.0 BPG | 54.8 FG% | 66.7 3P% | 88.9 FT% | 1.0 TOPG | 1.5 FPG
Andre Jackson | Wing | UConn
12.0 PPG | 5.0 APG | 8.0 RPG | 2.5 SPG | 0.5 BPG | 32.0 FG% | 37.5 3P% | 50.0 FT% | 2.0 TOPG | 2.0 FPG
Kris Murray | Forward | Iowa
17.0 PPG | 2.0 APG | 8.0 RPG | 1.0 SPG | 3.0 BPG | 40.0 FG% | 37.5 3P% | 100.0 FT% | 2.0 TOPG | 1.0 FPG
KJ Simpson | Guard | Colorado
28.0 PPG | 4.5 APG | 5.0 RPG | 1.5 SPG | 0.0 BPG | 48.8 FG% | 30.1 3P% | 83.3 FT% | 2.5 TOPG | 3.0 FPG
Kobe Brown | Guard | Missouri
30.0 PPG | 2.0 APG | 6.0 RPG | 2.0 SPG | 0.0 BPG | 55.5 FG% | 50.0 3P% | 75.0 FT% | 2.0 TOPG | 3.0 FPG
Brandin Podziemski | Guard | Santa Clara
18.5 PPG | 4.0 APG | 7.0 RPG | 2.0 SPG | 0.0 BPG | 48.0 FG% | 33.3 3P% | 78.6 FT% | 2.0 TOPG | 3.5 FPG