Taylor Hendricks is one of the last lottery prospects I’m getting up to speed on ahead of the Detroit Pistons’ first-round draft choice on Thursday, and it was easy for me to see why he had such a quick rise.
I’ve already closely scouted other prospects in his range, including Ausar Thompson or Jarace Walker, and I liked both a lot, especially when it comes to their fit in Detroit under new head coach Monty Williams. That puts Hendricks, who had a skyrocketing rise over the course of his freshman season at UCF, behind the 8-ball a bit.
It should be said, even him entering the conversation at no. 5 with the likes of Ausar and Jarace signals just how impressive Hendricks is as a prospect.
The young forward is a bit ahead of his time, standing 6-foot-8.25 without shoes, weighing in at 213.6 pounds, stretching out for a 7-foot-0.5 wingspan when measuring in at the NBA Combine. His athleticism and shot blocking enable him to play any frontcourt spot defensively, while his offensive versatility helps his overall package shine.
The most appealing aspect of his offense is the shooting, especially from deep. He finished his only collegiate season shooting 39.4% from three, which is about as good as it gets for prospects his size.
He’s much better off the catch (40.9% on 3.9 attempts per game) than off the dribble (28.0% on 0.7 attempts), which could end up limiting his star upside, but those spot-up numbers are so good that he already has a great foundation to be your second- or third-option, especially when you consider he shoots 40.4% on contested spot-up threes.
Because he played with a lot of older guards, Hendricks was seldom asked to initiate the offense (21.2% usage), but in cases where he’s able to size up his defender, he’s got a bit of a bag to reach into, using jab steps, power dribbles, and the occasional spin move to create room.
While his combination of athleticism, length, and coordination do make him an at-times-lethal slasher, it should be noted that it’s often a fruitless labor for Hendricks. He converted just 44.7% of his layup attempts. Compare that to someone like Ausar Thompson, who’s three inches shorter and hit 51.2% of his layups.
Because of some of those self-creation woes, Hendricks would be well-served by playing with playmakers ahead of him on the creator depth chart (teams like Detroit at No. 5 with Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey or Indiana at No. 7 with Tyrese Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin). Many times, Hendricks is open going downhill on a cut, but his teammates aren’t able to find him. Just improving the level of table setters should make a big positive impact on his production.
Overall, his strengths on that end enable modes of offense like pick-and-pop, pick-and-rolls including those where he’s playmaking on the short roll, and creating against mismatches and bent defenses.
Opposing teams will worry much more about the defense early on with Hendricks rather than the offense because of the havoc he can create at any spot.
He’s best as a helper and weak-side rim protector, using his excellent hand-eye coordination to block 1.7 shots per game to lead the American Athletic Conference and only fouling 2.0 times per game, with at least four fouls in only six out of 34 games.
Admittedly, while he normally does a good job of being in the right position to stop drives and actions, sometimes it can look like he’s thinking the game rather than seeing it. That leaves him a step behind every now and then, a little late to arrive. Along similar lines, he sometimes overestimates his length and speed, playing too low before needing to close out high, already too far to effectively do so.
Hendricks has the ability to be a total menace in space and flashes it on a game-to-game basis, but his effort can wane in and out of each possession. My general philosophy is that is enough for a high-profile prospect to at least flash elite defensive potential. If I know you can do it, then I am at least confident you can be coached to do it consistently. Of course, it definitely puts him a few notches below the prospects that consistently bring the effort.
When he does bring that effort into space, he proves that he’s one of only a few players in the class who can give you possessions on all five positions. He was one of the best isolation defenders in the country, holding opponents to 8-of-23 (34.8%) shooting, yielding 0.625 points per possession for the 70th percentile, according to Synergy.
The more I watched, the harder it got to justify guys like Cam Whitmore and Jarace Walker being ranked ahead of Hendricks. His total package of size, shooting, and defense, while not really having a single big question mark relative to the others in that tier is so appealing, especially when Detroit isn’t in need of creators.
I’d still favor Ausar Thompson at the fifth pick because of the star upside, but if you’re looking for a safer top-10 pick, this would be a very safe one that I’d understand, especially when you’re on the cusp of trying to win like Detroit is. Hendricks will finish sixth overall on my board.