The Utah Jazz said there were nine players they were considering with their No. 9 pick in Thursday’s NBA draft, indicating a willingness to perhaps stay put and select whoever came to them.
That’s exactly what they did, staying put at No. 9 and selecting their No, 9-ranked prospect, Central Florida forward Taylor Hendricks.
Hendricks was one of the biggest risers in the predraft process after a stellar freshman season with the Knights.
“I mean, it’s crazy,” Hendricks said in a Zoom interview with Utah media. “One year ago, I wasn’t even thinking about going to the NBA. I was just focusing on the college season and trying to get better, trying to earn my spot on the team. To come here in a year, that’s a blessing.”
He is a 6-foot-8, 214-pound forward who is a great multipositional defender, and who shot 39.4% from 3-point range on 4.6 attempts per game.
He averaged 15.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game.
He added that it wasn’t until about halfway through the season — when people start messaging him on social media, suggesting NBA teams they’d like to see him on — that he started to believe going to the league sooner than later was possible.
Hendricks now projects as the team’s successor at power forward to Kelly Olynyk, pairing with Lauri Markkanen and Walker Kessler as an imposing frontcourt of the future.
“I feel like I fit in perfectly,” he said. “Walker Kessler is a great shot-blocker, Lauri Markkanen is a great shooter, they’re both big and they have length — and I have length, and I can block shots. I feel like we can be a really good defensive team.”
He is regarded as an excellent athlete with a great vertical leap. He was a constant lob threat for UCF on rolls to the rim. That made him an excellent shot-blocker as a weakside helper, as he’s not really a true rim-protector.
Given his defensive versatility, Hendricks showed a consistent ability to be switchable one through four at the collegiate level. He played some small-ball five in high school and collegiately, though he likely needs to bulk up to have a chance to do that in the NBA.
“Just really excited about those measurables and adding positional size,” general manager Justin Zanik said after the first round.
Offensively, Hendricks is skilled in pick-and-roll plays as a target — not so much as an initiator. His ability to put the ball on the floor for more than straight-line drives to the hoop needs work, as does his ability to play-make for teammates, considering he averaged just 1.4 assists per game.
Hendricks will, though, instantly endear himself to Jazz fans with his penchant for making hustle plays — diving on the court for loose balls, taking charges, and challenging opponents at the rim.
He also apparently endeared himself to the Jazz’s decision-makers in the predraft process. He confirmed that while he did not have a workout with the team, he did visit for an in-person interview, and said he felt like his conversations with CEO Danny Ainge, owner Ryan Smith, and coach Will Hardy went very well.
As a result, he became the first Central Florida player ever selected in the lottery.
Sensabaugh noted that he’s known Hendricks for years, and is good friends with him even though Hendricks’ “stacked” Calvary Christian team beat his own Lake Highland Prep in a Florida high school championship game.
He said the Jazz got a great player and an even better person.
“Super, super cool guy, fun to be around, and brightens up the room,” Sensabaugh said. “And he’s super selfless — he never puts himself first.”