Jazz lottery pick Taylor Hendricks hasn’t played much yet. What’s Utah’s plan, and how is he reacting?

The No. 9 overall pick has to earn his minutes on the floor — even in preseason.

It is extremely unusual for a lottery pick to have as few preseason minutes as Taylor Hendricks has had for the Utah Jazz so far.

In the first three games of the preseason, Hendricks has averaged 9.6 minutes per contest. (Meanwhile, fellow first-round Jazz draftee Brice Sensabaugh hasn’t played at all.)

Here’s the basic question: Is that a bad thing?

I’ve gone through the last five NBA drafts to compare preseason minutes and draft slots. First, some establishing facts:

• Hendricks has played less per game this preseason than every other rookie drafted this year from picks No. 1 through No. 41 — save for Sensabaugh. (Dariq Whitehead is injured, James Nnaji is overseas.)

• The other No. 9 picks averaged 24.2 minutes per game in the preseason. The average No. 6 through No. 12 pick averaged 21.8 minutes per game.

• Besides the rookies who missed preseason due to injury or coronavirus, no lottery pick has played less than Hendricks over the last five seasons. No healthy first-round rookie simply didn’t play in preseason.

• In fact, of the 150 first-round picks taken in the last five years, only nine have played less than Hendricks while healthy. Most second-round picks actually play more than Hendricks has.

Just for fun, take a look at the full list of rookies over the last five years who have played 12 minutes or fewer per game in the preseason:

It’s an informative list. Some of these players just haven’t been good enough to stick in the league and bring value to the teams that drafted them. Others, though, built off of limited rookie preseasons to become key players for their teams — Keldon Johnson and Jaden McDaniels in particular.

It’s also informative because the three names at the top: Hendricks, Sensabaugh, and Ochai Agbaji are all Jazzmen. It’s clear that the Jazz are taking a different approach to some of their rookies’ preseason minutes than the other teams in the NBA, especially this season. However, it’s also worth noting that Walker Kessler earned a substantial number of preseason minutes in his rookie year, as has this year’s No. 16 pick, Keyonte George.

No free minutes

So what is Utah’s approach here? Well, it’s Will Hardy’s “No free minutes” philosophy.

“We’re trying to win. This is not a laboratory,” Hardy said last year in explaining his thinking on the matter. “I want to create an environment where people work for it and it’s not just handed to you. Like, ‘Oh, you’re a high draft pick and so you just get to have the ball the whole time and you just get to play and you get to just throw the ball into the stands 18 times and we just don’t care.’ There are moments that you’re going to have to take a step back, you got to sit down, you’re going to play less and you’re not going to close this game.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz draft pick Taylor Hendricks speaks with Danny Ainge, CEO of the Utah Jazz during an NBA Summer League basketball game against the 76ers on Wednesday, July 5, 2023, at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City.

With regards to Hendricks, Hardy said he’s still trying to feel out “his role on the team — in terms of what things will actually get him playing time in the rotation, and what things I’m really not overly concerned with right now.”

“He’s got to be somebody that understands — as a role player coming in — our spacing offensively, and can execute the defensive game plan soundly,” Hardy said. That role, Hardy said, is almost more difficult than it is in the case of fellow rookie Keyonte George, who gets to control the ball when in the game. “There are some certain things that Taylor can’t control in a possession, but it’s understanding what things he can control and trying to really tune in on those.”

Truth be told, in his limited minutes, Hendricks has shown some difficulty in the areas Hardy is talking about. He probably forced the issue too much offensively in Game 1, and too little in Game 2. He’s yet to really apply his 7-foot-1 wingspan defensively in games.

But it’s also hard for a young player to fit in and feel comfortable in the flow of the game with such limited playing time. Hardy knows that. He also appreciated how Hendricks “doesn’t complain,” “doesn’t ask for anything,” and “doesn’t think that he’s owed anything.”

Encouragingly, Hendricks considered his on-court joy to come from the little role-player things Hardy wants him to focus on: “Just something as simple as like being in the gap, being in a stance, having my arms out, every time I’m in a physical on certain switches. Just like little stuff like that.”

In a smile-filled press conference on Thursday, Hendricks was asked about how comfortable he’s feeling so far, and his answer was pretty revealing:

“I will say sometimes, I kind of overthink a little bit just because I want to do good,” Hendricks said.

Quiet, for now

Like teammate Lauri Markkanen, Hardy called Hendricks “an introvert.” That especially makes sense given Hendricks’ career path so far: He was born, raised, and went to high school in South Florida near Miami, then went to college for one year at the University of Central Florida. A jump thousands of miles away as a 19-year-old could make anyone go into a shell.

This is also the first time in his life he’s been away from his twin, Tyler, for a long period of time. The pair still talk every day — usually while playing a video game.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Taylor Hendricks, the No. 9 Utah Jazz NBA draft pick, poses for photos with his mother Danielle Hendricks and his jersey at the Utah Jazz Basketball Center, June 26, 2023.

Still, Hendricks has impressed Hardy with the frequency and focus of his work. “It is hard to get a read on him at times because he’s quiet, but he’s as diligent a young player as I’ve been around,” Hardy said. “In his first couple months, he’s really made a great impression on me and our staff with his willingness to come in and just put the work in every day.”

That’s echoed by his teammates. John Collins — also an athletic forward — also noted how Hendricks needs to be “confident in himself.” But that was just a small part in an otherwise glowing review:

“He has a lot of potential, man. He’s definitely a modern forward in this league, and he’s built for the future of the game in terms of being versatile, being able to guard multiple spots and the ability to stretch the floor, athleticism, defensive capability,” Collins said. “I’m expecting a lot from T, and I’m trying to hold him up and trying to help him fulfill his potential.”

Hendricks appreciates the support, especially as he makes this adjustment. But he disputes that he’s actually quiet by nature — instead, it’s more of a product of circumstance.

“Right now, me being quiet is just me like taking everything in, trying to learn from the guys and just trying to learn the personalities of the team,” Hendricks said. “But once I get like more comfortable, I’ll be a little bit more outspoken for sure.”

Perhaps louder on the court, too — when he gets that chance.