Utah Jazz take developmental track with rookies Taylor Hendricks and Brice Sensabaugh

The two rookies, both 19, have begun practicing with the Salt Lake City Stars.

(Isaac Hale | AP) Utah Jazz forward Taylor Hendricks (0) shoots the ball while contested by Portland Trail Blazers guard Skylar Mays (5) during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game Oct. 14 in Salt Lake City.

To begin the NBA season, 19-year-old rookies Taylor Hendricks and Brice Sensabaugh are not part of the Utah Jazz’s rotation.

That’s more disappointing in the case of Hendricks, last year’s No. 9 pick, than it is for Sensabaugh, the No. 27 pick. Most lottery picks do at least make the rotation their rookie year, and Hendricks hasn’t.

Notably, the No. 16 pick Keyonte George has been a part of the Jazz’s initial rotation. In the case of Hendricks, it seems clear the Jazz’s coaching staff believes he’s not ready to contribute at an NBA level just yet.

Frankly, the evidence we, the public have, says the coaching staff is probably right. While Hendricks has only played a combined 61 minutes in a Jazz uniform so far across five preseason games and one blowout regular season game, the University of Central Florida product looked out of his depth in that time. Hendricks struggled to find his place in the Jazz’s defense, didn’t always run hard in transition, and didn’t score efficiently when he did have the ball. Sensabaugh, too, didn’t have the secondary skills in his game needed to play with the rest of the big league team.

This is not ideal — over the aggregate, players who can contribute right away have better outcomes in their NBA careers.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Brice Sensabaugh (8) during NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023.

However, it is also not the end of the world.

There are numerous examples of players who didn’t play much at all as rookies who became very good players. Dejounte Murray hardly played as a rookie and eventually became an All-Star with the Spurs. Gerald Wallace did with Charlotte, too. Michael Redd is another example, with the Bucks. Rudy Gobert famously didn’t play much at all with the Jazz in his rookie season before becoming an All-NBA center. And if you are just looking for good role players are starters, there are so many more examples to mention.

So given that the Jazz believe Hendricks and Sensabaugh aren’t ready for NBA action, they’ve made a decision: They’re giving them practice time with the G-League Salt Lake City Stars. Right now, it’s that team’s training camp portion of the season; their first games aren’t until Nov. 11. Neither Hendricks nor Sensabaugh traveled with the Jazz on their recent weekend trip to Phoenix and Denver, instead staying home in Salt Lake City to attend the training camp. It’s a smart bet that they’ll stay with the Stars for the Jazz’s upcoming four-game road trip that begins Friday.

The pair have completed three practices with the Stars so far.

“You want young players to get reps, and live reps against good players. Once our season gets going, the amount of practice time shrinks considerably,” Jazz coach Will Hardy explained. “They practiced today for two and a half hours. We did not have a two-and-a-half-hour live shootaround this morning.”

It’s practice time that Hendricks and Sensabaugh said they appreciated.

“It’s going pretty well, we’re going pretty hard,” Hendricks said. “It’s pretty much everything the Jazz are working on. We have pretty much the same plays, same concepts, same things we want to get done. So, you know, just being down there is helping.”

While they were called back up to the Jazz for the team’s two home games on Wednesday and Thursday, the hard practices — Hardy, Hendricks, and Sensabaugh alike emphasized how physical they were when discussing them — also meant that neither of the two rookies played in Wednesday night’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies, despite the blowout. In short, the Jazz’s medical staff believe they’re likely to be fatigued after the practice, which leads to a higher chance of injury.

Still, Hendricks and Sensabaugh see the Jazz’s rationale and agree with it.

“It’s definitely a good experience so far,” Sensabaugh said. “Me and Taylor and some of the two-ways have been able to thrive and just kind of get a feel for each other.”

Hardy believes that it’s a trend that will continue in the NBA.

“We’re seeing younger and younger players come into the NBA. Eight years ago, it wasn’t like you were drafting three 19-year-olds in the same draft. We’re just trying to get those guys as many reps as we can until they’re in a position to play enough minutes with our group every night that it would be overkill to send them there,” Hardy said. “Both those guys understand that this is the opposite of punishment.”

For the Jazz, they hope it’s the beginning of a blossoming.

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