How Jazz rookie Taylor Hendricks dealt with G League disappointment and the NBA learning curve

The 20-year-old Utah Jazz forward does another Q&A to discuss the ups and downs of his first professional season.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Taylor Hendricks (0) warms up with the team prior to an NBA basketball in Salt Lake City Monday, Dec. 18, 2023.

After being drafted No. 9 overall by the Utah Jazz, Taylor Hendricks’ NBA career got off to a slow start.

A hamstring injury kept him out of summer league. Then he was assigned to the G League affiliate Salt Lake City Stars for some development work.

Injury problems on the main roster soon led to finally get some NBA minutes, though. And while his statistical production hasn’t been overwhelming, his on-court confidence is growing, and the toolbox that prompted the team to use a rare top-10 pick on him is becoming ever more apparent.

In an earlier Q&A with The Salt Lake Tribune, the 20-year-old talked about sitting out of summer league and being worried his mom wouldn’t be staying with him in Salt Lake City.

Recently, Hendricks discussed the disappointment of starting in the G League, what he learned in his time there, and what it’s been like acclimating to life as an NBA player.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

You’ve experienced a lot these past few months. Are you able to kind of sum up your NBA experience so far?

I would say it was like for me personally, it was kind of up and down. I’ll just start from the beginning. Obviously, starting with the injury, kind of being behind, and then starting the season off in the G League — that was pretty hard for me mentally. That first week, it was tough; I was trying to tell myself, ‘This is for the best.’ Once I figured it out, that I can use this to my advantage, everything started to work in my favor.

When I got called up, then I was ready because of the mindset I had when I was in the G League. I’m still trying to get better, still trying to improve. I’m not perfect.

Take me through that conversation you had about beginning in the G League. How did you navigate the early disappointment?

I think we were getting ready for a game and we had shootaround; I was doing my work, and then Danny Ainge sat me down and said I was going to start in the G League and do their training camp on Oct. 31. And I was like, OK, and then I went home and was just thinking to myself — I was everywhere, mentally. I was just thinking soooo many things. But it ended up being a really good thing for me.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Taylor Hendricks (0) maneuvers by Brooklyn Nets forward Royce O'Neale (00) during NBA basketball in Salt Lake City Monday, Dec. 18, 2023.

You referenced the hamstring injury during the summer and missing time and getting behind as a result. What was the coaching staff’s early focus in helping you get ramped up?

Pretty much just talking to coach Wojo [Steve Wojciechowski] — his main thing was just trying to get me better, to help me develop in a way that would help the Jazz. Overall, we weren’t ranked very high defensively. He was just trying to give me tips, and we watched a lot of film. Just really trying to build me as a player — learn the system, learn what we do offensively, defensively, so that when I do come back up to the Jazz, I’m sharp and I don’t have to walk through a lot of things.

You’ve told us you feel more ready to make an immediate impact on the defensive end. What are some of the things offensively the coaching staffs — both in the G League and here — are wanting to get you up to speed on?

The spacing that we do. I feel like our spacing is simple, but it’s crucial to what we do, and sometimes we mess it up. For me to learn that and be in the right spot every time will help our offense. That’s come with getting reps and doing a lot of that stuff in games and practices with the G [League team]. That helped me not have to think about it so much and just do it instinctually.

You’re a young guy who spends some time on social media; what was it like to encounter so much early questioning about where you were in your development?

It is tough seeing those things. But at the same time, I pray a lot, so my mindset through it was God never puts you in a place to hurt you. So I just kept that mindset. People are always gonna love you one second and hate you the next. People on the internet are pretty fickle, so you’ve just got to think about it like that and it won’t really stick with you.

Since you’ve been called up, you’ve had some really good moments. What was the experience like of figuring out for certain you can do NBA things against NBA players?

I mean, it’s a huge boost of confidence. When I play, I just try to control things I can control, and when I do well in those things, it’s just a huge boost of confidence overall. The best thing you can feel is you can help a team win. I feel that I do that, I help this team win. That’s all you can ask for.

Where do you feel like you’ve been most effective in helping the team win?

I’ll feel like defensively. My activity defensively. We have a lot of great scorers, so [my] offense, we’re not really worried about that. It’s really defensively, and I feel like I’ve given a lot on that end.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Taylor Hendricks (0) puts on a defensive stance during NBA basketball in Salt Lake City Monday, Dec. 18, 2023.

Where do you feel like you have grown the most offensively?

I’ve grown a lot in my reads, knowing when to put the ball down knowing when to make a pass, make the simple pass, and not do too much with the ball. Running my lane, spacing, getting to my spots quick, changing ends.

And where do you feel like there’s still the most room to grow going forward?

I will say I’m just continuously working on my on-ball skills — playing off the dribble and creating my own shot, things like that.

You’re getting a lot of new experiences as an NBA player — going from a 35-game schedule to 82, getting to see new cities all the time; what has stood out about your professional life?

Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely crazy. Like playing a game and flying out that same night to a different city, and then not being home for a couple of days, and then coming home for a day and having to leave again. It’s all been crazy, but it’s a blessing. Nothing in life is easy, but it’s just a blessing be able to do this.

What was your ‘Welcome to the NBA’ moment?

We were playing against the Clippers, and I felt myself being boxed out by James Harden and Paul George. And that was kind of it for me. I used to watch Paul George, because I was a Heat fan, so I was watching him play against LeBron in the [Eastern Conference] finals with the Pacers. And then watching James Harden, go [get] triple-doubles, against Russell Westbrook. They were both doing a triple-double thing in the league. So, just to be boxed out by two Hall of Famers, that was kind of crazy in the moment.

Do you have a specific vet on this team taking you under his wing?

I feel like I’m everybody’s rookie! I talk a lot with John Collins. Kris Dunn, I always talk to him. And I sit next to John Collins on the plane. But I’m also always talking to Jordan Clarkson and Kelly Olynyk. Pretty much everybody!

Guys making the transition to the NBA often talk about how much free time they find they have when they’re not working out or practicing or playing. How do you like to spend your off-court time?

I’ll probably hop on a game, or try watching a movie on Netflix. I don’t really go outside, I’m more of a homebody. So I’ll just stay home, find something to do around the house, talk to my old college roommates and you know, things like that.

PS5, I’m playing Fortnight and 2K, with my twin brother Tyler; Dusty May, the FAU head coach — I play with his son Charlie; and then Jayhlon Young from Memphis. They were my roommates at Central Florida, so I play with those guys all the time.

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