Welcome to our offseason series “Immediate Impacts.” Most rookies don’t provide positive value to their teams right out of the gate. But as we saw last season with guys like Jalen Williams, Walker Kessler and Keegan Murray, some rookies can help their teams from Day 1. We’re breaking down ways that members of this incoming class can have that very impact.
After tearing down their dynamic duo of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, the Utah Jazz have arguably done a wonderful job of rebuilding.
Heading into the offseason, they already rostered promising pieces like Lauri Markkanen, Walker Kessler, and Ochai Agbaji. And that was before they added Taylor Hendricks, Keyonte George and Brice Sensabaugh in the first round of the 2023 NBA Draft.
Of those three, Hendricks is the one deemed to have the most upside (hence him being the one they selected first). But he’s also viewed as more of a project because of his slighter stature and the uncertainties surrounding him playing at a smaller school.
With that said, our NBA Draft model – which projects the on/off impact of draftees using our DRIP metric – views Hendricks as having the third-highest on/off impact of any player in the draft over the course of the next six seasons (trailing only Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson). On top of that, Hendricks is also projected to have the third-highest impact of any member of the class during their rookie campaigns (this time trailing Brandon Miller and Wembanyama).
But how is this possible? How can someone who was selected ninth in the draft be projected to have the third-highest impact over the next six years? And how can that same player, who was thought to be a project piece, be on track to make an immediate impact right out of the gates?
Let’s find out.
To be clear, Hendricks does have areas of his game where he can improve. As we said, he needs to fill out more, and his handle and passing still have a ways to go. But the skills Hendricks already has make for the perfect modern role player, especially in the context of this current Jazz roster.
The vision for drafting him was to cultivate a frontline that consisted of him, Markkanen and Kessler. Now, think about those two players’ weaknesses and how Hendricks can help to mask those shortcomings.
We’ll start with Kessler. Kessler is a venerable paint protector who can also rebound and finish around the rim at a high level. What he can’t do, though, is space the floor with his outside shooting. And judging by his 51.6% free-throw shooting, that is something that won’t be changing any time soon.
Hendricks, unlike most young players in the versatile forward defender archetype (think Jarred Vanderbilt), is already a really good outside shooter. In his single season at Central Florida, Hendricks hit 39.4% of his 4.6 3-point attempts per game. And while he doesn’t have the shooting versatility of someone like his colleague Jett Howard, he does have a lightning-quick release and the ability to quickly set his body – regardless of how poorly of a pass he’s thrown.
It also helps that he’s 6-foot-9 and can elevate over the top of most defenders.
As long as they aren’t playing non-shooting guards, Utah won’t have to worry about their spacing with Kessler on the floor, thanks to Hendricks.
As for Markkanen, while he’s a better defender than most people give him credit for (length goes a long way in basketball), he still isn’t the best lateral mover on the block. And speaking of blocks (this time not the geographical ones), he doesn’t accumulate as many as one would imagine a 7-footer would.
Meanwhile, Hendricks is built like the byproduct of a fusion experiment between a velociraptor and a pterodactyl. Like the former, Hendricks has fast feet and long strides that enable him to not only stay in front of wings/forwards but also rapidly cover massive amounts of surface area.
Last season, UCF ran an aggressive defense scheme – one that prioritized blitzing ball handlers, double-teaming in the post, and jumping passing lanes in order to engineer more turnovers. In fact, it was greatly reminiscent of the defense we saw the Toronto Raptors run during Nick Nurse’s tenure.
Overall, the team finished 23rd in turnover percentage in the nation. The reason they played this way (and the reason it worked) is because they had an immensely gifted defender like Hendricks to not only execute the tactics but also clean up any spillage on the backline.
This brings us to the pterodactyl portion of that analogy. When you watch Hendricks play, it doesn’t feel like he has arms. It feels like he has wings. At the NBA Draft Combine, his wingspan was measured at almost 7-1. He used all that length to mop up his UCF teammates’ messes all the way to an American Athletic Conference-best 1.7 blocks per game.
Couple that block radius with his quick-leaping abilities (another tool in his lethal defensive arsenal), and you set the stage for subtly mind-blowing plays like this:
So Hendricks can cure the offensive problems presented by Walker while also remedying the defensive ones Markkanen produces. That’s awesome, but there’s more. Along with shoring up his comrades’ weaknesses, he also amplifies their strengths.
For instance, the Jazz enjoyed using their bigger lineups to crash the offensive glass. So much so, that they finished fourth in offensive rebound percentage last season (26.8%). Walker himself is a very good offensive-rebounding big man.
But there is an inherent tradeoff to crashing the offensive glass. The more you prioritize hunting for second chance opportunities, the more you bleed value in the transition defense sector. And lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened to the Jazz. They tied for 26th in transition defense efficiency (1.18 points per possession).
But just because there is a tradeoff to something does not mean you have to live with the tradeoff. Tradeoffs can always be mitigated. And for this particular situation, you can limit the damage done to your transition defense from crashing the glass by playing good transition defenders alongside your talented offensive rebounders.
And based on all the physical attributes we’ve outlined, Hendricks has the makeup to be just that for Utah. But if that didn’t sell you, check out this clip:
(Sidebar: Hendricks is also a good offensive rebounder in his own right. He had an offensive rebounding percentage of 8.1%, which placed him in the 75th percentile in the AAC.)
The bottom line here is that even if Hendricks doesn’t come into this season having improved on any of his weaknesses, his strengths are of the variety that can be plugged into an NBA roster instantly. As presently constructed, Hendricks can be a play finisher on offense while acting as a play killer on defense. That’s the perfect complementary skill set to slot into this current iteration of the Jazz.
Wembanyama and Henderson are generational talents, but neither of their teams possesses the infrastructure to match the one the Jazz have created for Hendricks. It’s for that reason that our model views him so highly and that Hendricks has such a strong case to be the best ‘Immediate Impacter’ of the 2023 draft class.
If you enjoyed this, be sure to check out the other installments of “Immediate Impacts” on Jordan Hawkins, Brandin Podziemski, Dereck Lively II, Brandon Miller, Jaime Jaquez Jr., Gradey Dick, Jarace Walker, Cason Wallace, and Jett Howard.