The Jazz are heavily invested in Taylor Hendricks, but first he’ll have to cut his teeth in the G League
With his length, athleticism and energy, Jazz coach Will Hardy likes what the Jazz rookie brings to the franchise
The Utah Jazz drafted Taylor Hendricks with the No. 9 overall pick because they see the kind of player that he could become in the future.
At 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot wingspan, 8-foot-11 standing reach, huge hands, quick feet, defensive instincts and an efficient 3-point shot, Hendricks is the kind of player that NBA executives are constantly looking for, no matter how raw, green or inexperienced they may be.
“Taylor, in theory, is a rare player,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said. “His length and athleticism, his energy, his ability to guard the ball is what we’re going to ultimately be evaluating him on because it’s something that is hard to find in the NBA.”
The Jazz see the potential for Hendricks to become a switching, versatile defender who can help space the floor and play multiple positions. But Hendricks needs time to develop into that player and the same can be said for the No. 28 overall pick, Brice Sensabaugh, which is why both players have started out the season with the Jazz’s G League team, the SLC Stars.
Not only were both players hampered by injuries during pre-draft workouts, but they also missed out on playing in Summer League so they are playing a bit of catchup while also trying to learn some new skills and find some comfortability in the NBA world.
That’s where Stars head coach Steve Wojciechowski comes in.
The Stars season started on Saturday on the road, a game that Hendricks fell ill during and wasn’t able to finish. But Hendricks and Sensabaugh both played nearly 30 minutes in the Stars home opener at the Maverik Center on Monday night and the Stars set a franchise record for points scored with a 158-99 win over the G League Ignite.
Though the rookies have only played in a handful of preseason games and two G League regular-season games, Wojciechowski has stressed the importance of the time in those games and how much missing Summer League has impacted the young players.
“For rookies, that time period — having been a part of this Summer League staff — was so incredibly valuable,” Wojciechowski said following the Stars home opener. “To get game experience, against high-level guys … Taylor was under the weather in our last game, but they just played like 60 minutes of basketball, give or take a few minutes, against good players, in an NBA game. And that’s going to be invaluable.”
Wojciechowski, who coached at the college level for more than two decades, has come into his first season as head coach of the Stars fully embracing his role as a steward for Hendricks and Sensabaugh.
But, there aren’t going to be any grand and sweeping declarations made about speedy development. Instead, Wojciechowski is taking everything in small steps. For example, he’s trying to get Hendricks to understand the magnitude of seeing the game from different angles.
“He saw the game with his back to the basket a lot in college, and now he’s facing the basket,” Wojciechowski said. “And that may not seem like a huge thing to the average fan, but it’s like he’s learning another language and he’s learning it at a really fast rate.”
The Stars have taken a reps-heavy approach. The team’s practices usually go for nearly three hours and include long stretches of full-bore scrimmaging. They teach the players the same offensive sets and defensive schemes that are used by the Jazz coaching staff and they don’t have many, if any, days off.
With a heavy dose of two-way contract players, NBA rookies and former NBA players on the roster, Wojciechowski was worried early on that the players wouldn’t buy in to how hard he wanted to run them. But the players have welcomed the heavy workload and have said they already are seeing a payoff.
Hendricks and Sensabaugh both said that they are feeling not only more comfortable on the court, but more confident as well. And it was pretty evident in the the Stars win that what they said was true.
Hendricks seemed to be sure in himself within the Stars defense, moving without hesitation and making quick decisions that resulted in stops or forcing the offense to rethink their moves. On offense, he was calm with his shot and measured on drives.
“Every day that Taylor’s been with us, he’s gotten better. I think defensively his understanding of the defense and how he can use his God-given gifts to impact the game has been high level. — SLC Stars coach Steve Wojciechowski on Jazz rookie Taylor Hendricks
Sensabaugh is exploring new parts of his game, learning how to be more than just a scorer but to impact the game without the ball in his hands or as a playmaker.
Hendricks said that the coaching staff has made sure he’s focusing his efforts and his work on the defensive end. And although the progress is slow and even with the coaching staff wanting to take baby steps with the players, everyone is happy with how things are coming along.
“Every day that Taylor’s been with us, he’s gotten better,” Wojciechowski said. “I think defensively his understanding of the defense and how he can use his God-given gifts to impact the game has been high level. And his reads offensively and his decisiveness on the offensive end has really improved.”
The Stars season continues Tuesday night with another game at the Maverik Center against the Ignite and although the Jazz will also be playing at the Delta Center against the Portland Trail Blazers at the same time, Hendricks and Sensabaugh will be in West Valley City continuing their journey in the G League, because that’s where they can get the most valuable experience right now.