"Part of the Journey" – Hendricks Poised for Big Summer Following Strong Finish to Rookie Year

Ryan Kostecka
Digital Content Writer

Taylor Hendricks wasn't naive to the situation. 

Despite being the No. 9 pick in last year's draft, Hendricks knew his rookie season would be filled with new challenges. It would be about leading how to be a professional, going through growing pains, and showing the mental fortitude to keep fighting. 

That's precisely what he got. 

After spending the first half of the season developing in the G-League — aside from intermittent call-ups to the Jazz — Hendricks moved into the rotation on Feb. 8 and never left. That game, he flashed his immense potential on the defensive end, coming from behind to block Kevin Durant on a drive to the rim. 

"I feel like it's gone great," Hendricks said of his rookie year. "A lot of ups and downs, a lot of changes, but that's part of the journey. … I've put in a lot of work this first year, I learned a lot, got a lot smarter, and just feel like I improved overall."

Since that showdown against Phoenix in early February, Hendricks played in 27 of Utah's final 30 games (23 starts) — with the only games missed due to an injury. He averaged 8.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, shooting 39.0% from beyond the arc on nearly four attempts. Taking on a more significant role to end the season, Hendricks scored in double figures in four of Utah's final eight games — including back-to-back 18-point showings against Sacramento and Cleveland. 

While it's always good to see a rookie come on strong to close the year, one of the main positives is how Hendricks navigated the ups and downs of the season to put himself in a position to finish strong. He admitted that doubt began to creep in at specific points when he was struggling on either end, but he knew he had to move past it to find success. 

"I'll be honest, there was a little bit of doubt," he said. "That just comes with the change and unfamiliarity overall. … But I feel like I'm a pretty confident person, so the doubts didn't really last too long."

Head coach Will Hardy echoed those sentiments, saying Hendricks' ability to embrace the life of a professional basketball player allowed his game to grow. 

"He's done a really good job of embracing the day-to-day professional habits," Hardy said. "The season is really long, and the guys that have had the most success generally are the ones that are able to build very sustainable habits early. He's never lacked the want to. … I think it's just kind of understanding how to go about it every day. That's been a big positive sign for me as a coach that he's learning how to go about his business every day."

While it was enjoyable to see Hendricks' growth on the offensive end of the court — shooting, attacking off the dribble, and understanding the cutting and spacing of Utah's offense — the growth on the defensive end most excited Hardy and the staff.

Rather than bringing him along slowly, Hardy has challenged Hendricks on a nightly basis. He was often tasked with defending the opposing team's best perimeter player, regardless of position. To close the year, he faced Kevin Durant, Paolo Banchero, Anthony Edwards, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Paul George, Domantas Sabonis, Luka Doncic, and Jonathon Kuminga. 

"I give Taylor a lot of credit. … We are giving him tough assignments, getting thrown right into the fire, and he does it without blinking," Hardy said. "He competes on every play. … I'm definitely seeing that from Taylor. I've said it a lot, he continues to take coaching very well. … He's trying to learn."

Hendricks dealt with a hamstring injury he suffered during the pre-draft process . He missed all of Summer League and most offseason workouts, trying to work his way back to total health. That put him behind the curve entering training camp and forced him to play catch-up for the remainder of the season. 

That shouldn't be a problem this summer. 

Hendricks is now healthy and will split his time between Utah and Los Angeles training. While there are plans to meet up with his fellow rookies, Keyonte George and Brice Sensabaugh in LA, the summer is about getting his body right and finding ways to be more comfortable on the court. 

"Overall, the main things for me is the creativity on the ball, adding some strength to my body, getting a lot bigger, and adding some muscle mass," he said. 

He'll have a chance to showcase his growth in July, as he'll be participating in Summer League in Utah and Las Vegas. 

"His personality is starting to open up around everybody, which I think is a good thing," Hardy said. "Feeling more comfortable hopefully will ease some of the general anxiousness that comes with being a young player and helps free yourself up."