Pistons draft preview: Hendricks put himself in mix with strong freshman season

(Editor’s note: With the Pistons holding the No. 5 pick in the June 22 draft, Pistons.com today continues its series of previews of potential targets with the built-in assumption that the consensus top-three prospects – Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson and Brandon Miller – will be off the board. Today: Central Florida freshman Taylor Hendricks.)


ID CARD: 6-foot-9 forward, University of Central Florida, 19 years old

DRAFT RANGE: Ranked sixth by The Athletic, ninth by ESPN.com, seventh by The Ringer, eighth by Bleacher Report

SCOUTS LOVE: You wouldn’t have found Hendricks in any 2023 mock drafts as recently as the start of the 2022-23 college season, but it didn’t take long for the consensus No. 46 recruit in the 2022 high school class to put himself on the radar once Central Florida’s season started. In his first two games against Power 5 opponents, Hendricks averaged 15.5 points and 12.0 rebounds and hit 5 of 7 from the 3-point arc. That’s a pretty good summation of Hendricks’ appeal as a big, rangy, athletic forward who profiles as an immediate 3-point threat in the NBA after knocking them down at a 39.4 percent clip on heavy volume (4.6 attempts per game or 40 percent of his shot attempts) as a freshman. Hendricks led Central Florida in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots and minutes played while racking up seven consecutive Freshman of the Week awards in the American Athletic Conference. Hendricks also flashed at the defensive end with 1.7 blocks and 0.9 steals per game. His 32½-inch standing vertical jump was a top-10 figure at the NBA draft combine last month and his wingspan was recorded at 7-foot-½ inch. That’s the type of overall package that suggests Hendricks will provide enough versatility at both ends, able to guard both conventional power forwards and small-ball centers plus perimeter wings and presenting as a 3-point threat.

SCOUTS WONDER: Hendricks’ floor seems to be as a plus-sized 3-and-D prospect. His ceiling is a little tougher to project and will hinge on how well he guards agile and athletic wing players and, perhaps more critically, what he can become as a ballhandler and playmaker. That’s almost entirely projection at this point. The floor could be entirely good enough to carve out a long and productive career as an NBA starter and the history of the draft says that’s perhaps a positive outcome for the fifth pick. But there’s always the pull to look for something a little more when you’re picking in that range. There are other prospects in Hendricks’ range who might not offer the same safe floor but could just as easily blow past his ceiling. Projecting players remains at least as much art as science.

NUMBER TO NOTE: 28.6  – That was Hendricks’ free-throw rate – the number of free throws he’d take per 100 field-goal attempts – and that ranked just sixth on his Central Florida team, an indication that Hendricks didn’t do a ton of attacking off the dribble.

MONEY QUOTE: “It always feels good to leave a legacy, but coming in I wasn’t expecting it or thinking about any of it. I just came here to play my best and keep growing my game. Something that has helped me throughout my basketball career is not really caring about rankings. Sometimes they can mess you up, so I just focused on playing basketball the right way.” – Taylor Hendricks in May to Slam Magazine

PISTONS FIT: One of the more consistent player comparisons for Hendricks? Ex-Pistons forward Jerami Grant. Yes, the Pistons could make room for a player with those qualities. The Pistons wing room right now consists of Bojan Bogdanovic and Isaiah Livers with Cade Cunningham capable of playing there to accommodate three-guard lineups. The Pistons will have the means to address that position via trade or free agency with their anticipated $30 million in cap space, but adding a 19-year-old who could soon prove an above-average 3-point threat with outstanding positional size and defensive chops is a tantalizing prospect.

BOTTOM LINE: If the top of the draft plays out as expected and Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson and Brandon Miller go in the top three, the Pistons will have their pick of all but one from a group of a half-dozen or more similarly sized players. Some, like Arkansas’ Anthony Black, project more as guards/playmakers and others more as wings or 3-and-D prospects. Of them, Hendricks might offer the optimal combination of 3-point shooting and defensive aptitude and skill set. Despite his relatively modest recruiting profile and his background at the lower levels of Division I, it’s not inconceivable that Hendricks among the potential Pistons picks will be most ready to step into an NBA rotation as a rookie. What that says about his long-range potential against the field – and how Troy Weaver and his inner circle in the Pistons front office evaluates it – is a little fuzzier.