Last night the Utah Jazz had one of their more impressive wins this year and certainly the best effort they’ve shown in a handful of games.
Their 117-113 win over the New York Knicks came at the expense of neither of the JC’s (Clarkson or Collins), a minutes restriction for Lauri Markkanen (only 25 but scored 23), and Keyonte George injuring his left foot and not returning (MRI scheduled for today).
There were many heroes of this game that deserve mention. Collin Sexton’s ferocious intensity leading to 26 pts, 4 rbs, and 7 asts in the wake of George’s injury. Talen Horton-Tucker’s early 4th quarter barrage was a big part of extending the lead. Kelly Olynyk’s near triple double (how did it escape us again!?) kept the team well oiled. Walker Kessler’s defense and rim pressure were difficult for the Knicks to handle.
But the minutes that stuck out as productive relative to expectation were those of Taylor Hendricks. His 20 mins led to a modest 5 pts, 4 rbs, 1 ast, 2 stl, and 1 blk stat line, but it was the 25 points the Jazz scored more than the Knicks during his minutes that really popped.
Single game plus-minus is VERY noisy, so let’s dig into 7 plays that may help explain or refute the level at which Hendrick’s participation contributed to the impressive result:
Fast break defense
One of the coolest plays on the night took place in a 3-on-1 fast break where Taylor Hendricks is the lone man back. Though young, long, and fairly athletic, as a rookie, you aren’t supposed to neutralize the threat. But that’s exactly what he does.
Barrett is baited into a challenge at the rim and Hendricks swats the dunk attempt away. We’ve seen Taylor nab some blocks in space before and he’s starting to stack up the highlights. These areas could be a differentiating skill set for this Jazz team.
Punishing the hard closeout
Spacing in the NBA isn’t just about planting your self away from the action, it’s about continuously putting the defense in a “lesser of two evils” situation, hoping they make the wrong judgement call.
Hendricks is properly spaced to the corner but as the pass gets to him, RJ Barrett makes a hard closeout. A reluctant shooter or an uncomfortable driver would pause and likely pass the ball out (opportunity squandered). Hendricks instead uses the pump fake and drive to build on the advantage. He ends it with a dunk.
The ability to attack a closeout is nearly just as important as being a good shot. Hopefully we see more of this.
Latency in making his move
Here we see a situation in which Taylor’s intent was good but his process took too long and he lost the window of opportunity. Once getting the ball, his turn, two foot launch, and then stretching toward the hoop allows Hartenstein to recover.
A good experience to remind us all just how athletically gifted every professional player is.
Pattern recognition flaws
There also remains opportunity to recognize patterns on the defensive end. This will come with time but in the short term you’ll get fooled by the vets. Here, Taylor doesn’t hedge enough to the center of the floor as Hartenstein cuts, allowing an entry pass on the move where no rotation was quick enough.
If he ever develops enough to deter cutting actions like that, he’ll be really good defensively.
Help on the drive
Here’s another great display of Hendricks helping near the rim. With Walker Kessler defending in space in the middle of the floor against Julius Randle in the triple threat, Walker has to rely on his ability to recover. But Hendricks help defense neutralizes the attack. He’s certainly developing intuition, feel, and synergy with Walker.
3 ball, corner pocket
Taylor’s shot form still has some issues and there’s too much wasted movement on his windup. However, his windup and release have sped up dramatically from earlier this season.
He attempted three shots from deep in this game, draining one. We’re seeing more confidence which is some progress.
There’s clearly a foundation to build on: he went 19 for 50 (38%) in 9 G-League games this year, hitting 75% of his free throws. During his freshman season at UCF, he went 61-155 (39%), hitting 78% at the line.
Multiple defensive actions
In this clip, early in the 4th as the Jazz look to stretch their lead, Taylor Hendricks pairs splendidly with Walker Kessler to swallow up multiple driving Knicks. Taylor navigates the weakside rotations pretty well, getting in front and back behind Hartensetein as we covers the corner 3 and low block.
This gives a glimpse into what Hendricks could be as a big value add defensively in the half court.
Hendricks wasn’t the best on the floor during those minutes. In fact, when he shared moments with THT or Lauri or Walker, there’s an argument he was only about the 3rd most impactful.
But that can’t be dismissed. A rookie, with only 4 games of meaningful time under his belt is one of the more positively contributing players for the Jazz in a game they’re beating an above average team in the Knicks while down several players??? That’s progress!
There’s a long way to go with Hendricks but at barely 20 yrs old with his measurables, the investment and timeline may just be worth it.
While concerning how long he was away from his real team (bad as they’ve been), it was nice to see him succeed in the G-League and begin to see NBA minutes.
And he appears to be showing enough to deter Hardy from pulling him out of the rotation ever again.