2023 Orlando Magic Draft Preview: Taylor Hendricks’ stock rising

CINCINNATI, OHIO - FEBRUARY 04: Taylor Hendricks #25 of the UCF Knights dribbles the ball while being guarded by Jeremiah Davenport #24 of the Cincinnati Bearcats in the first half at Fifth Third Arena on February 04, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OHIO - FEBRUARY 04: Taylor Hendricks #25 of the UCF Knights dribbles the ball while being guarded by Jeremiah Davenport #24 of the Cincinnati Bearcats in the first half at Fifth Third Arena on February 04, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

Taylor Hendricks has seen the biggest rise during the last eight months of any prospect in this year’s draft. And he may not be done yet.

Entering the 2023 college basketball season, the Fort Lauderdale-native was the highest-rated prospect in UCF history. That included plenty of expectations for the incoming freshman.

Yet none of which included the NBA Draft the following summer. UCF has never had a first-round pick at the school.

But as the season went on, it was apparent Hendricks has what it takes to play in the league and he quickly began to rise in early draft boards.

Initially projected to land in the 20, by end of season there were lottery whispers. And now he is a lottery lock. So what makes him so special?

Taylor Hendricks came to UCF with few expectations other than helping the Knights. He leaves UCF as a surprising Lottery pick and maybe a whole lot more.

Well first and foremost, Hendricks came into a UCF basketball program gearing for a jump to the Big 12 in the 2024 season (what would have been his sophomore year). Tournament hopes were in the air at the start of the year.

The Knights probably recruited Hendricks expecting him to graduate into their star for that first year in Big 12 play. He was a recruiting victory for them. They did not see him making the immediate impact he made.

With so many returning players — three seniors in the starting lineup — and a coach who has been around since 2016, it would make sense that even the most highly touted recruit in program history would take his lumps.

But that simply was not the case. From day one Hendricks was the big man on campus.

In his only season at UCF, he led the Knights in points, rebounds, blocks, minutes, PER (Player Efficiency Rating) and field goal percentage all while having the lowest turnover percentage and taking on the opposing team’s best defender.

No matter what school you attend, that level of responsibility coupled with an efficient output is going to draw some eyeballs.

And with Hendricks possessing elite size at 6-foot-9 and with a wingspan that measured at 7-foot-0.25 at the NBA Draft Combine, it is no wonder he has ended up in lottery projections.

That same size that scouts and recruiters knew about in November is exactly what made him so dominant defensively. And what could make him an All-Defensive type player in the NBA.

At UCF he led the conference in total blocks and blocks per game with 59 rejections on the season and 1.7 blocks per game. That was more than fellow AAC top-10 prospect Jarace Walker.

Those numbers gave him a 6.2 percent block percentage which was third in the conference. Also, among freshmen, he was sixth in box plus-minus with 7.1.

Hendricks’ rim protection abilities will allow him to play a small-ball center role on top of both forward positions.

In college, he used his ideal length to roam around the court and impact the game. He held a 97.2 defensive rating (9th in the conference) and was 6th in the conference in defensive win shares with 2.2.

Hendricks will certainly make his money on the defensive end in the NBA.

But as the draft process has continued, a lot of scouts have bought into the offensive upside he has.

He averaged 15.1 points per game and shot 39.4 percent from three and 78.2 percent from the foul line.. On 132 catch-and-shoot threes he made 40.9 percent. Ninety-four of those catch-and-shoot attempts were guarded, of which he shot 40.1 percent.

Those shooting numbers are even better on the fast break and in pick-and-pop scenarios. In transition, Hendricks shot 55.5 percent (was responsible for 1.46 points per play in transition as well) and off the pick and pop he shot 61.5 percent.

He is definitely a force on the outside with his shooting stroke, but Hendricks also uses the athleticism that makes him gifted defensively to score.

Last year he was fifth in the country among freshmen in total dunks for the season. Some of which came off of putback slams as signaled by his 2.4 offensive rebounds per game.

Now it may seem like Hendricks is a cant-miss prospect but this is not an infomercial.

While he gets photoshopped wearing a new team’s jersey seemingly every day, there are real concerns, and among them is how Hendricks played against winning teams.

He played 17 games against teams with winning records. In those games he averaged: 13 points per game and six rebounds per game. he only shot 41 percent from the field and 44 percent on 2s. Those numbers are down across the board from his season averages.

Hendricks was not able to raise his level of play against better teams in the AAC and even in the NIT. In part because of this, the Knights finished with a 19-15 record and were bounced in the second round of the NIT.

In his last college game, he only scored nine points on 30 percent shooting in a double-digit loss to Oregon. And about a week prior, he only scored five points while shooting just 2-for-12 from the field in a loss to Memphis in the AAC tournament.

As a mid-major prospect, those numbers are concerning.

But it should be noted that he played well against Houston and against fellow lottery prospect Jarace Walker.

In two games facing the highly-ranked Cougars, Hendricks averaged 15.5 points per game on 48 percent shooting while adding 2.5 blocks per game. Both games were closely contested — despite Houston having much more talent — but UCF lost each time.

Walker, who is the closest to Hendrick’s style-wise, is competing to be drafted in the same range to similar teams.

Depending on what talent evaluators believe, Hendricks could go before or after Walker but it is very likely they both are selected within the top 10.

Hendricks measures well directly against Walker in that comparison. But his offense will probably be limited to those pick-and-pops. Teams will not rely on him to be a creator. He will almost strictly be a 3-and-D type wing and paint player.

The Orlando Magic certainly will have a choice about whether to keep Hendricks in Orlando. He certainly would add to the team’s forward depth and fits the style of versatile forwards this team seems to love.

He would not simply be Jonathan Isaac insurance.

He will not come in to share minutes. He will not be selected just because some say they have similar games, which is debatable in itself.

Hendricks certainly could fill in those minutes if Isaac struggles with injuries again or if the Magic decide it is time to pull the plug on him.

Hendricks is a bona fide lottery pick and there is no doubt about that.

With Jalen Williams’ rise from Santa Clara in last year’s draft and his rookie season success, it is even more unlikely Hendricks will be available past No.11, or even at No.11 for that matter. Draft executives do their research on mid-major prospects and they will not just let you slip through the cracks if you did not play on TV.

The Dallas Mavericks (No.10) and Indiana Pacers (No.7), whom Hendricks worked out with Wednesday, have shown a ton of interest and seem like they would each take him if he were available at the selection.

Obviously depending on where his AAC counterpart, Jarace Walker out of Houston lands, will affect which place he ends up.

If selected, Taylor Hendricks possesses the versatility to play on the same court as Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero as a 4 or a 5. If they are not out on the court he could even move to the 3 for a bit of time.

Orlando probably will not ask him to create too much offense right out of the gate and he would certainly be an upgrade to their overall team defense and rim protection with his ability to swat shots and rotate effectively.

He is already a capable shooter and has the upside of a player who is usually selected with the 6th overall pick in the draft.

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There is definitely a possibility he ends up staying in Orlando. But only time will tell if he can live up to the rising expectations.