Despite a surprising season from Aaron Nesmith, the Indiana Pacers will enter the 2023 NBA draft in pursuit of a true power forward. At a base level, this player should be an above-average defender with some amount of offensive upside. This kind of versatility on the wing would add an element of flexibility the Pacers currently lack.
Taylor Hendricks, a 6’9″ forward out of the University of Central Florida, is shooting up big boards in most of the latest mock drafts. Hendricks’ athleticism and shooting marks from his freshman season indicate untapped potential that should spark interest from the Pacers’ decision makers.
Hendricks is an agile forward with elevated defensive perception that allows him to jump passing lanes and protect the rim as the help side defender. He moves well laterally when guarding smaller ball handlers and maneuvers himself into advantageous positions when outmatched by strength in the post. He anticipates offense at a high level, and his athleticism makes up for the half-step he may lose to quick and shifty guards.
On the offensive end of the floor, Hendricks shows promise as a shooter. He made 39 percent of his 4.6 3-point attempts per game this year at UCF (via The Ringer). This skillset paired with his athletic ability slots well next to Pacers’ lead guard Tyrese Haliburton. Hendricks is nearly as much of a lob threat as Isaiah Jackson, and makes high-IQ cuts out of actions away from the basketball. These skills are immediately valuable to the Pacers–a team with an offensive maestro at the point guard position.
Although Hendricks has tremendous potential as a two-way star, he’s still an unpolished prospect. Most of his offense was reliant on a primary creator, and his handle is loose and lacks confidence. While he brings energy and optionality to the defensive end, he still needs to add muscle to endure the NBA’s physicality in the paint.
Hendricks is largely unproven against NBA talent despite playing against top-25 ranked Houston and Memphis teams this season. He averaged 10.1 points, 1.7 assists, and 6.5 rebounds in three games against Memphis, and 15.4 points, 2 assists, and 5.9 rebounds in two games against Houston (ESPN). UCF won just one of those four matchups; their only victory came against Memphis in January. The lack of film on Hendricks against other NBA-caliber players creates some hesitancy when considering him in the mid-lottery range of the draft.
Regardless, Taylor Hendricks possesses all the tools the Pacers need to build their power forward of the future. He has the size of a true 4, athleticism, high basketball-IQ, and brings energy to both sides of the ball. His ceiling projects to a two-way star, but this is largely based on his development as a knockdown 3-point shooter and high-level, switchable, defender. His floor is still impactful–likely becoming an above-average defender that can stretch the floor to hit open threes in more of a reserve role.
Lottery picks are typically spent on high-upside players–like Hendricks–that have the possibility of developing into special players in the NBA. Uncertainty is part of the process of the NBA draft, and it would be hard to turn down Hendricks anywhere in the 7th-10th pick range. His star upside makes up for the unanswered questions in his game, and his fit into the Pacers’ system has potential to be seamless. If the Pacers’ pick is in the 7-10 range on draft night, Taylor Hendricks has a realistic shot at playing in Indiana next season.