Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the Nets' recent draft pick, has shown flashes of talent far beyond his #23 draft spot. His evolution, particularly on the offensive end, will be a huge factor in whether or not the Nets are successful going forward.
Last year, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers with the 23rd overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft; he was sent to the Nets shortly after (along with Steve Blake) for Mason Plumlee and the 41st pick in the draft, Pat Connaughton.
Despite struggling with injuries during his rookie year, Hollis-Jefferson showcased a strong defensive game and an improving offensive game.
During his two seasons at Arizona, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson showed off his supreme athleticism, which allowed him to shoot quite well inside the arc. Standing at 6'7" but with a ridiculous 7'2" wingspan, he has big man arms in a small forward body. His maximum vertical leap of 38 inches allowed him to use his long arms to finish around the rim and send away shots.
His highlights from his first season, mostly defensive plays, showcase the kind of talent he has, and gives some insight into how he may evolve as a player.
Within the first minute of the video, Rondae puts his greatest strengths and his greatest weakness on full display. He jumps into passing lanes with ease due to his long arms, which also allows him to grab a put-back dunk and destroy any remnants of the David Lee era in Boston with a soul-crushing block.
However, Hollis-Jefferson also showcases his greatest weakness. His jump-shot. The hitch in his jumper is quite visible by the short delay as he reaches the peak of his jump before he releases the ball. His somewhat broken jumper has rendered him a non-factor from behind the arc, shooting barely over 20% on 3-pointers in college and 4 for 14 in his first NBA season.
The shot chart from his rookie season seems to indicate that his finishing ability, his greatest offensive strength in college, is now a weak part of his NBA game.
Most of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's college offense came right around the rim, where he shot 56.3% (below the NBA average), but decent for a forward taking most of his shots from that area. Interestingly enough, however, the greatest area of strength in his game was his mid-range touch.
However, the small sample size of his NBA career so far (29 games played, along with a number of games played while recovering from ankle surgery) is in all likelihood not as indicative of his offensive future as his college stats.
Hollis-Jefferson will have to get back to the level of finishing he displayed in college and work on his jump-shot to continue to move forward offensively. Luckily, the NBA career of Kawhi Leonard seems to be a strong message that great defenders and athletes can revamp and improve their jump shot during their professional careers, especially when they have a renowned development coaches like Kenny Atkinson to help them along the way.
The area in which Hollis-Jefferson is unlikely to need much help is on the defensive end of the floor, where he has already shown the impact that his long arms and good instincts can have, averaging 1.3 steals per game in just 21 minutes. While steals are not an indication of strong defense on their own, they certainly help the team when coupled with smart defense. Steals can be helpful on that end of the floor, but they may also be a sign of gambling and letting one's man get loose for an easy shot. Thankfully, Hollis-Jefferson does a good job of keeping with his man and not allowing easy looks. From 5 feet and out, Hollis-Jefferson's opposition shot just 36.9% from the floor according to NBA.com's official shot tracking data.
His length and athleticism, combined with good defensive instincts, allow him to smother his opponents and force them into low-quality shots.
While his opposition shot quite well at the rim, skewing his overall defensive numbers, Hollis-Jefferson also frequently played alongside defensive disasters at center, such as Andrea Bargnani and Henry Sims. Sims was especially awful at protecting the rim, even in comparison to the defensively-challenged Bargnani. On shots contested by Sims, opponents shot an almost unfathomable 18.4% better than their average, worst among centers by 11 full percentage points.
When Rondae played alongside the defensively superior Brook Lopez, opponents shot 1.5% worse on two-point shots than with Bargnani in the line-up, and 2.2% worse than they did with Sims at center. Since Rondae is likely to spend more time with the starters this season, his opponents shooting at the rim is likely to fall in line with the rest of his excellent defensive numbers.
Hollis-Jefferson showed his defensive strengths once again in Summer League, where he averaged 3.2 steals per game and controlled the defensive side of the floor about as well as one could expect from a wing player. He shot decently well overall at 45.5%, and showed an improvement in his shooting at the rim, with his right hand. Rondae was very left-hand dominant during his rookie season, so his ability to finish at least some shots with his right hand will be useful in the NBA going forward.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has in spades the one skill that the Nets struggled most with in the past year: defense. The Nets were 29th in defensive rating for the year, but Hollis-Jefferson will look to improve that number when he returns to the rotation. If Kenny Atkinson and the Nets development staff can iron out his jumper and mold him into even an average 3-point shooter, Rondae has the tools to become a top-tier starter, and potentially even an All-Star. If his work ethic is as good as it appears (his former Arizona coach Sean Miller in particular raved about his "tremendous work ethic" and how he "respects winning above all else"), the Nets will have a building block on the wing for years to come.