The Nets acquired Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in exchange for big man Mason Plumlee and 41st overall pick Pat Connaughton. It’s a risky trade for Brooklyn considering the Nets’ lack of frontcourt depth, but they’re banking on Hollis-Jefferson becoming a premier defender in the league. With little offensive game to speak of, Hollis-Jefferson gives the Nets a defensive intensity that no one on their current roster maintains. Joe Johnson has quickly become a below average defender with age and is now forced to play out of position at small forward.
The implementation of Hollis-Jefferson into the rotation will allow Johnson to kick over to shooting guard at times during the game. His defensive versatility will also allow him to play power forward if Thaddeus Young or Mirza Teletovic doesn’t return. A strong tenacious player with a huge wingspan, he’ll provide maximum energy on the defensive end.
The key for Hollis-Jefferson will be whether he earns playing time under Brooklyn coach Lionel Hollins. Hollins has a preference for playing his starters for as many minutes as possible even though it sometimes becomes detrimental to the team. The hope for the young forward lies in Hollins’ history with Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen. Allen was a starter under Hollins despite immense offensive limitations and he quickly became a perennial All-Defensive NBA team candidate. Like Hollis-Jefferson he left after his sophomore year in college for the NBA. Hollis-Jefferson shot better from the field (49.6% to 47.7%), but Allen averaged more steals (2.0 to .9) and shot better from beyond the arc (34.7% to 20.5%).
Coming out of Oklahoma State, Allen was a fierce defender with the desire to guard the opposing team’s best player. Even though he’s slightly undersized at 6’4, his 6’9 wingspan allowed him to guard the 1 through 3 positions. He was also extremely athletic and strong and could get to the basket as a result of a quick first step and aggressive mentality.
Tony Allen and Joe Johnson
His offensive issues were evident as he struggled as a ball-handler and couldn’t create his own offense. When in rhythm he could hit a jumper, but his range was limited. He was known for his toughness and his offensive rebounding ability. Most importantly, he was known for tenacity and lateral quickness to defend multiple positions.
If Hollis-Jefferson’s name was above that description rather than Allen’s, there’d probably be no argument from anyone. The former is constantly in the passing lanes and like Allen can finish at the rim with contact. He’s longer and taller than the Grizzlies guard, but like Allen he rebounds well above average for his position. Most importantly, Hollis-Jefferson looks to guard the opposing team’s best player and like Allen could defend three positions on the court. Hollis-Jefferson’s issues on offense are just as bad as Allen’s. He barely shot above 20 percent from the arc and he’ll need to spend his first season working on his mechanics with Brooklyn’s shooting coach.
If Hollis-Jefferson reaches Allen’s level as an elite defender, Brooklyn should be pleased. But if he can work on improving the offensive side of his game and not be a liability that teams could lay off of on defense, then they will be ecstatic.