Acquired via a trade on Draft Night in 2015, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has become a fixture of the Brooklyn Nets’ starting line up over the past two seasons. However, it seems like this may be a “break out” campaign for the Hyphen, as he is putting up career highs in multiple categories.
The Brooklyn Nets’ season thus far has been far from predictable. Despite losing their veteran floor general due to injury, they lead the NBA in points per game. D’Angelo Russell has impressed, putting up career highs in points, assists, and shooting percentages. DeMarre Carroll looks like a steal, averaging 15.8 a night while knocking down 40.7% of his triples. However, the biggest surprise so far has been forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Acquired the night of the 2015 draft, it seemed as if Hollis-Jefferson’s role in the NBA would simply be a rangy, athletic shooting guard. Initially, this was the case, as he logged over 60% of his minutes at the 2 as a rookie. Following the hiring of Kenny Atkinson, however, RHJ’s game went through a significant change.
After the All-Star Break last season, Hollis-Jefferson found himself permanently lodged at the power forward spot. He posed a distinct mismatch for traditional fours, as he was quicker and more athletic than nearly everyone he matched up against. While many expected this to carry over to this season, few predicted the success he would have.
The easiest explanation for Hollis-Jefferson’s dominance is his increased understanding of the game. In prior seasons, Hollis-Jefferson turned the ball over too often, and often attacked the rim with reckless abandon. This year, however, his game has been revolutionized. His turnover percentage is at a career low despite his usage rate being at a career high. While his assist numbers are down a bit, he has suddenly become a legitimate threat to score the ball.
In just 26 minutes a night, Hollis-Jefferson is scoring a perfect 15 points per game. This number is especially impressive considering he has a true shooting percentage of 65.6%. This rate is higher than elite sharpshooter Klay Thompson.
Much of Hollis-Thompson’s success is due to his ability to get to the free throw line and convert. This season, RHJ is shooting nearly nine free throws a night and hitting them 90% percent of the time. Because of his ability to knock down free throws, defenses are hesitant about putting him on the stripe. This in turn leads to easy baskets at the rim, which leads to defenses playing him tighter, which leads to free throws, etc. The cycle of scoring repeats as he continues to make defenses look silly.
A player comparison which immediately comes to mind when talking about RHJ’s improved game is former All-Star Andre Iguodala. Although his game has regressed a bit over the past few seasons, Iguodala was once a dual threat on both offense and defense. Whats even more remarkable about the comparison is that both players attended the University of Arizona.
Additionally, both started their careers at shooting guard before moving to more permanent frontcourt roles. Just like RHJ, Iguodala had a significant jump in his junior season, with his scoring average jumped from 12.3 to 18.2. Although it is a small sample size, it seems as if Hollis-Jefferson is on the same path.
The one limitation about Hollis-Jefferson’s game is his struggle at shooting the ball from three point land. Despite knocking down the lion’s share of his free throws and possessing good form, Hollis-Jefferson has yet to shoot more than one three in a game this year and is a career 25% three point shooter. However, Hollis-Jefferson has stroked the ball well from outside the paint this year, hitting multiple turn-around midrange jumpers. If Hollis-Jefferson can become a reliable threat from the outside, he will become a full-fledged match-up nightmare.