The Brooklyn Nets, for their limited draft resources, managed to swing a pretty significant deal on selection night, landing 23rd overall pick Rondae Hollis-Jefferson from Portland. Trading young reserve big Mason Plumlee, Brooklyn is gambling on the raw but athletic swingman to become its defensive anchor and hopefully develop some offensive firepower along the way.
Otherwise built like a typical small forward, the 6’7″ Hollis-Jefferson has an above-average wingspan at 7’1″ and knows how to use it, reaching into passing lanes on the perimeter and walling off defenders inside. He was fifth in the Pac-12 in defensive win shares in each of his two seasons at Arizona and finished second and fourth in overall defensive rating.
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Hollis-Jefferson is also an above-average rebounder at the 3, ranking third in total rebounds and seventh in total rebounding percentage in the Pac-12 last season. He has the physical tools, basketball IQ and tenacity to be an elite defender for his position and live up to the hype general manager Billy King laid down. Here’s King explaining the trade to the New York Post:
"“Looking at Rondae and his defensive ability, trying to get athletic at the wing positions, we felt it was something we needed,” general manager Billy King said. “I thought he was the best defender in the draft.”"
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Whether or not this pick is a home run hinges on Hollis-Jefferson’s ability to develop his game on the other end of the court. While he improved his 2-point percentage from 50.2 percent to 53.7 percent in his sophomore season, he also stepped out and shot more 3s to no avail, going 6-for-29 total.
His ability to score outside of the paint and transition is what will either propel or constrain his natural ability to become a starter in the NBA.
The good news for the Nets is they have a very similar player and potential mentor for Hollis-Jefferson in-house in the about to be re-signed Thaddeus Young. The lanky, left-handed small forward has been an elite defender like Hollis-Jefferson, but has more offensive savvy and has needed it to work around a sub-par jump shot and develop a legitimate No. 3 option on a good offense.
By bringing back Young, Brooklyn has taken the pressure off Hollis-Jefferson step in and be a starting-caliber player from day one.
For now, Hollis-Jefferson can ease into a sixth or seventh man role, establish himself as a defensive force and work behind his facsimile Young, hoping to pick up some of his lefty offensive tricks in the meantime.
If the reported trade of Joe Johnson comes to fruition, then Hollis-Jefferson will likely be asked to step into a slightly bigger role next to Young and Brook Lopez in a scary-long frontcourt. Either way, the support system is in place for Hollis-Jefferson to find his niche and eventually flourish for a franchise that is finally looking to get younger and more athletic.
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