Rondae Hollis-Jefferson blossoming at right time for Brooklyn Nets

— November 7th 2017

A team desperate for finding young building blocks, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is coming along at the perfect time for the Nets.

The Brooklyn Nets have been sifting through the scrap heap for years. Once the notorious Boston Celtics trade was determined a net loss for the franchise, a roster tear-down followed. It was a reboot for the entire franchise, in fact. By the summer of 2015, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were elsewhere; Deron Williams was released a week and a half into July.

Billy King, the man responsible the Celtics’ heist, was likely entering his last shebang with the Nets. It was his responsibility to get the rebuild off to a strong start.

The rebuild really got going once Sean Marks–former Spurs executive–was hired in February, 2016. Most of the young talent on the current roster–D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, Sean Kilpatrick, Spencer Dinwiddie, Allen Crabbe–was acquired by Marks. The coach fostering this youth, Kenny Atkinson, was hired by Marks.

A potential long-term staple in this group was acquired by King, however: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

King made a deal with the Portland Trail Blazers on draft night, 2015, that was centered around Mason Plumlee and Hollis-Jefferson, the 23rd overall pick. The Nets, of course, needed an injection of youth. And while Plumlee qualified as “youth,” he was buried behind Brook Lopez at the time and was deserving of a starting role. It was an objectively good trade for both sides.

The numbers were nothing special in his first two seasons. You could even say they were bad. This season, however, Hollis-Jefferson has burst onto the scene.

Hollis-Jefferson is not the prototypical power forward in today’s game. Don’t get me wrong–his body is tailor-made for the position. At 6-foot-7, 220 pounds with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Hollis-Jefferson can defend modern fours. On offense, however, he is not the floor-spacer many teams prefer to have at power forward.

Teams don’t need a shooter at the four, as long as they have one at the five. That’s where lineups with Hollis-Jefferson struggle for now–their two best centers are Timofey Mozgov and rookie Jarrett Allen, who are best near the rim. They’ve sprinkled in Quincy Acy, a career 38 percent three-point shooter (on just 0.9 attempts per game). Trevor Booker and Hollis-Jefferson can hold it down for stints.

That stuff doesn’t really matter too much right now, though. This team is not going to be good. Atkinson has put Hollis-Jefferson in positions to be successful despite his lack of shooting ability.

In his career thus far, Hollis-Jefferson has done his work at the rim. That’s been less of the case this season, as Hollis-Jefferson is taking and making more mid-range shots than in Years 1 and 2. He is shooting 47 percent of his shots at the rim and 46 percent in the mid-range, according to Cleaning The Glass. The distribution last season was 57 percent at the rim and 32 percent in the mid-range.

Hollis-Jefferson isn’t comfortable from behind the arc quite yet, but his mid-range jumper is smooth.

His comfort away from the rim is promising. He is able to hit the occasional three as well, a shot that could open up his game if he can convert on a respectable volume.

Hollis-Jefferson still feels the strongest around the rim, and likes to trail Russell for open driving lanes.

Russell also rewards Hollis-Jefferson’s hustle in transition.

Hustle is what gets Hollis-Jefferson a lot of easy baskets, in fact.

He gets a ton of his points from either running the break or being near the rim, finding easy, uncontested looks.

He’s not a lead playmaker whatsoever, but he can make the easy pass.

When projecting Hollis-Jefferson’s future, an intriguing comp is former Net teammate Thaddeus Young. Hollis-Jefferson’s current shot distribution looks a lot like Young’s used to, with 90-plus percent of his attempts coming at the rim and in the mid-range. Young is still not a lockdown shooter, but he is more reliable from behind the arc than he once was.

Young has not forced the three-point shot into his game, however. He knows his strengths and has refined them over the years.

Young is not a star, but Pacers fans love him because of his effort on both ends. Nets fans seems to be having the same love affair with Hollis-Jefferson, and that will only grow as he gets stronger and improves his shot.

For a team that was not long ago starved for talent, it is nice to see Hollis-Jefferson coming into his own. This is Russell’s team for the foreseeable future, but he needs guys like Hollis-Jefferson to make life easier. He’s not the answer, but he is a piece in the puzzle that is finally starting to resemble something beautiful.

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