Through 15 games, it’s become clear that rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is one of the Brooklyn Nets’ few positive sparks. He brings much-needed young legs, rangy defense and transition athleticism.
The 6’7″ Arizona product quickly earned a starting spot on a squad that thirsts for defensive grit and two-way agility. He’s already Lionel Hollins’s top wing stopper, and while his offense isn’t as potent, it’s been encouraging.
RHJ has exhibited superb defensive instincts on and off the ball, living up to the reputation he built during college. The Nets have tasked him with some daunting matchups early in the season, including James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and, most recently, Kevin Durant.
Like any young prospect, Hollis-Jefferson could use development and polish on both ends of the floor. But he’s undoubtedly not as naturally gifted on offense. To improve his scoring and creativity, RHJ should seek to pattern his game after two-way standout and fellow southpaw Thaddeus Young.
Young has never been considered an offensive juggernaut throughout his career. Similar to Hollis-Jefferson, he entered the league without ultra-advanced handling skills or lethal outside shooting, yet supplied energy in every phase of the game. Earlier this week, the nine-year veteran combo forward said that RHJ reminds him a little bit of his younger self:
Asked Thad if he's seen anyone make the all-around impact Rondae has so early on at age 20. "Yeah, myself. I might have been a bit younger."
— Rod Boone (@rodboone) November 23, 2015
If Hollis Jefferson plays his cards right, he could eventually remind us of today’s version of Young: a crafty offensive cog who’s resourceful, creative and dangerous in both transition and half-court scenarios. There’s something about the playing style of left-handed players like Young that makes them difficult to guard, and Hollis-Jefferson has a chance to join that club.
RHJ has the athleticism and awareness to excel, and his in-progress jumper looks like it could one day be a legitimate weapon. What he needs to learn from Young is how to attack the hoop off the bounce, utilize smooth footwork and score in the flow of the offense with no wasted motion.
Young is shooting 53 percent from the field, enjoying his second-best points-per-game average (15.5) and posting a career-high 20.1 Player Efficiency Rating so far. His sizable production is partially the result of a greater role on this Brooklyn squad, but Young’s efficiency is due to increasingly effective footwork and aggressiveness near the bucket.
Mike Mazzeo of ESPN.com described Young’s diverse arsenal, noting that footwork is what helps make it all work.
…He’s always been a crafty scorer, relying on quickness, counters, varying his release points and a soft touch in order to finish over bigger defenders. His offensive arsenal includes hooks, floaters, midrange jumpers, transition finishes and putbacks, among other things. He says footwork has been pivotal in his development.
Here’s a recent example of Young’s superb awareness, decisiveness and footwork against an elite NBA defender. He foiled Golden State Warriors defensive stud Draymond Green and finished quickly off the glass:
Hopefully Hollis-Jefferson has been taking notes on Young’s back-to-the-basket game and interior scoring. The rookie has intriguing long-term potential as a combo forward given his ridiculous 7’2″ wingspan.
As I touched on before, Young doesn’t possess amazing handles to create separation, and for most of his career he’s depended heavily on his left hand. Yet he outmaneuvers challengers via terrific timing, angles and long, athletic strides. And when it’s time to finish the play, he has a great sense of where he is in relation to the hoop, enabling him to dunk or float the ball before defenders can recover.
Hollis-Jefferson should be working on those nuances as we speak.
The rangy rookie isn’t blessed with above-average shot-creating skills, but we can tell he’s fluid enough athletically and instinctually to move with the ball. We’ve seen glimpses of him attacking off the bounce, so if he continues to refine simple moves and pair them with improved footwork, he’ll become a dependable piece.
As Ben Nadeau of the Brooklyn Game notes, it’s extremely encouraging to see that RHJ has the propensity to progress and adapt quickly:
Now headed into December, Hollis-Jefferson looks like a completely different player than the one they saw in June at Summer League. He’s a different beast than even the Hollis-Jefferson they saw a few weeks ago against the Houston Rockets where five first quarter turnovers in his second career start glued him to the bench in Brooklyn’s first win of the year.
The Nets don’t have many sources of hope to build on for the future, but Hollis-Jefferson and Young are two of them. Fortunately, the newcomer has a golden opportunity to maximize his success by emulating many traits of his teammate.
Hollis-Jefferson won’t likely ascend to full-blown stardom, but similar to Young, he can be a high-level role player and two-way mainstay down the road.