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What Nets Can Expect From Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s Rookie Year

The Brooklyn Nets’ draft-night trade for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson represents an effort to add youth and juice to the wing corps.

He won’t serve as a savior or a franchise-changing weapon, especially not in Year 1. But the 6’7″ Arizona product certainly provides a new dimension of defensive range and open-floor athleticism that the club needs.

Hollis-Jefferson is NBA-ready in some areas and a long-term project in others. How will Lionel Hollins utilize and develop him as a rookie, and what can we expect from the swingman on a nightly basis?

Defensive Versatility and Interchangeability

Brooklyn desperately lacked defensive speed and talent in the backcourt/wing spots last year.

Nearly all the Nets’ guards and small forwards ranked in the bottom half of the team’s defensive rating list. Rookie Markel Brown had the best defensive rating (107) among the 1s thru 3s, and wings such as Alan Anderson (109), Joe Johnson (110) and Bojan Bogdanovic (111) simply didn’t have the foot speed to wall off ball-handlers or close out on shooters. Consequently, the Nets ranked 23rd in the NBA in both defensive rating and opponent three-point percentage.

Enter Hollis-Jefferson, who should earn some minutes and at least a small role due to his quickness, instincts and length.

Hollis-Jefferson is not only armed with a 7’2″ wingspan and 38″ vertical leap, he’s also one of the speediest athletes in the 2015 draft crop. He had the second-fastest lane agility time (10.41) of all prospects at the combine in May.

It’s one thing to have physical tools, and it’s another to possess footwork and talent. Fortunately, Hollis-Jefferson is the total package on the defensive side, where he’ll make an immediate mark.

“He’s the best defender in the (2015) draft,” one scout told Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis.

Why exactly is he labeled the best? Because he consistently plays in a stance, corrals playmakers, locks down prolific wings and bothers power forwards at the rim with his long arms. Even during Hollis-Jefferson’s rookie campaign, Hollins can count on him to guard positions 1-3, with the potential to check some small 4s.

Hollis-Jefferson has demonstrated he can fight around screens and compete away from the ball, slide to contain attackers and force turnovers. He didn’t play perfect defense during Summer League, but his disruptiveness was on full display en route to 20 steals in 10 games.

Although there are several offensively superior wings on the Nets roster such as Johnson, Bogdanovic, Sergey Karasev and Wayne Ellington, the rookie should still earn some rotational minutes. It’ll be tough to keep his multifaceted defensive energy on the bench.

Offense: Shooting Growing Pains, Slashing

Those who’ve watched Hollis-Jefferson at Arizona and during Summer League know he’s not a sharpshooter.

As a sophomore, he scored a modest 15.7 points per 40 minutes, shot 21 percent from three-point range and hit just 33 percent of his two-point jumpers (per Hoop-math.com).

Don’t expect him to shoot efficiently from the NBA three-point arc or from mid-range next year. Sure, he enjoyed some successful scoring spurts during Summer League, but his form and delivery are substantially flawed. Hollis-Jefferson’s balance and release aren’t consistent, and he lacks a natural fluidity throughout the entire motion.

D.J. Foster of ESPN.com projects Hollis-Jefferson’s shooting development to be rocky and gradual, much like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist:

Hollis-Jefferson will face a similar plight to Kidd-Gilchrist, albeit under a smaller microscope. The question is a familiar one: Can you really thrive as a wing in today’s NBA without an even somewhat reliable jumper? For MKG, a former No. 2 overall pick, a complete teardown of his shooting form was required. He essentially had to start from scratch, and only now are the benefits beginning to bubble up. The overhaul of Hollis-Jefferson’s jumper might not be so complete, but there’s no question it will require work. Lots of it.

Hollis-Jefferson won’t be completely useless on the offensive side, however. In fact, his aggressiveness and athleticism as a slasher will help put pressure on opponents, especially in unsettled scenarios.

When it comes to one or two-dribble drives, he’s adept at using quick strides and agility to weave past foes and elevate to the rim. His assertiveness led to 72 percent shooting at the rim (per Hoop-math.com) and 7.5 free throw attempts per 40 minutes. These opportunities won’t be bountiful in the NBA until Hollis-Jefferson hones his jumper, but when they intermittently arise, he’ll capitalize ferociously.

He should also mesh well with his Nets comrades due to his alertness and vision. Hollis-Jefferson won’t require a ton of touches, will move the ball and keep the collective energy levels up.

Overall Outlook

Hollins can deploy Hollis-Jefferson as a small forward while Johnson plays the 2, but he could also use the rookie as a small-ball 4 when both Johnson and Bogdanovic are in the game.

This positional flexibility on defense should give the youngster some extra minutes off the bench, but Brooklyn has several mouths to feed on the wings. It’s realistic to expect 13-18 minutes per contest, perhaps more if veterans get banged up or injured. In that time frame, he’ll score 6-8 points and pull down 3-5 rebounds.

Don’t get hung up on the middle-of-the-road stats. After all, Hollis-Jefferson’s impact will be much more about defensive grit, open-floor explosiveness and contagious exuberance. Even if his shooting is shaky, Nets fans will glean far more positives than negatives from his rookie campaign.

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