Rondae Hollis-Jefferson did not have a great start to the season. However, an unexpected shift completely revitalized his game — and the Nets’ performance late in the season.
Hollis-Jefferson played only 29 games during his rookie season due to injury. In that brief time, however, he showed his potential as an elite defender on the wing. Hollis-Jefferson combines a 6’7″ frame with a 7’2″ standing reach and elite athletic tools. During that brief rookie season, his defense alone made him one of Brooklyn’s best players. Despite his minuscule 13.5 percent Usage Rate, Hollis-Jefferson had a positive Net Rating in 2015-2016 for a 21-win Nets team.
This season, Hollis-Jefferson struggled mightily to start the year. His poor shooting from his rookie year actually regressed to start the season, and Hollis-Jefferson was sent to the bench to start December after missing three games with an injury.
When Rondae returned to the starting lineup in February, he found himself in a brand-new role. Hollis-Jefferson started at power forward on February 1st, despite having barely played there as a rookie. The move allowed him to take advantage of some of his strengths without neutralizing his top-notch defense. Here is a breakdown of how Rondae’s unexpected move changed his season–and potentially his future.
Early Season Struggles
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson spent 60 percent of his rookie year minutes at shooting guard, per Basketball-Reference. He started the season as a nominal shooting guard as well. The Nets’ opening night starters featured Brook Lopez and Trevor Booker as the big man tandem, with Hollis-Jefferson and Bojan Bogdanovic on the wing.
While Rondae played well as a shooting guard as a rookie, his sophomore season on the wing did not start well. Hollis-Jefferson made three of his twelve shots in October and continued to struggle in November, shooting just 36.4 percent from the floor. Teams exploited his weak jump shot by going under any screens on pick-and-rolls, forcing Rondae to throw up tough shots near the rim under heavy pressure:
In Kenny Atkinson’s pace and space offense, a wing player without a jump shot is anathema to the team’s goals. Brooklyn needed to have their wing players at least be threats from beyond the arc to generate any space. Notice how Milwaukee happily allows Rondae to let it fly on this play, even as they sprint out to Brooklyn’s other shooters:
The Nets attempted the fourth-highest number of three-pointers in the league this past season. That number alone does not tell the full story, however. Their 31.6 attempts from deep per game would have tied last year’s Warriors for the second-highest total ever prior to this season.
While Rondae’s defense remained stellar on the wing, the Nets struggled to make up for his poor shooting. Justin Hamilton‘s hot start did help to counter-act Rondae’s relative lack of shooting touch. However, it became increasingly difficult to find wing minutes for Hollis-Jefferson once Hamilton lost his stroke from deep.
Moving Up in the (Positional) World
It would not be fair to say that Rondae’s strong second half was entirely of his own making. The additions of Jeremy Lin and Caris LeVert to the starting lineup after the All-Star break did wonders for Rondae’s game.