Arizona has sent a flurry of young players to the NBA in recent years, including Brooklyn Nets rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
After being picked 23rd in the 2015 NBA Draft, many expected Hollis-Jefferson to have growing pains while he adjusted to the pro game. Scouts doubted his effectiveness because of his lack of offensive polish, and expectations for the young player were low coming into the season.
But just 18 games into the season, Hollis-Jefferson has easily surpassed those expectations and is showing signs of becoming an impact player in his first season. RHJ has taken hold of the starting shooting guard position, logging 13 consecutive starts alongside Brooklyn’s core of Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, and Thaddeus Young.
In that time he’s been a spark of energy for a team that has otherwise been sluggish to begin the season. As a starter Hollis-Jefferson is averaging an impressive 7.5 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game, mainly due to his activity level and explosive style of play.
Hollis-Jefferson’s steals rank 23rd in the league despite playing just 22 minutes per game. The only other player in the top 25 for steals per game that averages under 30 minutes per game is NBA All-Defensive player Tony Allen. He also has the 8th best steal percentage in the NBA, ahead of notorious pickpockets like John Wall and Ricky Rubio. He also has multiple games with 5 steals, a feat accomplished by just a handful of players this season.
The young rookie has also been a monster on the boards, pulling in double digit rebounds in 5 games. He ranks 64th in the NBA for overall rebounds, and 54th for offensive rebounding. RHJ’s 6.3 rebounds per game ranks third best in the league for shooting guards, behind superstars Paul George and James Harden despite playing significantly fewer minutes.
Hollis-Jefferson is putting up eye popping per-36 numbers, with extrapolated averages of 9.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 2.7 steals per game. With his minutes trending up over the last 10 games, he has a big opportunity to achieve some of that potential.
The biggest knock on Hollis-Jefferson’s game coming into the season was his offensive ability, but he hasn’t been the liability some people expected him to be. While he’s only averaging 5.2 points per game, the ex-Wildcat is shooting a solid 47.2% from the field. He’s achieved that by attacking the rim and using his energy and athleticism in the paint, much like he did at Arizona.
In fact, 49 of Hollis-Jefferson’s 77 field goal attempts have come from 5 feet or less, where he’s converted 51%. But he’s been surprisingly solid away from the basket, hitting 11 of 21 attempts from 5 to 19 feet.
Most importantly, Hollis-Jefferson has shown the ability to play within himself on offense and not try to do things that are beyond his current skill level. Instead, Hollis-Jefferson has focused on his strengths and he is thriving as a result.
The Nets’ starting unit of Hollis-Jefferson, Johnson, Lopez, Young and Jarret Jack have accounted for by far the most minutes of any five man lineup, indicating that Brooklyn is keen to develop Hollis-Jefferson as a member of their core. And with the declining play and age of his running mates, Hollis-Jefferson appears to be a major component of the team’s future.
That might actually happen sooner than later, as the 5-13 Nets are expected to be sellers in advance of the trade deadline. There has been much speculation that Brooklyn could move one or more of their star players in exchange for young talent and draft picks to kickstart their rebuilding process. If that were to come to fruition, Hollis-Jefferson would be one of the prime candidates to absorb an expanded role.
But for now, Hollis-Jefferson is doing a fine job carving out a role on his own. The rookie has shown flashes of brilliance with his high-flying brand of basketball, and has already shown that he can be a defensive force. As the early season wears on, the arrow is firmly pointed upward for the former Arizona Wildcat.