If everybody played basketball like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, helmets would be required.
He’s a little bit reminiscent of Alabama’s Gerald Wallace, aptly nicknamed “Crash.” Hollis-Jefferson has the same type of relentless attacking style in which he athletically flings his body at the rim, usually resulting in free throws.
From day one Hollis-Jefferson has been able to make things happen on the court with his motor and high activity level. He has the physical strength to be a college power forward, but RHJ is likely locked into big minutes at the small forward position in the 2014-15 season.
That should be music to Arizona fans’ ears, as an expanded role for Hollis-Jefferson could reap big rewards for the Wildcats in their hunt for a National Championship.
When Brandon Ashley went down and it seemed like everything came unglued, you might have expected Hollis-Jefferson to step into the starting role and run away with it. Though he performed admirably after Ashley’s injury, that wasn’t the case.
Hollis-Jefferson simply wasn’t ready to take over and be the starting small forward at that point in conference play. He was still getting acclimated to the Division-I game, and you could see it in his decision making at times. And on top of that, Hollis-Jefferson couldn’t hit the broad side of the barn with his jumpshot, so there were serious spacing issues.
So Sean Miller elected to go with a three guard lineup with Gabe York helping space the floor with outside shooting. It was a move that made plenty of sense.
But this year will be different. There is no keeping Hollis-Jefferson from running away with the starting small forward job.
With an offseason of work at various elite “pre-nba” camps such as the Kevin Durant Skills Academy and the Lebron James Skills Academy, Hollis-Jefferson is looking like a more polished player. He looks to have made improvements in his jumpshot and has added muscle to his already strong but lean frame.
Forget about offense though, it’s what Hollis-Jefferson will provide defensively that will keep him on the court as much as possible.
With a 7+ foot wingspan, tremendous lateral quickness, and great instincts, Hollis-Jefferson may be the best defensive player in the country. Much like Aaron Gordon did last year, Hollis-Jefferson will be the anchor of a stout Arizona defense.
He’ll also guard the opponents best player, and can match up with anyone from a point guard to a power forward. That kind of defensive versatility will make him one of Arizona’s most important players when it comes to exploiting mismatches.
With a player that could start for any team in the country (including Kentucky) you might almost feel guilty knowing who Arizona could deploy to back him up.
It’s possible that Stanley Johnson, one of the best freshmen in the country and the probable starting shooting guard, could slide over to spell Hollis-Jefferson at small forward. Johnson certainly has the size and strength to play the forward spot. Potentially, Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson could both slide over and man the small forward and power forward positions, giving Arizona a smaller but devastatingly fast and athletic lineup.
Johnson is also the perfect foil to Hollis-Jefferson, as he provides a much more potent offensive arsenal. When Arizona needs more offense or shooting, swapping Johnson for Hollis-Jefferson at small forward makes a lot of sense.
Between Hollis-Jefferson and Johnson, there should be absolutely no drop off in elite play at the small forward position. Those two form a dynamic duo on the wing, a classic yin and yang, thunder and lightning combination. While Hollis-Jefferson excels defensively, Johnson provides the scoring punch.
And don’t forget about Elliott Pitts, who also proved that he can contribute spot minutes on the wing with his shooting ability and fundamental play. If Pitts makes strides in his shooting and becomes a more confident outside threat, he will have a very nice niche to play at the small forward spot and potentially the shooting guard as well.
On a team as stacked as Arizona, minutes are going to be hard to come by at every position, and they will be fiercely battled over in practices. Beyond Hollis-Jefferson and Johnson, it’s hard to see there being much room for anyone else to get consistent, significant playing time.
But that’s a good thing. If these players perform as expected, you’ll be seeing both of them in the 2015 NBA Draft. As lottery picks.
That’s got to feel pretty good if you’re an Arizona fan. With Hollis-Jefferson’s wrecking ball style and Johnson’s physical and offensive prowess, we are poised to see elite play at the small forward position.