Brooklyn Nets forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has spent his entire career splitting time between three positions, but which suits him the best?
At 6-7 with length and nice athleticism, versatility is what makes Hollis-Jefferson such a useful player. His skills on offense are less than refined, but a soon-to-be elite wing defender is going to get minutes when they can lock up at the two, three or four.
According to Basketball-Reference, RHJ’s career positional breakdown is as follows: 33 percent at shooting guard, 44 percent at small forward and 24 percent at power forward. As a rookie, Hollis-Jefferson spent much more time in the backcourt, but now with an abundance of guards, Kenny Atkinson is experimenting with him at the three and four. Just based on size, the ideal spot for the 22-year-old is small forward. Although he’s long, he’s somewhere around 220 pounds, and most fours would just bully him on the block; Trevor Booker is the Nets‘ primary power forward, and he’s an inch taller and almost 10 pounds heavier than RHJ.
This season, 52 percent of Hollis Jefferson’s minutes are at the three. When you think about some of the guys that he has to defend in the conference, it’s not a surprise. LeBron James, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony — just to name a few — are all natural small forwards, and Hollis-Jefferson is tasked with attempting to slow them down when they meet.
Should Atkinson slide him over to the two, he’ll be fine there also. Even if RHJ’s facing a quicker player, his length is bothersome, and he moves very well laterally.
The issue with his position is offense. He doesn’t bring much to the table, so having him at the four would make the most sense because he’ll be in a space where plays don’t need to run for him. Outside of Brook Lopez, all of Brooklyn’s playmakers play in the backcourt. On a consistent basis, they have someone who can get the ball and create something — whether it’s off the dribble, out of the pick-and-roll or whatever.
Hollis-Jefferson is not that kind of threat right now. When he got drafted out of Arizona, it was as a lockdown defender with high energy and a tremendous motor. During a time where the NBA is so guard-dominant, creating points is a must, and the Nets simply can’t get away with having him at a guard spot — if this was the 1970s, definitely.
Also, if it were the 70s, the league would be failing and everyone would be snorting coke. So let’s be happy it isn’t.
Although he shows flashes of being able to create for himself and others, he’s not reliable on that end of the floor just yet. And that’s OK.
Picture this: select any combination for players one-through-three with Lopez at the five. When RHJ is at the four, it allows him to camp out in the corners or hover on the baseline. His best assets are rebounding and energy which means that he can do some damage on the offensive glass. Since he’s not exactly a threat on offense (8.1 points on 42.7 shooting), the defense forgets about him because they’re focusing on someone else.
Watch James McAdoo on this play (white headband). He’s worried about Lopez out of the pick-and-roll, but Hollis-Jefferson is his man. RHJ flares out to the corner to open up the floor for Spencer Dinwiddie and Lopez — which is smart. Now, McAdoo leaves Hollis-Jefferson who cuts backdoor for a deuce.
I want to avoid getting too nerdy here, but that play would’ve been even more uncontested if Lin wasn’t a mediocre three-point shooter; Stephen Curry can sag off because of it.
Hollis-Jefferson has played at the four more and more, and it’s clearly working. For the year, he shoots 55.4 percent in the restricted area, per NBA.com. It’s not a coincidence he’s made 12-of-17 over his last four games in that space.
Having a busted jump shot limits Hollis-Jefferson’s game, but he’s still a capable driver and has the quickness advantage over most power forwards. His first step is just enough to blow by somebody and, although his finishing skills are questionable, he converts on a decent amount of head-scratching, “whirly-dervish” shots. (Thanks for that one, Ian Eagle.)
Hollis-Jefferson hits JaMychal Green (a reliable defender) with a quick rip through going left and can get the step and finish.
And here’s what I meant by “head-scratching, ‘whirly-dervish’ shots”:
Despite being awkward, the fundamentals are there. He attacks Otto Porter going left, but has the dexterity to crossover right and, once again, get the step on his man.
Hollis-Jefferson is lucky enough to play during an era where positions are almost obsolete. The best players play, and RHJ is one of the Nets’ better players. Down the line, he may improve enough to play the three or the two consistently, but Brooklyn has the best chance at lethal offense when he’s at the four.