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For Rondae, a birthday and a rite of passage

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Brooklyn Nets v Washington Wizards Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

I guess being the last man shooting (and shooting…and shooting) can pay dividends. It just takes a while.

Remember way back in our training camp reports, when a major theme was an incredibly hard-working Rondae Hollis-Jefferson being the last man on the floor on multiple occasions? He’d stay about an hour or so after practice in an effort to improve his offensive game, and as a result, his team?

Well, if you look now, RHJ is starting to take the leap offensively the Nets (desperately) need, just scratching the surface of his high ceiling, little by little.

In 14 starts to begin his sophomore campaign, Hollis logged 24.8 minutes per game while only averaging 7.0 points on 32.9% from the field (27.8% from deep). Hollis-Jefferson then missed three games due to an ankle injury, and was moved to a reserve role upon his return to action.

In 16 games since then, coming off the bench, Hollis-Jefferson has been more efficient, averaging 8.9 points in around 20 minutes per contest, while shooting 43.5% from the field, if only 21.4% from three. But he’s been in constant attack mode, finishing at the rim and hitting more mid-range jumpers than he had previously.

"Being aggressive creates a lot of opportunities for your teammates, for everyone on the court," said Hollis-Jefferson back in late September after once again working his butt off in a training camp session "It just makes the team better and harder to guard.”

It gets better. Let’s focus more on his very recent showings, starting from the December 20th 12-point loss in Toronto.

In that game, Hollis-Jefferson scored 19 points in only 20 minutes (plus six rebounds, three steals, one steal and one block for what it’s worth), and shot 8-of-15 from the field (53.3%), both of which are season-highs. It was only his second double-digit scoring output in a month (thirteen appearances), starting somewhat of a trend for the former Arizona Wildcat.

Since then, Hollis-Jefferson has averaged 12 points in 22 minutes per outing on 43.3% shooting on 72.7% shooting from the foul line, and after a 2-of-5 (40%) three-point shooting stretch, he hasn’t attempted a three over his last four games, because he’s been attacking the rim.

In his first eight games, the 2015 first round pick averaged 4.5 shot attempts in 26.4 minutes per game (shooting 33% from the floor as well). In his last seven? 9.6 field goal attempts in the aforementioned 22 minutes per contest. That’s more than double.

What’s the difference?

“I’m just staying focused, coming out aggressive, giving my team what I can do while I'm out there,” Rondae said after Monday’s loss to Utah where he scored 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting, going to the line seven times. “Just controlling what I can control while I'm out there.”

Hollis-Jefferson isn’t lighting the league on fire, but he’s simply showing the growth fans of struggling teams want to see He’s demonstrated an evolving will to penetrate opposing defenses and take his chances with the trees down low, getting to the line and or having some quality looks as a result.

He also wants more of a role. When reporters asked him Monday what happened in the fourth quarter, when the Jazz put the game away, RHJ smiled and replied, “Was I out there?” He wasn’t.

If he continues to hone his offensive element, we should see more of him, which could lead to a return to the starting line-up, but it’s entirely possible that he could, you know, continue to develop, to serve as a vital piece for the organization when the ‘future’ becomes the ‘present.’

As time goes, an offensively consistent Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is what everyone, including him, had hoped for. If the Nets and fans are starting to get this now, then sky’s the limit for the uber-athletic swingman. He’s already shown his defensive capability,

Oh, and of course, a special happy birthday to him! He turns 22 years young today!