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The evolution of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Suddenly, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has become an offensive threat.

The longest tenured Brooklyn Net, now 22 and in his third year in the NBA, was commonly viewed as an offensive liability heading into the season.

At the beginning of his career, and even last season, Hollis-Jefferson was labeled as a small forward, but with no jumpshot yet (more on this shortly). The 6’7” University of Arizona alum was seen a hindrance to the Net offense. He did enough elsewhere, on defense and on the boards, to warrant minutes.

Last season, Kenny Atkinson, then in year 1, opted to boldly move Hollis-Jefferson inside to power forward.

The jumper didn’t travel with him on the move, but The Hyphen’s production rose. This was evident in his final 11 games, when he posted 11.4 points on 43.1% shooting to go along with nearly eight rebounds per contest. He logged a substantial 26.9 minutes an appearance. Notably, Hollis-Jefferson hit double figures in eight of the ten games before the season finale, and even had two 20-point outings for the first time in his career.

But before the 2017-18 season, Hollis-Jefferson had only four games where he scored 18 points or more ... in a career spanning 107 games.

This year? Through eight games, he’s already done that four times, highlighted by a career-high 21-point outing in Tuesday’s loss to the Phoenix Suns.

This season, Hollis-Jefferson is averaging 15.0 points and 5.2 rebounds a game while shooting 51.3% from the floor – in 26.3 minutes per game. And on a more subtle note, he’s hitting his free throws — better than five a game— at an 88.6 percent clip. That’s a stat-line that few if anyone outside the Nets saw coming.

Take a look.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson now has a jumpshot!

And it doesn’t look forced anymore. It’s smooth, relaxed. Because of it, his game log in points reads, from game 1 against Indiana through game 8 versus Phoenix, as a model of consistency: 14, 15, 9, 18, 19, 6, 18 and 21.

Additionally, he’s combined it with a great first-step, an underrated part of his overall game. It’s helped him finish (key word) around the rim at a more successful rate than in his previous two (really 1.5) seasons in the league.

But it’s more than that. He’s shown leadership, maturity that comes with hard work and success.

“Coming in every day ready willing to work,” he said, describing how he sees leadership. “I think people sometimes get confused with being a leader by what they say. I think it’s about what you do and your work ethic and how you come in every day. People start to follow.”

The message he tries to send?

“Stay together, keep believing in the process, keep believing in each other, keep believing in what the coaches believe in and everything will change.”

The early returns suggest that Hollis-Jefferson has, at least in October, taken the next step in his development. His offensive game is more well-rounded as seen against the Denver Nuggets, and the Orlando Magic. His defense is steady. His leadership is growing ... and he’s still only 22.

Perhaps the next-step is a three-point shot, where he’s only shot from six times in eight games, making two.

And to think, people wanted him gone last season, and even this past summer.