Victor Oladipo is probably the league’s Most Improved Player, but Rondae Hollis-Jefferson could definitely snag more than a few votes.
Hell, The Hyphen might be the Brooklyn Nets’ Most Valuable Player overall so far this season.
He’s already altered perception, swiftly changing the narrative from the “bust” label some fans saddled him with in their far too early critiques of Hollis-Jefferson, and now, he really feels that he’s taken that next step.
He acknowledged such on Wednesday. He hasn’t just played like it, he’s worn it.
"I just feel like it's my whole confidence, man,” said Hollis-Jefferson with his trademark smile. “The way I approach the game. The way I talk about it, the way I'm just, I'm in it. I feel like more so than last year, this summer I just put in a lot of work and I dedicated myself to it.
“I feel in love with it even that much more and it's helped me tremendously and, man, I'm going to continue to walk with this confidence and talk with it."
Hollis-Jefferson has upped his scoring from 8.7 to 14.5 points per game, and his shooting averages have risen to 49 percent from the field, 30 percent from three and 81 percent on free throws from a line of 44, 24 and 74 percent, respectively, through his first two seasons.
He’s in the post, turning and facing, dribbling by, spinning and winning, finishing around the rim, all at a more frequent rate, all with confidence.
In those first two seasons, he’s lost well over 100 games. The Nets had been a laughing stock, and Hollis-Jefferson was at the core of the team’s troubles. He was thought of as a wing who couldn’t shoot in an era where 7-footers without a jumpshot are becoming extinct (which is why the acquisition of Jahlil Okafor raised some eyebrows).
It all wore on Hollis-Jefferson, who has since grown into the heart and soul of the team. It makes him appreciate this era of Brooklyn basketball more. He reflected on some of those hard times on Wednesday. They’ve helped make his improvements that much sweeter. In some ways, this is Hollis-Jefferson’s second chance, his own change of scenery. Not everyone needs to be traded for a new experience.
He’s thankful. "In high school and college I probably lost 12 games in my career. Then when I first got into the NBA, I think I only won like 12,” he said with a laugh. “It was crazy to be a part of that, like, it hurt. It didn't feel right, then I broke my ankle. I was messed up.
“Then once Sean (Marks) came in and he started to make these changes, it was new to me. I didn't know anybody and things like that, aside from the players. I'm talking about the staff and the coaches. It was tough for me, so once I started to let it all sink in and register it started to blossom."
At first, like any young adult, Hollis-Jefferson wasn’t quite sure when the Nets cleaned house after his rookie season, which like anyone would be while at a job, especially a new one, and a new regime arrived to takeover and reset things from scratch.
Now, he’s the longest tenured Net. Having been here the longest, he’s seen the most. He’s been here from the ground up, so to speak, and with Sean Kilpatrick gone, he’s the only one left from that tumultuous season.
It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t overnight, but now, he trusts the process, so to speak.
"Whatever you do, you want trust in your leader. Our leader is Kenny. But me, where I come from, the things that I've done in life, it's kind of hard,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “I have this wall sometimes where it's hard for me to build that trust and that's where you hit bumps in the road. You don’t fully trust something or you're not locked in to the process. I feel like once I locked in and fully trusted him, then you start to see the elevation, the incline."
Kenny Atkinson, Rondae’s guy, has been the overseer of Hollis-Jefferson’s elevation, physically and mentally. Atkinson said Wednesday that the surge of The Hyphen was due to a lot of hard-work in the offseason on both aspects.
“I think he’s improved from a technical standpoint,” Atkinson said. “I think his fundamentals have improved, I think his confidence has improved, I also think physically he’s gotten better. Last year it felt like he was off-balanced a lot and falling a lot, which is normal for a young player, Caris (LeVert) was similar, they’re going so fast their bodies can’t keep up with them.
“I just think he’s done a great job with the performance team,” Atkinson continued. “I told him today, even that three-point shot he took was smoother. It’s a combination of him working on those and it’s mental. He just feels more comfortable and looks more confident.”