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Extrapolating the Nets’ Offensive Strengths - Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

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Chares Maniego continues his occasional series on the Nets offense Wednesday with a look at Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and his transition to the 4.

NBA: New York Knicks at Brooklyn Nets Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

In my previous piece, I broke down the offensive production of Nets cornerstone (or trade chip), Brook Lopez. Lopez continues to be a versatile offensive player, adding more “unicorn” to his game this season. Even if Lopez does not fit into the long-term plans for Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson, his game will be difficult to replicate. Seemingly, he would be an ideal fit for the free-flowing motion offense Kenny Atkinson wants to run.

On the other end of the spectrum is Lopez’s Disney World buddy, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Unlike Lopez, Hollis-Jefferson is a raw offensive player. Everyone knows that. The wing turned “hyper athletic” power forward is far from polished offensively. Still only 22, Hollis-Jefferson has had an up-and-down season, with a fair share of both highlights and embarrassing plays. Even with his lack of offense, Coach Atkinson seems to like RHJ’s skillset, playing him major minutes as a development prospect. Sean Marks remarked (Marks puns!) on Hollis-Jefferson’s positive attitude as being an important culture piece for the Nets going forward. That’s understated.

But all the optimism may not be enough to justify the deficiencies of his shot chart. Take a look…


Wow. So there’s quite a bit to unpack from this. Obviously, RHJ is not exactly Stephen Curry. He shoots below league average from seven out of fourteen regions. Even as a sophomore, some have written him off at any position due to his lack of offensive polish.

Hollis-Jefferson became the full-time starting power forward starting February 1st against the Knicks. Since then, he has improved his shooting efficiency significantly. Prior to February, RHJ shot below 45% from the field. Since entering the starting lineup, he has shot 53%. His field goal percentage on the season is 44%. While his overall shooting has picked up, the same could not be said for RHJ from deep. He shoots the 3 at a deflating 21%.

But it’s not all bad! As a starter, Hollis-Jefferson will have open looks ready with defenses keying in on Lopez and Lin (and a sexy wing player from Restricted Free Agency, fingers crossed.) One type of shot that RHJ seems to be working on is the corner three. Here’s how his three point shot distribution has looked since moving back to the starting lineup full time.

There’s a trend! Before becoming serviceable three points shooters, Atlanta developmental projects Kent Bazemore and Demarre Carroll (literally) dipped their toes into the deep end starting in the corners. Even a big man like Chris Bosh started his long-range assassin career from the corners as well. From a developmental standpoint, the corner three is the shortest three-point shot. Just from a personal perspective, shooting from the corner has to be pinpoint because there’s less room for error. If a player shoots too strong, it’s a past-the-rim airball. If the shot isn’t on line, that’s another airball. The corner 3 is the Goldilocks shot.

Honestly, his corner three doesn’t look as disastrous as the numbers indicate. The hitch seen in some of his free throw line extended jumpers isn’t evident. In both his make and miss, the form on the shot was pretty uniform.

Last season, RHJ only took five corner threes in his 29 games. In his twenty games since February 1st, he’s shot 11 corner threes. It’s a promising sign that he’s taking these shots, just to experiment. But next season, the pressure will be on him to make them.

Drives

The Nets’ offense features a four out configuration, with one post player. RHJ is frequently responsible for swinging the ball at the top of the key. But as a power forward, he can use his speed, lankiness, and left-handedness to get past slower defenders. He does that here against Kristaps Porzingis.

Since his move to the starting lineup, RHJ has shot 57.9% on drives, leading the team since February 1st. Prior to that, he shot 42% on the same play. It’s a promising development. Yes, there may be some weird angled shots. It’s how he plays. But if he shoots over 55% on drives, it’s something to live with.

The only drawback of his drives is the turnovers. He turns it over 15% of the time on drives, which leads the team. Sometimes RHJ can slither into the lane and attempt a decent shot, or draw contact for a foul. But other times, he loses it due to a loose handle. James Johnson strips him on a drive here…

Below, RHJ looked to rocket into the lane against Kelly Oubre Jr. It seemed like he was thinking too far ahead, pushing the ball without looking.

On transition drives, he shoots 47%, which is subpar. He does get fouled 22% of the time, like below.

As a defender, RHJ will have the opportunity for transition buckets off of steals and long rebounds. That’s one way for a rough around the edges offensive player to pick up points and swing momentum for his team.

Pick and Roll

As a power forward, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson must master the art of the screen. So far, RHJ has ben a solid screen setter, holding his ground to create separation for the ballhandler. Here, RHJ sets a nice screen off of a handoff to Randy Foye. Miami’s Goran Dragic is left in the dust with RHJ’s seal as Foye takes it to the hole.

Hollis-Jefferson has shown some promise as the roll man on the pick and roll. His lack of shooting allows defending bigs to drop back on him and focus on the ballhandler. But like his drives, RHJ can use his speed and activity to streak to the rim on the pick and roll. He does that with Randy Foye (again), but this time leading to a smooth layup that leads to a foul.

In that play, RHJ channeled his inner Luis Scola (miss you, Luis!) by sticking his hip out on the screen. It’s a nifty little trick that slows defenders down just enough to benefit ballhandlers. Yet, RHJ has not had the easiest time scoring on the pick and roll, despite his screening ability and speed. He shoots 30% as the roll man out of pick and roll. But he gets fouled 28.6% of the time on drives, which is another promising sign. Even with his struggles in game, RHJ is a decent free throw shooter, averaging around 75% from the charity stripe.

Cutter

With a player as young (still only 22) and as raw as Hollis-Jefferson, the focus should be on what he does well, rather than what he doesn’t. From his physical profile and motor alone, RHJ can be a deadly cutter. He can be used as an option after setting off-ball screens, cutting away from the screener. Defenses may not respect his shot, but they have to respect his activity at or around the rim. Here are a few examples of Hollis-Jefferson’s fruitful plays as a cutter.

Much like his role as a roll man (double role/roll, wow), RHJ draws fouls quite a bit as a cutter, 28.6% of the time. His field goal percentage is decent, 58% for shots that are usually right at the rim. One role for RHJ, if his shooting continues to lag is running like a madman around the court, forcing defenders to test their conditioning. He certainly has the motor to keep running constantly. Coach Atkinson just has to contain that energy.

Passing

In the 2016 Summer League, Hollis-Jefferson played some point guard in Las Vegas. While it may not have been successful, or carried into the regular season, it was an interesting development. One interesting to note from RHJ’s season is that he is fourth on the team in passes per game (35). He averages 2 assists per game on the season. His passing leaves a lot to be desired. Case in point, below…

https://streamable.com/z68fr

Yikes. Since becoming a starter, he has averaged 1.6 turnovers per game compared to 1.3 turnovers per game. Some of those turnovers may stem from his loose handle, but other are due to telegraphed passes. Ballhandling and passing are two of the many areas that RHJ must work on to be a successful starter…at any position.

Role

Many will say that Hollis-Jefferson is not a fit for Kenny Atkinson’s offense. But his ability to attack off the bounce, screening and effort are needed for a system that relies on shooters. If shooters get cold, the offense will need a player whose effort can break the team out of a funk. RHJ could provide that, along with Trevor Booker. One area where Budenholzer’s Hawks failed was the lack of secondary attackers. RHJ may be able to fill that role, provided that he plays within his game. His effort on the offensive glass may be a positive factor as well.

Yes, RHJ’s game looks completely unhinged at times. There’s a lot not to like when his game is at its most awkward. His sloppy turnovers and wild shots are frustrating. But the outline of a successful starter is there. Since moving to the starting power forward slot, his efficiency has improved. Coach Atkinson even called the power forward “his natural position.” RHJ needs more reps at the 4 both on offense and defense. In a lost season, he is getting those opportunities, for better or for worse. He’s a work in progress. Emphasis on that last word.

References

All stats are from NBA.com/stats or basketball-reference.com, unless otherwise noted.