Draft Workout: C's Invite Physical, Defensive-Minded Small Forwards

WALTHAM, Mass. – The Virginia Cavaliers allowed a nation-low 51.5 points per game this past season. For a program that prides itself on defensive prowess, that number was a result of an outstanding collective team effort. But it was also reflective on the play of their defensive leader: small forward Justin Anderson.

His staunch defense earned him notice in the NCAA. It’s why he will be selected in this year’s NBA Draft, and it’s one of the reasons why the Boston Celtics invited him to a Draft workout Monday morning.

He was joined by four other athletic, physical small forwards, including defensive specialist Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a projected first round pick from the University of Arizona.

Director of player personnel Austin Ainge called the workout a “bloodbath,” and stressed the value of defensive-minded swingmen in a league full of high-volume scoring small forwards.

“Some of the toughest matchups in the league are at small forward,” said Ainge. “LeBron [James], Carmelo [Anthony], Paul George, all the way down the list, there’s a lot of them. You’ve gotta have a 3-man with some size.”

“Jae Crowder did a great job for us in that role this year,” Ainge continued. “We could use a few more like that."

Anderson has shaped his game around his defensive skillset. He wasn’t the strongest offensive contributor when he entered UVA, but his lockdown abilities earned him significant playing time.

“I knew I didn’t have consistent enough offense to become the best player I wanted to be, so I needed to be really good at one thing,” said Anderson, who measures in at 6-6, 231 pounds. “Going into college, I had to be really good at defense.”

Similarly, Hollis-Jefferson was Arizona’s lockdown defender this past season. Coach Sean Miller regularly put the 6-foot-7, 211-pound forward up against the opposition’s top scoring threat, and he rarely faltered.

“Coming from Chester [Penn.], we take a lot of pride in things we do,” said Hollis-Jefferson. “Not being showed up [is one of those things], so no matter who you are, I’m going to defend you and give you my best shot.”

He will have to give nothing less than his best shot when going up against the league’s top small forwards, a few of whom Ainge alluded to moments before.

“I think it would be a big challenge to see how you can hold your own in this man’s league,” said Hollis-Jefferson. “It would be a good [test] to see if you’re ready for this stage, and I feel like I’m ready.”

While each of their games revolve around defense, their abilities on the other end of the floor have also improved.

Anderson, who had the second-highest vertical leap at the Draft Combine (43 inches), averaged 12.2 points per game during the 2014-15 campaign. His 3-point percentage spiked from .294 in 2013-14, to .452 last season.

Hollis-Jefferson led his team with 43 dunks this past season and shot .502 from the field. His .207 3-point percentage was mediocre, though he claims his jump shot is greatly improving.

“It’s gotten better and they could tell in the workout,” said Hollis-Jefferson, who is a bit lanky for the three, but benefits from a 7-2 wingspan. “It still needs work, but it’s something fixable.”

Anderson and Hollis-Jefferson are both steadily improving on the offensive end, but whoever drafts these two, will certainly be obtaining an athletic three that is capable of providing steadfast defense from the get-go.

Le'Bryan Nash receives visit from ex-teammate Marcus Smart

On the eve before his workout with the Celtics, Le'Bryan Nash received a much-needed boost from former Oklahoma State teammate, Marcus Smart.

The Celtics point guard showed up at Nash’s hotel room Sunday night and spewed out advice to his fellow Cowboy alumnus before the 6-7 forward hit the big stage the following morning.

“He said whatever you put in, is what you’re going to get out,” said Nash. “If you’re going to work hard and dedicate yourself to this game, then you’re going to be one of the best players.”

He continued, “That was the big advice I took from him because I want to be a player that plays on the court and makes an impact on the court, so I took that and I ran with it. I came out here and I just told myself, ‘play hard, play hard, play hard.’”

The pair have known one another since their high school days, going up against each other during high school and AAU before they both suited up for Oklahoma State.

This past season, Smart served as a positive example for Nash, who hopes to take after his close friend.

“Seeing him [play] for this team and what he did his first year, I want to make the same impact,” he said.

Nash is setting the bar high, but he insists, “That’s that DNA in Dallas. We’re going to compete as hard as we can.”

Also in attendance

Seniors Branden Dawson (Michigan State), Jonathan Holmes (Texas) and Levi Randolph (Alabama) also participated in today’s workout … Dawson, a 6-6, 225-pound forward, tallied 11.9 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game this past season, and knocked Anderson’s Cavaliers from the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year … Holmes, a 6-8, 240-pound forward, averaged 10.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game and led the Longhorns to a Tournament berth … Randolph, a 6-5, 208-pound shooting guard, was the leading scorer (15.2 PPG), distributor (2.4 assists per game) and second-leading rebounder (5.0 RPG) for the Crimson Tide this past season.

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