By Tom Dowd | March 21, 2017
What does Rondae Hollis-Jefferson want to do?
Versatility and adaptability are at the heart of the second-year forward’s game. He doesn’t like to leave a boxscore column empty, and he doesn’t want to stop there.
“I’m a really unselfish guy,” said Hollis-Jefferson. “I’m not looking to get 20 points or anything like that. I’m cool with five assists, five rebounds, 10 points.
“The little things. The rebounding. Steals. Just little things you don’t necessarily see on the boxscore.”
It’s the approach that comes naturally to Hollis-Jefferson, and also the right one to fit in with the new administration led by general manager Sean Marks, who arrived midway through Hollis-Jefferson’s rookie year and brought in head coach Kenny Atkinson a few months later. Positional versatility and length are crucial, and the 6-foot-7 forward has those tools.
Along with Brook Lopez, Hollis-Jefferson is one of just two Nets remaining from before Marks took over. After fracturing his ankle just 19 games into his NBA career, Hollis-Jefferson was limited to 29 games while playing for two different coaches as a rookie.
In some ways, it all made Hollis-Jefferson’s second season a bit of a rookie reboot. In addition to the new coaching staff, the Nets’ 2016-17 opening night roster featured 10 new teammates.
“I got to know Kenny and those guys during Summer League, so that was pretty big for me, just building a rapport and relationship,” said Hollis-Jefferson. “At first, you know people don’t just hand their trust out, so I’ve got to earn his trust and vice versa. It was just me working hard for him and him giving us his all. It was amazing. That’s when the wall started to come down. He really wants to win. He would be in drills with us and he would be trying to push us and motivate. It was great to see that.”
At the start of the season, Hollis-Jefferson was in a familiar spot as the Nets’ small forward, starting the first 14 games of the season before being sidelined by a sore ankle at the end of November.
While Hollis-Jefferson was out, Bojan Bogdanovic slid down from the shooting guard spot, and upon his return Hollis-Jefferson spent most of December and January coming off the bench. During that time, Atkinson began experimenting with small-ball lineups that featured Hollis-Jefferson playing the 4, or power forward, spot.
Despite being traditionally undersized for the position, Atkinson saw Hollis-Jefferson’s athleticism and wingspan allowing him to defend the post and rebound effectively. It didn’t take long for the coach to decide this was where he belonged.
“Love it. I just think that’s his natural position,” said Atkinson. “I would say since he’s gone to the 4 our defense has improved. I think there’s a direct correlation. That’s what I see on film at least. He’s a smart defensive player. He’s a long defensive player. We can switch a lot more, which I think you’re seeing. And he rebounds the ball. Guys go through the lane, he’s got good instincts. He can strip a guy. Get a deflection.”
On Feb. 1, Hollis-Jefferson returned to the starting lineup, this time at the power forward spot, and went for 16 points and eight rebounds against the Knicks.
In the Nets’ 10 February games, Hollis-Jefferson averaged 7.5 rebounds and 9.6 points per game, compared to his overall season averages of 4.8 rebounds and 7.8 points per game through January 31.
“I know his finishing has gotten a lot better,” said Atkinson. “In the beginning of the season, he really struggled to finish at the rim. So he’s doing a better job. And I do think part of that is being at the 4. He’s a little closer to the rim. And he’s in the pick and roll now. At the 3, he wasn’t in the pick and roll, so everything he’s catching is a catch and face. Now you're dealing with shooting and all those decisions. Now he’s catching it in the pick and roll some and can use his length and finishing.”
With all the roster turnover since his arrival, Hollis-Jefferson has bonded with two of the offseason additions, rookies Caris LeVert and Isaiah Whitehead. Even with his own limited NBA experience, Hollis-Jefferson was able to offer some guidance to the first-year players. The three were all born within seven months of each other, and they bonded quickly. Atkinson has described the trio as seeming inseparable.
“Those two coming in and contributing and being an uplift to the team has been tremendous,” said Hollis-Jefferson. “Just having them around is great for me because they understand me, they know me. We talk trash to each other. We do it all together. It’s a brotherhood. It feels good to be growing with these guys.”