Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has seen good chemistry on a team before.
Having just come from the up-and-coming Brooklyn Nets whose close-knit fraternity helped them probably surpass expectations a year ago, Hollis-Jefferson knows a good group when he sees one and he likes the camaraderie he has found in Toronto.
“I like it. I like it,” Hollis-Jefferson said following the training camp ending intrasquad game Thursday in Quebec City. “You see a bunch of guys who came off a championship, who are humble, willing to work, willing to get after it. You have to love that kind of spirit, that kind of energy.”
The Nets under Kenny Atkinson had that kind of closeness. Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris Levert, Jared Allen, and certainly Hollis-Jefferson and company were close and it translated onto the court.
“You see guys going to dinner, you see guys communicating, laughing, joking,” Hollis-Jefferson said of his observations of his new team through five days in Quebec City. “You don’t see that too often, you might have a group here, a group there but for the most part, everybody’s who’s been here is really close.”
Toronto used that closeness to great advantage a year ago. A group that is close and actually likes its each is more willing to get on board with a move-the-ball selfless approach to the game which is exactly the kind of game Raptors’ head coach Nick Nurse prefers to play.
How many times through last spring’s successful playoff run did you hear a member of the Raptors talk about the willingness to do whatever it took sacrifice whatever necessary to make the proper play. That is borne out of good chemistry and to even come close to repeating the success the team had a year ago, that kind of chemistry is going to paramount again.
Hollis-Jefferson hasn’t just been impressed with the chemistry on this club. He’s impressed with the commitment level.
“Guys locked in, trying to get better. We’ve got a lot of young guys so trying to learn new things, including myself. It’s been great, everyone’s been attentive, listening and focused,” he said.
Hollis-Jefferson, despite four years in the league, is one of those young guys. He’s already finding his role within the team.
“It’s a drive-and-kick team,” he said. “Like to get to the rim, definitely like to pass so I definitely can see myself fitting in here.
And they have bunch of a great guys who look to facilitate — Marc (Gasol), Kyle (Lowry), Fred (VanVleet) so I feel like I fit in great here.”
Hollis-Jefferson is a tireless defender as well, which will immediately put him in good stead with Nurse and the veterans on this team who put a premium on defence. At 6-foot-7 — on his best day he jokes — Hollis-Jefferson isn’t exactly a giant in the paint but he is comfortable rebounding in there and getting his offence in there.
“Going against bigger guys you have to figure out ways to finish the basketball so that’s something I kind of took from a few player sand I added a little bit of Chester, Pa., in there,” he said with a salute to his roots.
Hollis-Jefferson apparently only stole from left-handers, listing Thad Young, who he played with in Brooklyn and Spurs legend Manu Ginolbili as two guys who he watched and stole some crafty inside moves that he has used to help him overcome any size disadvantage he has when he ventures in there amongst the giants.
With the Raptors, Hollis-Jefferson, barring injuries to the starters, will likely come off the bench most of the time for Nurse. He’s certainly capable of starters but with Gasol, Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka ahead of him in the pecking order second unit minutes seem most likely.
Hollis-Jefferson came off the bench in Brooklyn for all but 21 starts a year ago.
But his ability to rebound the basketball against players with more size will be a huge plus for this team that, at least up until last year’s playoff run struggled for too much of the time with rebounding.
RANGE KEEPS EXTENDING
It was midway through the Philadelphia series that Fred VanVleet was struggling to have an impact in games and the decision was made to start launching them from a little further back.
By Game 6 of the NBA Finals, there didn’t feel like a spot from midcourt from which VanVleet couldn’t score.
But that might be a small exaggeration.
Still, VanVleet has just picked up where he left off and was seen practising 30-foot three-pointers before the scrimmage on Thursday.
Shooting steps before the three-point line isn’t something new in Toronto, but until now, it has mostly been reserved for Lowry.
VanVleet, however, throws them up there effortlessly much like Lowry has been doing for a few years now, putting more pressure than ever on defences to extend their coverage area.
Newcomer Matt Thomas also looks like a guy who isn’t going to be afraid to shoot them from long, long distance.
It was a big night for Chris Boucher in Quebec City. The 6’-foot-10” Montreal native is clearly a fan favourite in his home province and he responded with some very big dunks and an aggressive inside game that gave his fans plenty to cheer about. Being a late bloomer, the clock might be ticking a little more for Boucher. He turns 27 in January, but Boucher refuses to get caught up in that. “No, I feel like even last year it was a pivotal year for me,’ he said when asked about the pressure. “It was trying to find a way to get in the league and stay in the league. It could be your first year, fifth year, it doesn’t matter. I think that every day you’ve gotta go there and show what you’re capable of doing, ‘cause you never know what could happen, injuries, trade, last year we saw what happened. So at this point you’ve just gotta play hard every time and show them that you wanna be here.” … To the surprise of no one in Toronto, the Raptors announced Friday they have exercised the fourth-year team option on the rookie scale contract of forward OG Anunoby. He is now signed through the 2020-21 season.