How important will Rondae Hollis-Jefferson be?


Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is beginning to meet the expectations that come with being the Toronto Raptors’ biggest offseason acquisition.

Many perceived a quiet offseason from the Toronto Raptors as a sign of satisfaction that a single championship was enough for the franchise’s core. They took slight chances on Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in free agency, but did little else in the name of improvement.

There have been growing pains, but the latter is beginning to demonstrate why the Raptors were interested in him in the first place.

Hollis-Jefferson played in just four lowly minutes prior to Nov. 10. Part of that was due to a groin injury the forward was contending with early in the year. But Nurse also took Hollis-Jefferson to task several times in the previous few months.

In his second appearance of the year (Nov. 10), Hollis-Jefferson scored 10 points in just 15 minutes against the Los Angeles Lakers. Since then, he has played at least 20 minutes in every game and has not scored less than six points.

Perhaps just as importantly, Hollis-Jefferson has shown his mettle as a willing rebounder. He has grabbed at least eight rebounds in five of his last nine games, hitting the double-digit mark twice in that time. That culminated in arguably his best game of the season, a 16-point, 10-rebound effort in a win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday evening.

He can also be a strong lockdown defender, a rarity in today’s NBA. He recent weeks, he has guarded the likes of LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and CJ McCollum, making life difficult for them all night long. Toronto has intriguing individual defenders across the board, with Serge Ibaka and OG Anunoby also among their ranks.

That isn’t to say the forward is without limitations. He lacks the single skill most important in the NBA today — the 3-point shot. He has attempted just two 3-pointers this season, missing both of them. His inability to shoot from distance makes him a liability for Nurse’s late-game rotations, particularly when Toronto trails.

There’s also no indication that Hollis-Jefferson’s performance is guaranteed to become the norm for him going forward. His scoring is in line with his career average, but he’s rebounding slightly more than usual and shooting much better than he has historically. He’s shooting 56.8 percent from the field this year, compared to a 44.9 percent career mark.

Regardless, compared to fellow acquisition Stanley Johnson, Hollis-Jefferson has been a light for the Raptors. Playing the same position as Leonard, Hollis-Jefferson was never viewed as a replacement, but rather as a temporary stopgap. He’s slowly proving he may be capable of being more than that.

The forward signed a very small contract by NBA standards this summer, an opportunity for him to show he deserves a permanent chance in the league. He’ll surely expect a raise from his $2.5 million contract next year, whether that’s in Toronto or elsewhere.

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Hollis-Jefferson has been in the league since 2015, but he doesn’t turn 25 years old until January. By then, team president Masai Ujiri may have a better grasp on if Rondae Hollis-Jefferson can be part of the Toronto Raptors’ future.