The Toronto Raptors are taking a shot on Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. In what areas can Hollis-Jefferson improve to make his stop worthwhile?
The Toronto Raptors took a chance on Rondae Hollis-Jefferson for the upcoming season with a one year, 2.5 million dollar contract, which sets up Hollis-Jefferson to be a free agent at the end of the season. Ideally, this is a season that he can prove himself as a worthy NBA player.
To do so, Hollis-Jefferson will have to get back to the things he is good at in the NBA: defense and at the rim shooting. Otherwise, he might play himself out of the league. Hollis-Jefferson has an abysmal shot percentage overall and, somehow, it keeps getting worse heading into his fifth season.
Perhaps, this is due to the NBA trying to renegotiate itself with a barrage of 3-point attempts or perhaps it is because Hollis-Jefferson has been put in positions to try and bail out his team in a pinch. Either way does not bode well for Hollis-Jefferson.
To remake a claim on his impact in the game, Hollis-Jefferson needs accomplishable goals that put him in the position to make a positive impact overall and be a staunch bench booster. Hollis-Jefferson needs to focus on these three goals for the upcoming season: improve his shooting, draw fouls, and play to his strengths.
Hollis-Jefferson has gone from a mediocre shooter to worse. In his fourth year, Hollis-Jefferson’s shooting had his worst overall season as a shooter per game.
Unless the Raptors are boasting a hidden “shot doctor,” then Hollis-Jefferson needs to just focus on the shots that he is relatively okay at shots at the rim.
2015-19 Brooklyn Nets
eFG%: .471, .447, .481, .420
FG%: .457, .434, .472, .411
3P%: .286, .224, .241, .184
FT%: .712, .751, .788, .645
(Stats from Basketball-Reference.com. Bold/Italicized number signifies lowest of career.)
In the 18-19 season, Hollis-Jefferson had fewer field goal attempts, 3-point attempts, and minutes overall. Meaning, Hollis-Jefferson had less time to shine–and when he did have time–he did not play as well as he did in the year prior likely due to coldness coming off the bench. Pressure may have played a factor as well, but realistically it seems that Hollis-Jefferson was just forced into a role that didn’t suit his style.
Oftentimes we see players with length like Hollis-Jefferson and think of a 3-and-D type of player. But, Hollis-Jefferson has proven time and time again that he is not a reliable threat from beyond the arc. Instead of putting him there, the Raptors would be wise to have him barrel toward the rim for rebounds, tip-ins or put backs, and maybe some sly pick-and-roll play.
According to NBA.com/Stats, Hollis-Jefferson has his best effective field goal percentage when he is within 10 feet of the basket and takes between zero to two dribbles on the play, which really means he is close enough to the rim when he gets the ball that he doesn’t need a lot of dribbling to get off a good shot.
High percentage shots near the rim are Hollis-Jefferson’s bread-and-butter. Additionally, these types of shots help with another goal of his for the upcoming season: drawing more fouls.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has always been adept at drawing fouls compared to others at his position. According to Cleaning the Glass, Hollis-Jefferson has ranked in the 87th, 100th, 91st, and 78th percentile for drawing fouls over the course of his four seasons in the NBA.
Drawing fouls is a fickle beast in the NBA. On one hand, drawing fouls is a skill and a necessary skill for NBA players. Fouls slow the game down, can make defenses scared, and can sometimes put people on the bench early in a game. For players like James Harden, they have even turned into a way to purposely get points and alter the game plan of the opponent.
Hollis-Jefferson isn’t going to suddenly have the offensive onslaught as James Harden might have, but he could certainly be a boost to slow down the game or attack the opposing team’s best player. If Hollis-Jefferson can work on drawing fouls on say, Giannis Antetokounmpo or Joel Embiid, then those players would be forced to play less aggressively or potentially have to take a turn on the bench to ride out foul trouble.
In turn, taking out superstars–especially young, aggressive superstars–can boost the strategy of the Raptors, who don’t employ a bona fide superstar. The move might seem cheap or unfair to the aesthetic of the game, but the reality is that it is perfectly legal and necessitates an adjustment of the opponent to hold back on unnecessary reach-in fouls.
Play to Strengths
Taking a risk on Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was likely not because of his offensive skills. This chance is predicated on his defensive skills, which is how he will prove his value over the course of the season.
Per Cleaning the Glass, one of the best line-ups with Hollis-Jefferson had him flanked with D’Angelo Russell, Allen Crabbe, Joe Harris, and Jarrett Allen. As well, another strong line-up included Spencer Dinwiddie instead of Joe Harris.
These line-ups weren’t offensive gurus and averaged about 106.6 points per 100 possessions. However, they were, in fact, heavily reliant on their defense, which averaged 99.0 and 100.0 points per 100 possessions. Those numbers were good for the 89th and 85th percentile, respectively.
Those line-ups have very strong shooters with a tall and lengthy center. If Rondae Hollis-Jefferson can spend time with Marc Gasol or Serge Ibaka at center and shooters around him–Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Matt Thomas, Norm Powell, OG Anunoby–then there is hope to have a positive impact on the defensive end with enough offense capable of maintaining or extending leads.
Meanwhile, line-ups with these players don’t have to rely on heavy shot attempts from Hollis-Jefferson, which keeps him close to the basket for offensive rebounding opportunities, put backs, and drawing fouls, all goals that were previously noted.
Additionally, the presence of an outside threat in both Gasol and Ibaka also opens up the lane and draws out centers. This, too, could be a helpful factor for Hollis-Jefferson’s production down below the rim.
As it stands, Hollis-Jefferson just might be the sixth or seventh man off of the bench for the Raptors, given the opponent. If paired with the players that help hide his warts as a shooter, there’s a chance that he can be a solid role player with a high defensive upside for the second unit.