BY: ED COLE
GLENDALE, Ariz. – One of the biggest pluses of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s game is his defense, and how tenacious he is when it comes to locking down his man, or his men.
Hollis-Jefferson wasn’t handed a spot on the Pac-12 All-Defensive Team last season because of Arizona’s success in the conference; he worked his tail off to earn that spot, and to be recognized as one of the best defenders in the conference, and in the nation.
Last season, Hollis-Jefferson led the Wildcats in rebounding 15 times, and blocks 15 times. If you went head up with Hollis-Jefferson for 40 minutes, he pushed you for what seemed like 80 minutes, because his motor was running overtime.
“That’s usually what I think most coaches look for first at the NBA level, especially from a young guy, an underclassman,” Suns’ general manager Ryan McDonough said. “Rondae (Hollis-Jefferson) has good body, he’s got good length, he’s aggressive, I think he embraces that role as a stopper, and he’s not afraid to take on a challenge; take on a defensive challenge. He feels like he can guard multiple positions. He did that at Arizona, (and) I think he’s certainly capable of doing that in the NBA. He’s also not afraid to talk; he’s one of the more loquacious guys we’ve had in over the past couple of years.”
Hollis-Jefferson believes his “defense-first” style of playing basketball will endear him to any head coach he’s under, and it will get him on the court much faster, and it will get him more playing time as a result.
“Yeah, 100-percent,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “I’d say now (that) the league is trying to make sure (that) teams can score, (and) guys can score, but they also want to see guys play defense.”
“Me having that mindset of being a defensive stopper, one of the best to play defense, I feel as though me making the transition into the NBA, and learning more about how they play defense, (and) how the refs are, it’ll only make me better. I would say that’ll definitely get me on the court, and keep me on the court for a little while.”
Most basketball fans want to see teams run up and down the court, and score, score, score. Well, Hollis-Jefferson is the “anti” to that form of thinking. He’d rather be the one running up and down the court, playing off whoever needs to be shutdown, and completely eliminate any type of offensive spurt they’re cooking up.
“Being able to guard multiple positions: a Stretch-4, a little bit of point guards, and shooting guards and small forwards is what I take pride in, so I feel comfortable at doing it,” Hollis-Jefferson said.
There’s no doubt about Hollis-Jefferson’s defensive prowess; it’s his offensive skills that need some work in order for him to be even more of a force at the NBA level, according to McDonough.
“I think his (Hollis-Jefferson) shooting, it’s improved, but there’s still some work to do,” McDonough said. “To be able to play a lot of minutes, I think in the NBA today, you need to be able to make open shots, you need to be able to spot-up and make open shots. You don’t necessarily need to create the shots, especially if you have unique skills on the defensive end of the floor like he does, but you need to be able to make open shots.”
“Evaluating him (Hollis-Jefferson) right now, I think he’s gotten better, but as I mentioned, there’s some room for improvement,” McDonough said.
McDonough feels Hollis-Jefferson’s shot is “flat” right now, and it needs some more arc on it if he’s going to be effective. McDonough says Hollis-Jefferson has the “strength” and “desire” to make his shot better; he just has to go out and work on it now.
“That’s not unusual for guys coming out of college,” McDonough said. “Some of that comes with added strength, and (being) in a strength and conditioning program; teaching a guy how to use his legs a little more, and just get some more air under the ball.”
Hollis-Jefferson’s already taking steps toward perfecting that part of his game. He’s been working out in New York with skills trainer Ross Burns, who’s taught him so much about what to do, and what not to do to make himself a much more well-rounded player at the highest level of basketball.
“Repetition; the little things that make your shot better. Holding your follow through up, making sure you get into your stance, making sure you’re getting into that bend, and up and off in one motion smooth. Getting it off early rather than late is always good,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “Just keep working at it, keep working hard.”
Hollis-Jefferson’s recent workout with the Phoenix Suns – according to him – wasn’t his best, but at least he went out there and gave it his all. Hollis-Jefferson’s had some on and off nights with the Wildcats, and he’ll continue to have those in the NBA. What will separate him from everyone else in the incoming rookie class is he’ll work harder than anyone else to get better, and at the same time, provide in other areas that will make the team even better.
“I can bring that energy, I can make guys feel comfortable, and I can help push guys,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “You can count on a smile.”