Not all basketball careers are the same. Some young ballers rapidly climb to superstar status, while others see their careers crumble before they even begin. There are NBA legends, career role players, busts, and a hundred other types of career arcs in between.
This week, a former Brooklyn Net, Toronto Raptor, and Portland Trail Blazer began a new, very different career chapter thousands of miles to the East. Who is this player, and where will he be seen on the court next?
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson: From Starter To Fresh Start
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has had a fairly productive NBA career as a role player. He is a very good wing defender, a solid rebounder for his size (at just 6’6″) with the strength and athleticism to guard virtually any position on the floor (including an impressive 7’2″ wingspan).
The 23rd pick in the 2015 NBA Draft out of Arizona played his best ball in 2017-18 for Brooklyn, the third of his four seasons as a Net after being traded to the team on draft night from the Portland Trail Blazers. He started 59 games that season while averaging 13.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.8 steals per game.
Unfortunately, he faced a consistent decline in his playing time and his numbers over the following three seasons, one more played in Brooklyn followed by stints in Toronto and Portland.
He caught on as a consistent contributor off the bench in Toronto in 2019-20 after signing on as a free agent. He fit the mold of the lanky, versatile defender that Masai Ujiri and Nick Nurse hold in high esteem. He averaged 7.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.8 assists while providing strong, aggressive defense at both forward positions.
However, he continued to be an offensive liability, wildly inconsistent and with no outside shot to speak of (shooting just 21.2% for three for his career) and a very limited offensive arsenal close to the basket. He, therefore, was unable to fit the “three-and-D” mold that the Raptors’ position-less attack is built around, and the team moved on after the season.
He was last seen in the NBA in the 2020-21 season in which he appeared in 11 games for the Portland Trail Blazers, averaging just 2.5 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game, bouncing from ten-day contract to ten-day contract and eventually securing a gig for the remainder of the season.
Out Of The NBA
Unable to catch on with an NBA roster during the 2021-22 season, Hollis-Jefferson spent time playing in both Turkey and Puerto Rico. So, why did Hollis-Jefferson run out of NBA opportunities at just age 27?
Unfortunately, Hollis-Jefferson’s inability to diversify his game on the offensive side of the floor has caused him to be left behind by a constantly evolving NBA.
There is a place in the league for undersized power forwards, see P.J. Tucker, Draymond Green, and in terms of height at least, Zion Williamson. However, each of those guys has aspects of their game that Hollis-Jefferson does not. All three are capable of playing truly elite defense. P.J. Tucker hit three-point bombs at over 41% last season. Draymond Green is a marginally better shooter but is one of the best distributors at the position ever (while also playing elite defense). And Zion Williamson, of course, is one of the most explosive, electrifying athletes in the world.
Unfortunately, Hollis-Jefferson is an undersized power forward who can’t shoot and doesn’t distribute the ball. His above-average rebounding and defensive capabilities do not allow him to overcome being an overall net-negative on offense. After six seasons in the league, and showing no signs of evolution or improvement, the league had quite simply seen enough.
Hollis-Jefferson has joined other, similarly limited, undersized forwards in banishment from the league, including Kenneth Faried.
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International Man Of Mystery
With his NBA opportunities seemingly dried up, and unable to catch on with a team last season, Hollis-Jefferson spent time in both the Turkish and Puerto Rican professional leagues.
To his credit, Hollis-Jefferson kept working hard and made the most of his opportunities abroad. He averaged 19.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 1.1 blocks for Atleticos de San German in Puerto Rico. He averaged 15.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.3 steals for Besiktas Icrypex in Turkey.
Unfortunately, those performances were not enough to inspire any NBA squads to bring him in.
A Fresh Start
However, his professional basketball career is far from over, and he has signed on to a new league for a new team. On Saturday it was reported that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had signed with KCC Egis in South Korea for the 2022/23 season.
South Korea has an increasingly competitive basketball landscape with easy visibility to American scouts. Can Rondae Hollis-Jefferson seize this latest opportunity to prove that he can develop his game to fit the modern NBA landscape?
He did slightly improve his three-point shooting while playing abroad last season, shooting over 30% on nearly one make per game. However, this is still a long way off from a reliable professional shot.
Hollis-Jefferson will ultimately have to prove that he is still capable of playing elite defense while taking the next step as a shooter, proving that he can at least hit consistently at a mid-30s percentage clip if he hopes to get calls from any NBA franchises next season.
That said, Hollis-Jefferson has been an impactful NBA player before, and at just 27 years old, there is no reason to believe he can’t get back to the level. We are rooting for him.