Wizards

Should the Wizards Take a Flier on Rondae Hollis-Jefferson?

Amidst a swirl of trade rumors surrounding Bradley Beal, the New Orleans Pelicans, and the No. 4 overall pick in Thursday’s draft, as well as pre-draft workouts, it’s easy to forget that free agency is just around the corner.

Yesterday, the Brooklyn Nets declined to make a qualifying offer to fourth-year forward Rondae Hollis-Jeferson, making him an unrestricted free agent. Hollis-Jefferson is coming off a bit of a down season and while it remains to be seen exactly what his price tag on the open market will be, could he be a sneaky buy-low candidate for Washington?

Hollis-Jefferson has one clear deficiency in his game: shooting. For his career, RHJ is just a 22.3% shooter from three and has shot below 28% in each of the past three seasons. After shooting a career-high 78.8% from the free-throw line in 2017-18, his charity stripe shooting fell of last season, as he connected on just over 64% of his free throws. He also shot a career-low 41.1% from the field overall last year.

Hollis-Jefferson has had a bit of an up-and-down career overall. He improved in each of his first three seasons and after a breakout junior campaign in 2017-18, RHJ appeared to be an ascending talent. While he predictably didn’t shoot well from three-point range, Hollis-Jefferson posted career-highs across the board in almost every other category. He averaged 13.9 PPG, 6.8 RPG, and 2.5 APG on 47.2% shooting.

Last year, however, he started just 21 of 59 games and his numbers regressed. Hollis-Jefferson ceded minutes to rookie Rodonis Kurucs, Ed Davis, and Jared Dudley, and averaged just 8.9 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and 1.6 APG, all significantly lower than two years ago.

Hollis-Jefferson is by no means a polished talent, particularly on the offensive end. He does his majority of work around the basket but at 6’7″, he lacks the size to do a lot of damage against bigger defenders. Still, he brings value to an NBA team and it stems from versatility and defensive capabilities.

As a small-ball four, RHJ has a speed and athletic advantage against the majority of opposing power forwards in the league. He plays bigger than size would suggest, too, as his rebounding numbers are relativity solid and steady. Defense is where he truly makes his mark, though.

Hollis-Jefferson is capable of guarding several different types of players and can switch 1-5 across the board, an invaluable and rare skill in today’s NBA. His swiss army knife appeal on the defensive end mirrors that of Draymond Green, abeit to a lesser extent.

For the Wizards, a team that ranked among the league’s worst defensive units last season, RHJ would a welcome addition and he could help mask some of the deficiencies of those around him. Think about it, which players currently under contract would you consider a plus defender?

Beal has made strides on defense over the years but is just “okay”. Troy Brown Jr. has potential but was inconsistent last year, as almost all rookies are. Thomas Bryant’s rim-protection improved as the year went on but his defensive performance overall was meh. If Jabari Parker and/or Bobby Portis are back in Washington next year, neither of them are very good on defense, either.

Simply put, the Wizards lack many two-way players. Hollis-Jefferson’s defensive appeal makes him an attractive free agent option. It will ultimately depend on the price tag and roster fit. If the Wizards bring back Jabari Parker, RHJ makes less sense, as both him and Parker play the same position and have similar offensive skill sets. However, if Parker walks, then Hollis-Jefferson could be a nice plan B.

Given his offensive limitations and injury history (he’s missed 94 games in four seasons), it’s hard to imagine Hollis-Jefferson will see a significant amount of money coming his way in free agency. The Wizards might be able to afford him and a two or three-year contract could make a lot of sense.

Watching him play, Hollis-Jefferson oozes untapped potential at times. He has better playmaking skills than his assist numbers suggest and if he can develop a somewhat respectable outside shot, it’ll make him a far more dangerous player. At just 24 years old, he has plenty of room to grow and improve.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Wizards show interest in him when free agency begins.

 

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