While a lot of Cleveland Cavaliers draft talk has centered on a point guard or big so far, the Cavs will likely need to add at least one wing player this summer. James Jones and Iman Shumpert will be free agents, Mike Miller might retire, and Shawn Marion is definitely retiring. This should open up at least one spot in the rotation for a wing player. We've already examined an offense-heavy wing prospect the Cavs could chase in the draft, and R.J. Hunter would be a fine fit if this was the direction Cleveland chose to go. Today, we'll look on the other side of the ball, at a player who is a foil of Hunter: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Who is Rondae Hollis-Jefferson?
RHJ is one of the best defensive prospects in this year's draft. In the mold of an Andre Iguodala or Tony Allen on that end, Hollis-Jefferson has one of the best physical frames of any wing this year, at 6'7", 220 lbs., and he defended one-through-five at the college level, guarding everyone from D'Angelo Russell (Above) to Frank Kaminsky. Saying he's a project offensively is an understatement, but he's a strong finisher at the rim and his defensive impact should be fairly immediate. Draft Express ranks RHJ 20th, CBS Sports has him as the 22nd-best prospect, and Tankathon has him going 25th, so he should be right in range for the Cavs to consider.
There's not much not to like about RHJ's physical profile. He's quick, explosive, and has excellent lower body strength, and puts that all in a 6'7", 220 lbs. frame with a 7'1" wingspan. All of these things indicate that Hollis-Jefferson can at least be a rotation player at the next level, as he can probably be molded into a swingman type that is quick enough to play on the wing, strong enough to go down on the block in smaller lineups, and versatile enough to defend everywhere in between. Hollis-Jefferson can also be a great rebounder for his size on both ends - he was third in PAC-12 in total rebounds as a wing last year - and he's got the motor and length to succeed as a rebounder at the next level. Let's also not forget to mention his dunking prowess, which makes him enticing as a highlight-reel specialist on this Cavs team. Just ask 7'6" UC-Irvine center Mamadou N'Diaye about that:
Hollis-Jefferson's going to need some work on this end, but he's got a few raw tools that will help him be at least passable offensively when he enters the NBA. Hollis-Jefferson is already an established finisher inside, converting 56.3 percent at the rim last season. He likes to dunk, but he can finish in a variety of ways through and around contact, and he's skilled at drawing fouls, averaging 7.1 free throw attempts per 40 minutes last season. He's most adept at converting in transition or off cuts to the basket, but flashed the makings of a strong dribble-drive game this season. If he can improve finishing with his right hand, with which he can be inconsistent and tentative attacking the basket, he will be a solid fifth option when he's on the floor.
Hollis-Jefferson also has fine court vision, and while he's no Iguodala from a distributing aspect, He's an unselfish passer, and can probably become a solid facilitator if he becomes more disciplined. RHJ can get a little fancy with his passing at times, and also tries to force passes, particularly on the interior, which helped create his concerning career 15.3 percent turnover rate. He did improve significantly in this regard from his freshman to sophomore year, though, so there's hope that as he ages, Hollis-Jefferson will become more disciplined as a passer.
The major flaw in Hollis-Jefferson's game is his shooting. RHJ has little range outside 15 feet, and his jumper is rookie year-Kawhi Leonard levels of broken. From Draft Express, you can see how RHJ's release is really weird:
He also struggles to get consistent lift on his jumper, and doesn't set his feet well in catch-and-shoot shots, which leaves him prone to getting contested as he takes a split second to gather himself on the catch. Hollis-Jefferson has flashed a decent pull-up jumper from about 15 feet, but he attempted just 39 threes in his Arizona tenure, hitting just eight of them. Either someone is going to have to put significant work in on fixing Hollis-Jefferson's jumper, or he's going to have to completely avoid the shot, which will limit the versatility of lineups he can play effectively in.
Here's where RHJ will make his money. Hollis-Jefferson could basically defend anyone on the floor in college, from shutting down Russell in the NCAA tournament to his battles with Sam Dekker the past two years. In the NBA, he projects as a guy who will primarily defend the other team's best wing defender, with the skill to defend stretch fours in small-ball lineups. As a case study, Hollis-Jefferson defended Kevon Looney for significant portions of UCLA's two games against Arizona. In the regular season, Hollis-Jefferson helped hold UCLA's best player to 10 points on 3-8 shooting, and in the PAC-12 Tournament, Looney scored just 5 points in 30 minutes of action, held scoreless with RHJ on him.
Hollis-Jefferson is best at cutting off drives and defending the pick-and-roll. He's got great lateral quickness, and it's hard to get around him. If you can, he's very good at recovering, which helped him blow up pick-and-roll looks consistently even though he isn't great at fighting through screens yet. He's a very aware off-ball defender, playing passing lanes and recovering well on spot-up attempts, and he can contest shots pretty well on the perimeter. There's a lot to like about what he has to offer as a perimeter defender, and as mentioned previously, he's a solid rebounder on the defensive end as well.
Hollis-Jefferson is still a little raw, and there is room for improvement in his defense. He's a little prone to attempting to chase in transition, rather than trying to cut off his man from the basket, and he isn't great at funneling into help, which is weird given how good Arizona's defensive system has been. He also can get beat if you make him work throughout a possession with multiple screens and movement, so he might struggle with guys like Kyle Korver and Bradley Beal who do a lot of damage off screens. However, these are all things that will come with teaching and discipline, and Hollis-Jefferson has no major holes to speak of defensively. He's going to be very good.
Hollis-Jefferson's motor is unquestionable; he is usually locked in on defense, and he loves to throw down dunks off putbacks and in transition. He's also a good chemistry fit as a potential role player, because he knows what he can and can't do. He can't shoot from outside at all, and only attempted 39 threes in two seasons as a Wildcat, and he knows when to cut and when to attack based on how the defense bends and reacts to what the offense is doing. Arizona didn't do anything highly complex offensively, but it's little things like that that matter, and are what make guys like Iman Shumpert and Shaun Livingston, who aren't really skilled but are always in the right spots, so helpful to an efficient offense. The hope is that Hollis-Jefferson can develop along that timeline on offense so he won't be a complete non-factor.
While he wasn't as wide and strong as Hollis-Jefferson, the role Stacey Augmon played for the 1990s Atlanta Hawks is one that fits what RHJ does well. Augmon, "The Plastic Man," was a really athletic defender and rim finisher who guarded everyone on the wing for the Hawks next to Dominique Wilkins. Hollis-Jefferson could fill the same role next to an elite all-around scoring wing, and hopefully he'll be able to put out a similar highlight reel to Augmon's too.
How Would he fit on the Cavaliers?
The Cavs are a decent landing spot for Hollis-Jefferson, because he would never be asked to create his own offense, and would be a nice insurance policy if Shumpert leaves in free agency this summer. Hollis-Jefferson would fit well as an off-ball cutter next to LeBron, Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith, and if Shump is still around, you could throw out fun units with Shump, RHJ, and LeBron together and completely lock down the perimeter. I don't think RHJ is a perfect wing fit for this team, because I'd like another shooter on the bench replacing Miller and/or Jones, but if he's available at pick 24, the Cavs should consider him because he could eventually help plug a lot of holes for this team on the defensive end.