NBA Draft: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson believes defense will be his calling card

The sequences played like a loop, defining the horror show of the Lakers’ 2014-15 season.

Scorers blew past the Lakers as if they drove on an open highway. They outran the Lakers in the open court, an event as lopsided as any that Usain Bolt wins. When opposing teams ran pick-and-rolls, Lakers usually scrambled on communication, rotations and stops before allowing yet another basket.

Tally all those up, and the Lakers finished 29th out of 30 NBA teams in total defense (105.3), defensive field-goal percentage (46.6) and 26th in fast-break points allowed (15.1). Safe to say the Lakers enter the NBA Draft on June 25 and free agency in July with plenty of needs, most notably acquiring personnel who could vastly improve those numbers.

Arizona sophomore forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson touted himself as one of those candidates, mindful that he made the Pac-12 All Defensive team after averaging 2.5 steals and 2 blocks per game.

“I see that as my playing card for now,” Hollis-Jefferson said Tuesday after working out at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. “But no one knows what God has in store for us. So may God keep blessing me.”

God blessed Hollis-Jefferson with plenty of defensive gifts.

He led the Wildcats in blocks in 20 games, while leading the team in rebounds and steals in six other games. Hollis-Jefferson held Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell (who worked out with the Lakers on Tuesday) to nine points on a 3-of-19 clip in Arizona’s Sweet 16 win over the Buckeyes. Hollis-Jefferson even guarded multiple players in the same game.

The Lakers sure could use someone like the 6-foot-7, 211-pound Hollis-Jefferson, though he may be selected before the Lakers use their 27th and 34th picks.

“What team doesn’t want defense? I feel like being able to come in and slow guys down contributes to any team no matter what program, even if they win a championship. Me being able to play defense and be really good at it is a big help to any team,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “Defense is well respected. You have to be able to play defense to get into the game and contribute offensively. I feel like being able to play defense is a great asset to a team. It only makes them better.”

Yet, there are things Hollis-Jefferson also must do to get better. Hollis-Jefferson may have likened his mentality to Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Kawhi Leonard. But Hollis-Jefferson hardly offers any glimpses of those players on the offensive end.

Hollis-Jefferson averaged 11.2 points on 50.2 percent shooting in his sophomore season. But he only made 20.7 percent of shots from three-point range.

“They know my shot was always broke. It has gotten better,” he said. “From my freshman year coming into college until now, it’s gotten a lot better. It has gotten better. I’ll keep shooting. There’s small things they pick up on with technique, form and follow through and how is the release. From my freshman year coming into college to now, it has gotten a lot better. They know I can get better at it. It’s just, ‘Am I willing to put in the work?’”

Has Hollis-Jefferson done that?

“I’ve kept doing the things I’m good at already. Just tightening those things up,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “Doing a lot of shooting and a lot of ball handling to be able to create off the dribble and be able to knock down open shots if someone leaves me open. Just build on my confidence.”

Hollis-Jefferson showed plenty of confidence, busting out a shimmy move after a big play or before taking a foul shot, something that he said has sparked plenty of NBA teams to ask him why he performs that move.

“I say comfortability and confidence,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t. When I started doing it, my percentage went up.”

And if Hollis-Jefferson joins the Lakers, it seems safe to say those defensive numbers will go up, too.


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