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The Hustle King is on the hustle again, only this time for himself.
Well, for himself now, but also eventually for his team as well.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has always been valued for his hustle and versatility and his sheer passion for the game.
You need an offensive rebound, a putback off a teammate’s miss, some lockdown defence, Hollis-Jefferson can answer all those calls.
But there is a fundamental skill-set to the game of basketball that has not been so automatic for Hollis-Jefferson through his five years in the NBA and that would be shooting.
To be blunt, his in-game shooting looks broken.
Hollis-Jefferson has always had the belief that he could fix it himself. And don’t think he hasn’t put time in trying to do just that. But the results? Suffice to say they are not acceptable to him.
So at the suggestion of teammate Kyle Lowry, Hollis Jefferson has decided to seek outside help.
He has hired a personal shooting coach, maybe to fine-tune his shot, maybe to break it down and rebuild it from scratch, but he’s adamant he’s going to improve his shooting.
Teams invite Hollis-Jefferson to shoot the ball from the outside. Where better shooters are crowded and have opponents up into them as they lurk around that three-point line, Hollis Jefferson can be out there by himself and teams will leave him.
He wants to change that. He wants to be a threat teams must consider.
“Yeah, I think it’s about time I added that to my game,” Hollis-Jefferson said following a recent game. “It’s been a long time.”
Through 43 games this season, three as a starter, and averaging just under 20 minutes a game, Hollis-Jefferson is shooting a very respectable 47.6% from the field.
His issues begin as soon as you take him away from the basket. At or near the rim he shoots 68.9%. Between three and 10 feet out that percentage plummets to 16.5%. Any shot beyond that has less than a seven-percent success rate.
“I have always been a guy with a lot of pride and I feel like that’s where a lot of athletes and people in general go wrong,” he said. “Holding that pride like you can do it (alone). You can fix it. Be self-independent. I feel like I’m at that point where I need help and I know I need help whether it’s mental or the actual shot and I’m seeking it.”
Hollis-Jefferson knows this is going to be neither a short process nor an inexpensive one. He’s prepared and committed to both.
“You see guys investing in shopping and fashion,” Hollis-Jefferson says. “We invest in property. How many of us really invest in our games. The LeBron’s (James), the Steph’s (Curry) the James’ (Harden), guys like that. I want to be there one day. I want to be mentioned as a great all around player one day so I got to start taking those steps and make that transition.”
The process is really in its infancy stage. When first approached about doing this story Hollis-Jefferson requested that we hold off a bit until some results could be shown.
But following a career high scoring night against Minnesota, even if the vast majority of those points came from the paint, Hollis-Jefferson agreed to talk about this next step in his career.
He himself isn’t sure which way this will go for him. He has been told so many times his inability to make shots is as much mental as it is mechanical that he’s not sure there will even have to be a rebuild of his shooting mechanics.
For now the decision has been made to just take his free throw shooting form — he’s a career 74% free throw shooter — and take that out beyond the arc. The real work on altering his shooting mechanics will come this summer.
“We’re just doing minor adjustments for now,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “His whole thing is he didn’t want to make that big change right now during the season. He told me I have a really good free throw. Let’s just try to take that free throw to your three ball and just repeat that and get better at that and then work at the other things in the summer.”
If his shooting woes are not a mental hang-up and it is something mechanical in his form, the reasons are rather obvious. Hollis-Jefferson has an enormous wing span of 7-foot-2 for a man of his height even if you accept this 6-foot-7 that accompanies his bio in just about every possible NBA date base. For the record, Hollis-Jefferson laughs at the 6-foot-7 declaration.
That kind of wing span makes for a lot of moving parts in a shot. It stands to reason that the longer the parts in any release, the more chance there is for something to go awry and in shooting it doesn’t take much to go from make to miss.
But until his shooting guru told him such, Hollis Jefferson had never really considered that.
“No, but I always could feel it,” he said. “From catching the ball to where it feels comfortable to going up to where it feels comfortable is a lot because my arms are just so long.”
Head coach Nick Nurse believes a major change at 25 to a player’s shooting form can work, but he cautions it won’t be easy.
“I always like to say, yeah it’s possible,” Nurse said. “I think it’s a big mountain to climb. There’s a lot of shots in that body and if you’re not making them there’s probably some habits you would like to change that are deeply ingrained. That’s the first thing,” he said.
“The only thing that really (could) stop it (from being successful) in my experience — again, I don’t know everything about it. I’m still learning how to teach shooting myself — but if there is a body part or something that doesn’t move quite right because of some reason. Sometimes a guy can’t get his hand in this position and you need to get it there but they can’t. They may have broken a wrist or something and it just won’t go that way anymore or something like that. Which makes it even a bigger challenge.”
Hollis-Jefferson though has come this far and he’s adamant he will see it through.
Nurse says regardless of the outcome, Hollis-Jefferson, in his opinion, will always have a place in the NBA just because of the things he does do at a very high level.
“I think he does what he does really well,” Nurse said. “Sometimes you just want to keep doing that stuff. He’s — I mean I hate to say it but he’s a 6-foot-5, 6-foot-6 centre. He’s great around the basket. He’s great in the dunker position. He’s a great screener and roller. He passes out of the high post. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that because he plays like he’s 6-10 out there.”
But there’s another part to playing as an undersized centre that Nurse doesn’t mention and it may be at least part of the reason Hollis-Jefferson is so keen to go to work on his shot.
“I want to get back to not getting beat up by 7-foot, 260,” he said.
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