Pair of wings, same course
For the last few weeks, Justin Anderson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, like so many aspiring NBA players, have been traveling the country, showcasing their talents at workout after workout after workout. And for most of those sessions, six or seven according to Anderson, the two players have challenged one another.
The matchup raises the stakes because they are direct competition. Both are top wing prospects and expected to hear their names called somewhere in the first round of Thursday’s draft. Going up against each other grants teams the opportunity to evaluate how they stack up; a great workout for one player could vault him over the other. The two were back on a court together Thursday, this time at Verizon Center auditioning for the Washington Wizards along with four other draft hopefuls: LSU forward Jordan Mickey, Iowa forward Aaron White, Wyoming forward and Friendly High graduate Derek Cooke Jr. and Massachusetts forward and Wise product Maxie Esho.
“We’ve gotten to know each other really well,” said Anderson, the former Virginia and Montrose Christian standout. “He’s been phenomenal; I’ve been phenomenal as far as getting through the process together. We’ve got to take each other to eat at times, so it’s been great. It’s been a good time.”
Both players are intriguing prospects for today’s NBA, one that continues to trend toward perimeteroriented play and valuing versatility on both ends of the floor (see: the newly crowned Golden State Warriors, who regularly used 6-foot-7 Draymond Green at center in the NBA Finals). It is the ideal time for Anderson and Hollis-Jefferson to enter the league, and the two are cognizant of the league’s evolution.
“Staff and coaches, etc., are looking for two-way guys, people being able to play defense and then being able to get the ball out, move it out in transition,” said Hollis-Jefferson, 20, who declared for the draft after two seasons at Arizona. “And I feel like that fits my game very well, and I feel like I do that with the best, amongst the best and I’m just excited to see how things go.”
Both could be options for the Wizards with the 19th overall pick, especially if Washington believes Paul Pierce will not return next season. But Anderson and Hollis-Jefferson have their differences.
For one, the physical Anderson is a much better shooter. Anderson improved his three-point shooting dramatically last season — from 29.4 percent his sophomore season to 45.2 as a junior — and impressed the Wizards with his shooting Thursday. The southpaw missed eight games last season because of a broken left pinkie. He returned to play with a protective guard on the finger. He removed it after the NCAA tournament and said the injury no longer is an issue.
Anderson, 20, played shooting guard and small forward in college but believes he can also handle his own at power forward because of his sturdy 6-foot- 6, 230-pound frame and superb athleticism. (He registered a 43-inch vertical leap at the NBA combine.) Playing three seasons in Coach Tony Bennett’s vaunted defensive system, in which help defense is stressed like in the NBA, should only help.
“I can play the four. I’m a natural two or three, but we were talking earlier about the way the NBA is going, playing small ball, with my body I think I can guard multiple positions,” said Anderson, whose 7- foot wingspan is an asset defensively. “Being able to guard a four creates maybe a mismatch on the other end of the floor. So you have to be versatile.”
Hollis-Jefferson is considered the best wing defender in the draft, a high-energy scrapper who should make an instant impact defensively wherever he lands next season. He also projects to defend three positions — the one, two and three — with a more slender 6-foot-7 frame than Anderson but a 7-2 wingspan.
The Wizards came away impressed with his athleticism, but his offensive game is not as developed. Hollis-Jefferson wasn’t asked to shoulder the offensive burden at Arizona and didn’t create much offense off the dribble or show much shooting range. He went 6 for 29 from three-point range (20.7 percent) and 36.3 percent on all jumpers, according to DraftExpress.com. Yet he insisted he hasn’t felt pressure to show he is a better offensive weapon than advertised.
“I feel like I’ve shown it in college,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “Being able to score close to the basket. Being able to score in transition and make the right play. I feel like that’s my game. And then playing tremendous defense. So those things. That’s what I do. So I’m good.”
Anderson said Thursday was his eighth workout; Hollis-Jefferson wasn’t sure exactly how many he has attended but estimated it was around 10 for him. It will definitely be their last one together, though. Anderson has two sessions left, with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder. Hollis-Jefferson has the Sacramento Kings, Utah Jazz and Atlanta Hawks remaining.
Excerpted from washingtonpost.com/
Justin Anderson, above, has worked out for NBA teams with RondaeHollis-Jefferson. They play the same position.