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Welcome to the Rondae Hollis-Jefferson experience

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Signing Hollis-Jefferson always made sense in theory for Toronto. Now, with his recent play for the Raptors, it makes sense in reality too.

Toronto Raptors v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

A mid-October groin injury caused Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s season to start slow. At the time, I wrote a cautiously optimistic article about him anyway. I argued that joining a new team with two floor-spacing centres in Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol would open up the game to Rondae’s strengths: his passing and driving.

With injuries to Kyle Lowry, Ibaka, Patrick McCaw, and (briefly) OG Anunoby during a brutal stretch of away games, Nurse finally called Hollis-Jefferson’s number against the Lakers, ultimately giving him 15 minutes of playing time. This came after he had failed to get off the bench in all but one of the Raptors’ previous eight games. Despite the lack of playing time, Hollis-Jefferson provided Toronto with a shot in the arm on defense and whipped enough nice passes to make me feel vindicated.

I predicted that Hollis-Jefferson would serve as a backup to Siakam. Instead, he has mostly played alongside Siakam. This could be because Toronto does not currently have the depth to stagger them, but also speaks to how flexible Siakam’s game has become with improved shooting. It also puts to Rondae’s versatility as a forward and his ability to move fairly fluidly between spots three to five on the floor — and on the fly.

Over the past three games, the pair have coexisted in the paint, with Hollis-Jefferson stationed in the dunker spot. This combination works given Siakam’s ability with the ball in his hands, and also Gasol’s gravity as a shooter. While Siakam is a pinball in the post, spinning and slinging erratic passes to teammates, the Spanish big man moves into position along the perimeter and Hollis-Jefferson does his thing down low. In this, Rondae understands where he needs to be and how the pass from Siakam will come. The result? He scored 16 points against Portland; most of them looked like this.

While this dynamic looks good in theory, the execution fell short earlier in the week against the Clippers. Hollis-Jefferson’s game does have its limitations. He does not have particularly good hands or much of a finishing touch. Like former much loved Raptor Bismack Biyombo — his spiritual predecessor in Toronto — Rondae will sometimes fail to convert bunnies that would be automatic for Siakam.

But what Hollis-Jefferson lacks on offense in scoring ability, he makes up for in pure hustle. In this, Gasol’s gravity not only opens up more space for Siakam, but affords more room for Hollis-Jefferson to exert his efforts to maximum effect. When Gasol drags his defender away from the hoop, just watch what happens thanks to Rondae’s work.

Rebounding has maybe been Hollis-Jefferson’s biggest offering so far — a huge need for Toronto as they rank in the league’s bottom five for defensive rebounding percentage. In his first four games for Toronto, Hollis-Jefferson has averaged 11.2 rebounds per 36 minutes, with an improbable 5.4 rebounds offensive boards per 36.

Now, Hollis-Jefferson’s minutes will likely decrease with the return of OG Anunoby (tonight vs. Dallas) and eventually Serge Ibaka. But he has cemented himself as a player coach Nick Nurse can bring off the bench for a spark. More importantly, Rondae showed this week, as he did during his previous stop in Brooklyn, that he has the ability to stay ready on the bench and to capitalize on any opportunity that comes his way.