The plaid red pants were the first clue. The impromptu slam poem was the last.
On a night in which prodigious young talent shows off its finest in fashion, he broke out of the box, donning the pants that looked more like pajama bottoms than formal wear. He added a shiny black bow tie and later a self-description as a “personable guy, charismatic, all those things.”
Safe to say the Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a bit of a different dude.
“Red’s my favorite color,” the 6’7″ Hollis-Jefferson said of his pants choice, grinning ear-to-ear. “I just wanted to be different because I knew (just) red would just be plain. I like different. I’m not opposed to it. So I pulled it off. I look good.”
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) June 25, 2015
He first showed his fashion sense off to the national audience shortly before 10:30 E.S.T., when he was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers with the 23rd overall pick. A few short hours later, the Nets had officially acquired the rights to Hollis-Jefferson and backup point guard Steve Blake.
“When they told me, I was like — I thought they were kidding,” an enthused Hollis-Jefferson well after midnight Thursday, still riding the high of getting selected.[note]Though, to his credit, he said he was this happy “99.9% of the time.”[/note] “I thought they were joking, so I was like, ‘are you serious?’
“And then they were like, ‘take the (Trail Blazers) hat off,’ and I was like, ‘ohh… okay.'”
To secure Hollis-Jefferson, the Nets traded the rights to the 41st pick (which became Notre Dame wing Pat Connaughton) and center Mason Plumlee, who struggled after a strong rookie campaign and a hot start to 2014-15.
“Trading Mason was tough,” Billy King said of the trade, which did not become official until after 1:00 A.M. Friday night. “Because I think he gave us a lot in the two years he was here.”
Plumlee was at Barclays Center early draft night, milling around with top prospects and non-basketball operations Nets executives. He was not in the Nets’ “war room,” and King said he was unaware that Plumlee had even been in the arena, breaking the news of the trade to him by phone.
Plumlee, a talented rim-running center who makes up for a lack of polish with improved rebounding (10.6 rebounds per 36 minutes in his second season) and a variety of dunks,[note]Okay, a forward dunk and a reverse dunk. Two is a variety![/note] regressed significantly in the last few months of the season. Some in the organization speculated he had become disgruntled with the lack of available playing time by the end of the year.
Plumlee had some heads up that a deal was coming. His name had been thrown around in rumors in the days leading up to the draft, and Plumlee allegedly told fans at a Brooklyn neighborhood event Wednesday “Get all pictures and autographs you want … Don’t know if I’ll be a Net tomorrow.”
Assuming the public confidence the team has in re-signing Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez comes to fruition, the minutes weren’t going to be there for Plumlee any time soon. The team was atrocious when they paired him with Lopez, getting outscored by close to 14 points per 100 possessions in the 373 minutes they shared the floor. There was no path for him to become a starting big man without an injury[note]Which, to be fair, is not an impossible scenario with Brook Lopez.[/note], and the team didn’t see him as a power forward.
“When Brook and Mason were on the floor together, it didn’t work well,” King admitted. “I think a lot of it is things we needed Mason to do, for some reason, he just wasn’t able to do them. … The way the league is going, I don’t think you’re going to play two guys like that. You’re not going to play Mason at the 4 and have (Lopez) at the 5. Then if the goal is to try to re-sign Thaddeus, then that’s going to limit Mason’s minutes even more.”
Enter Hollis-Jefferson, who was projected by most mock drafts in the 16-24 range, and who King lauded as “the best defender in the draft.”
“His defensive ability, trying to get athletic on the wing position, it was something that I felt we needed, and I thought he was the best defender in the draft,” King said. “Because watching him play, that’s what he does. And he loves to play defense.”
And yes, King noticed: “Those were nice pants he had on, right?”
The effusive sophomore out of Arizona credited his college head coach for his defense-first mentality.
“Coach Sean Miller is from Pennsylvania, man,” Hollis-Jefferson said, accentuating the word “Pennsylvania” with a particular feeling. Hollis-Jefferson is from Chester, Pennsylvania. “He got that mentality. Defense, man. He likes the offensive side of things — who doesn’t, you gotta score the ball. But the way his philosophy is, if you play defense, you make it to championships. And he sticks by that. He holds you accountable on defense at all times. That’s something a lot of people should live by. It’ll make you better.”
Hollis-Jefferson averaged 11.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 steals, and 0.8 blocks in 28.7 minutes per game over 38 games in 2014-15, shooting 50.2 percent from the field but only hitting 20.7 percent of his college three-point attempts, noting that his jump shot is “100 percent” his biggest weakness.
His strengths? After his defensive acumen and athleticism, count his raw enthusiasm. When I asked him if he had any message for Brooklyn fans, he began chanting.
“Look out Brooklyn, here I come, you can’t hide, you can’t run,” Hollis-Jefferson rapped. “I’m coming, baby!”