PHOENIX — With P.J. Tucker, Marcus Morris and last year’s first-round draft pick, T.J. Warren, already holding down roster spots, the Phoenix Suns do not appear to be in the market for another perimeter player, at least at the small forward position.
They do have a need, however, to get better defensively.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson fits both the former and the latter.
The former Arizona Wildcat worked out for the in-state NBA team on Friday, leading a six-player group that included other first-round prospects in Louisville junior forward Montrezl Harrell, Georgia State junior guard R.J. Hunter, UNLV freshman guard Rashad Vaughn, UNLV sophomore forward Christian Wood and Utah senior guard Delon Wright.
It was the first of two Suns pre-draft workouts to close out the week.
Hollis-Jefferson arrived in Phoenix midway through what he said was expected to be a 12-to-14 stop workout tour ahead of the June 25 NBA Draft.
He’s projected to be a mid-to-late first-round pick, though may be lottery-bound — the Suns select 13th — if for no other reason than what he can offer teams immediately: excellent defense.
“Rondae has good body, he’s got good length. He’s aggressive. I think he embraces that role as a stopper,” General Manager Ryan McDonough said. “He’s not afraid to take on a challenge, take on a defensive challenge. He feels like he can guard multiple positions. He did that at Arizona. I think he’s certainly capable of doing that in the NBA.”
Hollis-Jefferson is listed at 6-foot-7 and 215 pounds, with a wingspan that stretches to 7-foot-1.
As a sophomore this past season, Hollis-Jefferson led the Wildcats in both rebounds (6.8) and blocks (0.8), ranked third in scoring (11.2) and steals (1.2) all while playing nearly 29 minutes a game, efforts that landed him on both first-team All-Pac-12 and Pac-12 All-Defensive Team.
“The league is trying to make sure teams can score, guys can score, but they also want to see the guys play defense,” he said, “so me having that mindset of being a defensive stopper, one of the best to play defense, I feel as though me making the transition into the NBA and learning more about how they play defense, how the refs are, it’s only going to make me better. I would say that would definitely get me on the court and keep me on the court for a little while.”
Of course, to remain on the court for a long while, Hollis-Jefferson must be able to make shots, consistently.
McDonough called Hollis-Jefferson’s shot flat — “my opinion probably give it a little more arc,” he said — which may have been responsible for his 8-of-39 career mark from the college 3.
The good news is Hollis-Jefferson recognized the shortcoming and has put in the work to improve his numbers.
“Just repetition,” he said, adding he believed he shot the ball well during the workout. “The little things that make your shot better, holding your follow-through up, making sure you’re getting into your stance, making sure you’re getting into that bend and up and off one motion smooth, getting it off early rather than late is always good. Just keep working at it.”
Louisville’s Harrell is an intriguing option for the Suns.
At 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, he nearly declared for the draft after a sophomore season in which he averaged 14.0 points and 8.4 rebounds while shooting 60.9 percent from the field.
Harrell instead made the decision to play one more year, a move that paid off with better scoring (15.7) and rebounding (9.2) plus a high percentage (56.6) shot.
“I was definitely able to be able to hit my mid-range more consistently than I did my sophomore year,” he said, following what was his third workout after stops in Dallas and Portland. “I was definitely able to be able to expand out to the 3-point range, so I definitely feel like I showcased some things in my game. But, I definitely have things that I still need to work on, everybody does.”
Hunter, meanwhile, was one of the feel-good stories of the NCAA Tournament.
With No. 14-seed Georgia State trailing No. 3-seed Baylor by 12 with under three minutes to play, he scored 12 of his team’s final 13 points, including a 30-foot 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds remaining to secure the come-from-behind win.
“I still get comments,” he said. “It’s worn off for me because I’ve got so much more to do, you know what I mean? But, I still get stopped everywhere, even out here I got stopped a couple of times, like, ‘nice shot.’ That’s still kind of the crazy part about all of this, just those last two minutes probably the craziest two minutes of my life and people still talk about it, so that’s kind of cool.”