The Second Tier Small Forwards: Sam Dekker, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Justin Anderson

The Second Tier Small Forwards: Sam Dekker, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Justin Anderson

I recently examined what I consider to be the first tier of wings in this year’s draft in Justise Winslow, Mario Hezonja, Stanley Johnson, and Kelly Oubre. Remaining in the first round are six other wings who have established themselves as probable first round picks: Sam Dekker, RJ Hunter, Devin Booker, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Justin Anderson, and Rashad Vaughn.

Dekker, Hollis-Jefferson, and Anderson are the three that profile as small forwards, and I’ll break down the shooting guards at a future date. DraftExpress has Dekker 16th, Hollis-Jefferson 13th, and Anderson 23rd in their top-100 while Ford has Dekker 15th, Hollis-Jefferson 22nd, and Anderson 28th.

Each of these guys played in relatively similar situations this past season, making their statistics easier to compare than most. All played for extremely high-level college teams, Wisconsin, Arizona and Virginia, so strength of competition is not an issue.

Age wise there is more separation among the three of them. Hollis-Jefferson was a sophomore the past year and is the youngest of the group, currently 20.3 years old. Dekker just finished his junior year and is 21.0 years old, and his fellow junior Anderson sits at the older age of 21.4.

As always, keeping their ages in mind when evaluating each player’s numbers is imperative. Also, for those interested I wrote an extended breakdown of Hollis-Jefferson’s NBA prospects over at the great Upside & Motor a couple weeks ago.

Shooting:  

Player 3PA/100 Poss 3P% 2PJ% Combined J% FT%
Sam Dekker 8.2 33.1 37.8 34.5 70.8
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson 1.6 20.7 32.8 30.3 70.7
Justin Anderson 9.8 45.2 25.0 38.6 78.0

All of these guys have unique shooting profiles, and shooting might be the biggest question mark for each of these guys NBA futures.

Hollis-Jefferson is the simplest of the group because he is pretty clearly a terrible shooter. He’s got extremely ugly mechanics, and shows no semblance of a jumper outside of 15 feet. It is always possible that he could improve his shot to respectability, but with someone as bad as him it seems highly unlikely.

Dekker is a far more complicated shooting prospect. Whether it was unfairly due to his appearance or not, Dekker came into college with a reputation as a shooter and seemingly proved it, hitting 39% from three his freshman year. Since then Dekker’s numbers have taken a dramatic turn. He shot 32.6% from 3 last year, 33.1% this year, and has only shot between 68-71% from the FT line each year of his career.

Dekker has an unconventional release that may cause his struggles. He rapidly cocks the ball back behind his head almost like a slingshot, making his shot extremely hard to block or contest, but also making it hard for him to control precisely. It is a good sign for Dekker’s shooting future that he has managed to succeed even with his faulty mechanics. But as long as he retains his current motion it is unlikely he ever shoots the ball at a consistently high level.

Anderson has followed an almost opposite trajectory to Dekker. He was a ~30% shooter from three his first two years in college, but then came into this season and shot a stunning 45.2 percent from three along with a career-high FT%. Anderson has only made things more confusing recently. He shot 1-12 from three in his last five games of the year after returning from a pinky injury, and then shot a very poor 9-25 in the three-point shooting section at the combine recently.

I’m tempted to believe in Anderson’s shooting, and think his recent drop-off may be more due to small sample size variance than anything. He fixed his mechanics coming into this year, cocking the ball behind his head less, and doing a better job of going straight up and down on his shot.

Anderson undoubtedly has a huge range of possible outcomes for himself as a shooter. I think he will settle in as a 35-38% threat from deep in the league, but he has more risk than many other shooters who profile in that range.

I grade Anderson as a better shooting prospect than Dekker, but they are probably two of the toughest shooters to judge along with Justise Winslow. The uncertainty in their shots gives them both risk and upside that should be factored into their evaluations.

Creating: (pace adjusted rim attempts are estimated using Kenpom’s tempo rating)  

Player AST% TOV% FTr HC RimA/40 HC Rim FG%
Sam Dekker 8.6 7.3 .278 5.38 73.7
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson 10.1 13.7 .745 2.96 73.5
Justin Anderson 14.0 10.7 .371 3.43 58.9

Dekker is the most impressive creator at this stage. Still, his incredibly high number of RimA/40 overrates his ability to make things happen with the ball in his hands. Dekker is a fantastic off-ball cutter and offensive rebounder for a wing player. When he gets the ball near the rim in these situations he explodes well vertically, and does a great job shielding the ball from defenders to finish at such an impressive rate.

Off the dribble, Dekker is more middle of the pack. He is great at playing in space due to a phenomenal first step for a wing, and if a defender is off balance he does a great job blowing by them to the rim.

When cut off by defenders Dekker is less impressive. His handle isn’t tight enough to execute moves under pressure, and he often is forced to give the ball up if he can’t just run by his man. Dekker’s low AST% and TOV% are both products of the conservative Wisconsin system, but it is fair to say he’s a slightly above average passer for a small forward.

Hollis-Jefferson is similarly talented to Dekker as an off-ball cutter and offensive rebounder, but less productive off the bounce. When he gets to the rim, he leaps into defenders to draw a bevy of fouls and is an elite finisher due to his length, body control, and fantastic leaping ability.

Hollis-Jefferson is an adventure to watch dribbling the ball. He possess very good natural side to side shake and can perform nice dribble move sequences at times. Other times he tries to do too much, and his awkward and high handle result in him losing the ball, a large contributor to his sky-high TOV%.

Due to his poor shot defenders sag off him, and Hollis-Jefferson needs to learn to not force the action against them. Despite his TOV%, Hollis-Jefferson is actually a very good passer. He uses his massive hands to whip one handed bullets to teammates all over the floor.

Anderson was the best player on his Virginia team, but in Virginia’s rigid scheme he often played more like a role player on offense. He does a good job attacking in straight lines off closeouts, but struggles everywhere else.

He doesn’t impact the game on the offensive glass or as a cutter particularly well, and his first step is underwhelming for an otherwise exceptional athlete. His low ORB% can partially be blamed on his team’s scheme. They prioritized getting back on defense over crashing the glass.

At the rim, Anderson is a merely average finisher even with his athleticism and frame because he lacks great footwork or ability to use angles around the basket. One positive for Anderson is that he sees the floor well and rarely forces the action offensively, a skill set ready made for playing off the ball.

As a non-primary creator, cutting off the ball, offensive rebounding, and attacking closeouts are the most important skills to have. Dekker is strong in all three categories, and offers some potential upside as a secondary pick and roll creator. Hollis-Jefferson and Anderson have inverse skill sets, Anderson can attack and make smart decisions while Hollis-Jefferson impacts the game with his cutting and rebounding.

Defense:

Player STL% BLK% DRB% DRTG TM RK DBPM TM RK
Sam Dekker 1.1 1.5 14.8 6 7
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson 2.4 3.4 20.1 2 1
Justin Anderson 1.6 2.5 14.4 6 6

Visually, Dekker strikes me as a good defender. He has great size for his position, excellent speed and quickness, and seems to do a good job navigating around ball screens quickly. However, none of his defensive numbers are very impressive, so it is fair to wonder if I have misjudged him.

Some have suggested Wisconsin’s conservative scheme brought his numbers down, but his rank within his team in DRTG/DBPM suggest he may just have not been a very good defender. His height and frame do give him the possibility of playing minutes as a small ball 4, which would make his mediocre shooting more acceptable.

Anderson is very similar to Dekker. He has a reputation as a high-level defender, and his strength and athleticism should make him an impact player on that end. While his numbers are slightly better than Dekker, his impact on his team is still somewhat underwhelming. Anderson’s short area agility and quickness sometimes look mediocre, so his defensive reputation seems to be exaggerated.

Hollis-Jefferson also has a reputation as a great defender, but his numbers follow through on that idea. He possesses essentially every tool or ability you would want from a wing defender. His short area quickness, strength, length, energy level, and instincts allow him to guard positions 1-4 well on and off the ball.

It is unrealisitic to assume anyone will be an elite defender in the NBA, but Hollis-Jefferson is about as high level a perimeter defending prospect as can exist. Him and Justise Winslow are 1A and 1B as perimeter defensive prospects in this class.

Dekker and Anderson’s numbers give me far less confidence in my evaluations of their defense, but I still project Dekker as an average defender down the road and Anderson above average. Neither of them are in the same stratosphere as Hollis-Jefferson. His long term floor is at least an above-average defender, and the most realistic expectation is probably somewhere in the tier below elite.

Draft Models:

There are no obvious contextual factors to adjust each player’s numbers. Both Anderson and Dekker played in conservative schemes that might have suppressed AST% or STL%, but would also improve TOV% and efficiency, so there isn’t cause for concern.

There isn’t much separation in their rankings in my model consensus rank; they are in a similar order to the major draft sites. Dekker is highest at 16th, Hollis-Jefferson next at 19th, and Anderson at 26th. Anderson does rate 15th in Layne Vashro’s numbers that incorporate his incredibly impressive combine, so he might rank higher if all models included combine numbers.

Conclusion:

I don’t see any strong reason to differ from the modeling consensus. Dekker is kind of similar to Bobby Portis because he isn’t really strong in any one area, but he also has no glaring weaknesses. He should be able to play both the 3 and some 4 in the NBA as a pretty average player on both ends, and potentially above-average on offense if he can improve his shot.

Hollis-Jefferson’s defense gives him more upside to be a real impact player than Dekker, but he also risks being unplayable if he never learns to shoot and his defense isn’t truly elite. His small chances of improving his shot mean he is never likely to be more than a role player, and his greater downside puts him below Dekker for me.

Anderson is closer to Hollis-Jefferson for me than for most. If I just had a little more confidence in his shot, his creating, or his defense, I would put him ahead of Hollis-Jefferson. There’s just too much risk of him being a standstill shooter who can’t shoot and is a blah defender to justify taking him ahead of Hollis-Jefferson’s rare defensive ability.

The gap between Dekker and Anderson is largely in their ability to create. Though Dekker isn’t a great creator, that extra bit of juice attacking when the ball is swung or cutting to make things happen is a difference maker at the next level.

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