Hansen: Hollis-Jefferson, Johnson would be wise to return to school

2014-04-03T00:00:00Z Hansen: Hollis-Jefferson, Johnson would be wise to return to schoolGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson averaged 9.1 points this season. He made two three-point baskets. If he goes into the NBA draft, it will be as a small forward. A shooter.

He does not have the game of a small forward. He plays street ball, barging inside, unconventional, tough, quick and determined. Oh boy, is he fun to watch. Personality-plus. I want him on my college team.

Alas, the NBA will not draft him — or pay him — because he might win a slam dunk contest or because he simply out-toughs the power forwards at Cal and Arizona State. The NBA wants to see Rondae stick a jumper, create a shot, draw a defender to the three-point line, and maybe beat somebody off the dribble.

Those are skills he does not yet have. Not even close.

It the Pac-12, Hollis-Jefferson would likely be the most feared defensive player in the league next season. In the NBA, he would be assigned to guard Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

Have you ever seen Rudy Gay play for the Sacramento Kings? He is 6 feet, 8 inches, 225 pounds, built like a Greek god, with ball skills and range to 25 feet. He is an NBA small forward, and basically, just another guy in that league.

Gay made 134 three-pointers his second NBA season. NBA draft people will ask: Can Rondae stop Rudy Gay? Can Rondae make 132 more three-pointers than he made this season?

In this century’s NBA draft, 64 freshmen have left school to make themselves eligible for selection. Of those 64, only two, 7-foot Byron Mullens of Ohio State and 6-11 Daniel Orton of Kentucky, averaged fewer points than Hollis-Jefferson did at Arizona. Mullens averaged 8.8, and Orton 3.4.

Mullens and Orton were drafted, much like left-handed power pitchers in baseball, because they are centers, a position with less supply and more demand than any in the NBA.

Stay in school, Rondae. You are 19. The NBA will still be there when you are 21. Don’t let them get you at a reduced price and an extended sentence to the D-League.

Nick Johnson is similarly studying his NBA readiness. The first thing NBA people will do is measure him. They will find he is not the 6-foot-3 at which Arizona lists him. He is probably 6-foot-1½.

That means he cannot effectively stop NBA shooting guards like 6-foot-7 Klay Thompson of Sacramento, 6-foot-5 Aaron Afflalo of Orlando and 6-foot-7 DeMar DeRozan of Toronto.

Former ASU All-American James Harden is an NBA shooting guard. He is 6-foot-5, 230 pounds. If you thought Wisconsin’s Frank “The Tank’’ Kaminsky was a load in the Elite Eight, then James Harden is a locomotive.

No NBA team will project Nick Johnson, a college defensive player of note, as someone who can ever guard James Harden or successfully play off-guard.

The NBA will determine that Nick is a point guard, not the do-all combo guard at Arizona (90 percent of which is spent at shooting guard). Johnson’s pre-draft evaluation will overflow with testament to his good character, his buy-in to a team approach, and his winning nature.

One of the reasons Arizona couldn’t shake Wisconsin last week was because the Wildcats had no end-game shooter and no one who could create a shot. Johnson was the club’s go-to guy, but he’s not a go-to player. Not yet.

Jason Terry was a lottery pick because he was an end-game shooter, all point guard, with intangibles that made him a winner.

Johnson, for better or worse, is a “tweener,’’ the way Miles Simon was a tweener. Simon was the No. 42 player in the 1998 draft. He played 19 minutes in the NBA.

After a five-game NBA career, Simon played in Israel, Italy, Russia and for the North Dakota Wizards. Isn’t Nick Johnson in 2014 what Miles Simon was in 1998, minus the Final Four net around his neck?

Johnson faces the same sobering truth Arizona point guard Jason Gardner met after his sensational college career in 2003 — he wasn’t going to grow a few more inches and become a zillionaire NBA player.

College basketball is challenging. The NBA is unyielding.

Five freshmen were selected in the top 15 overall picks of the 2013 draft: UNLV’s Anthony Bennett, Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel, Kansas’ Ben McLemore, Pitt’s Steven Adams and UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad.

Not one averages double-digit minutes played.

McLemore has the highest scoring average at 7.5 points. The others are all averaging less than five points and 12 minutes. And they are lottery picks with guaranteed money and uncertain basketball futures.

Johnson’s decision isn’t complicated: Does he choose to return to school and play on a team with Final Four potential and become one of Arizona’s all-time greats, or start getting paid — perhaps as much as $250,000 a year in Europe — or much less in the D League?

A year ago, Arizona freshman power forward Grant Jerrett chose to make himself eligible for the NBA draft. He was selected by Oklahoma City, No. 47 overall.

In March, Jerrett played 35 total minutes and scored six points for the Tulsa 66ers.

But at least he didn’t worry about missing any homework assignments.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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