WALTHAM, Mass. — The atmosphere was heated Monday at the Boston Celtics’ practice facility as the team held its latest round of pre-draft workouts.
“There were some strong bodies in there (Monday),” Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge said of the session, which featured five forwards and one guard. “It was kind of a bloodbath. A very physical, defensive-minded group.”
One reason for the added intensity? Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Justin Anderson both were on hand.
Hollis-Jefferson and Anderson are in many ways alike. They’re similar sizes. (The former is an inch taller at 6-foot-7; the latter eight pounds heavier at 228.) They’re both known for their prowess on the defensive side of the ball. And they’re both projected as late first-round picks in the upcoming 2015 NBA Draft.
Translation: If an NBA team picking between 15th and 30th is looking for a defensive-minded wing player, there’s a good chance it’ll be choosing between these two guys.
The Celtics, who hold the 16th and 28th picks, are one of said teams, making Monday’s workout something of a head-to-head job interview.
“Some of the toughest matchups in the league are at small forward,” Ainge explained. “Obviously, LeBron (James), Carmelo (Anthony), Paul George, all the way down the list — there’s a lot of them. So, you’ve got to have a three man with some size. Jae Crowder did a great job for us in that role this year, and we could use a few more like that.”
But for how often Hollis-Jefferson and Anderson are mentioned in the same sentence, they are far from identical.
Anderson, a Virginia product, boasts a superior offensive game, as evidenced by the massive jumps in field-goal (40.7 percent to 46.6) and 3-point (29.4 percent to 45.2) percentage between his sophomore and junior seasons.
He isn’t shy about promoting that fact, either.
“I don’t think people really realize that,” Anderson, whose role in the Cavaliers’ offense greatly increased following the graduation of former UVA star Joe Harris, told reporters, via the MetroWest Daily News. “He’s just a defender. That’s it. I think I’m very capable of shooting the ball well, make the extra pass and be a great teammate in that respect. Then working hard and also being able to (defend).”
Hollis-Jefferson, meanwhile, wasn’t viewed as much of an offensive threat during his two seasons at Arizona and does not possess nearly as potent a perimeter game as Anderson (8-for-39 from deep in 76 career games). The 20-year-old said he’s focused a great deal on improving his shot this offseason, as he knows defensive ability can only take a player so far at the next level.
“It’s one thing to be a great defensive player,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “That will get you on the court, sometimes keep you in the game. That’s good on my behalf. But you’ve got to be able to knock down the open shots and contribute offensively.”
One attribute neither prospect lacks, however, is drive.
“It’s having that pride in saying, ‘I’m not going to let someone do whatever he wants on me.’ ” Hollis-Jefferson said. “I am not going to let my team down knowing that this guy got 20 (points) on me and that’s why they won the game. Coming from Chester, (Pa.), we take a lot of pride in the things we do and not being shown up.”
“What fires me up,” Anderson said, “is when people say, ‘You’ve got to work hard on your game, and you’ve got to improve in the offseason.’ And when I did that, people are questioning why my 3-point percentage went up. That’s what fires me up. A lot of guys that I know didn’t work as hard as me going into this last season. That’s what fires me up: getting a chance to go against them.”
Anderson and Hollis-Jefferson likely will be going against each other a lot over these next few weeks. Both are scheduled to work out for the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday.
Thumbnail photo via Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports Images