After a promising start to his rookie season, Brooklyn Nets wing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is out indefinitely with a broken ankle.
The 6’7″ newcomer from Arizona injured the ankle at practice Saturday, and it was originally thought to be a sprained ankle. But on Monday, the team announced it was a fracture that will require surgery this week:
Nets say Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is having surgery this week on his right ankle. No timetable yet for return. pic.twitter.com/wApOJGGEL4
— Tom Lorenzo (@TomLorenzo) December 7, 2015
Thanks to his explosive energy on both ends of the floor, Hollis-Jefferson had quickly worked his way into the starting lineup early in the season. Now the 23rd overall pick is sidelined for an extended period, so the Nets face the question of how to deal with the rookie’s absence.
On a team trying to get younger and more athletic, RHJ represented an infusion of young legs and much-needed defensive prowess. It won’t be easy for Brooklyn to replace him, as coach Lionel Hollins noted to ESPN.com’s Mike Mazzeo:
We’re going to miss his physicality, his size, 6-7, his ability to go get rebounds, get hands on the ball. We’re going to miss that. But how much, how bad? We’ll have to see as we go along.
Hollis-Jefferson is easily the most versatile defender in the Nets rotation, and Hollins’ had tasked him to guard the opponents’ top wings. Less than a quarter of the way through his first season, he already squared off against Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard during Brooklyn’s unforgiving early schedule.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, RHJ is tops on the Nets in defensive box plus/minus and defensive Rating, and he was second in defensive win shares and defensive rebounding percentage.
When he was on the court, Brooklyn surrendered just 98.9 points per 100 possessions. When he was off the floor, they gave up an unsightly 107.1 points.
Not only is he quick enough to stick with playmaking guards and athletic swingmen, but he also possessed the length and instincts to protect the rim. Within six feet of the hoop, his opponents shot 4.4 percent worse against Hollis-Jefferson than they did against the rest of the league (per NBA.com).
Although, Hollis-Jefferson’s limited offense consisted of transition slashes and the occasional jumper, his defensive awareness and energy on the glass were more than deserving of the starting role. Considering what the rest of the roster looks like, there’s no way to truly replace what the youngster delivered. They’re going to be more exposed defensively than ever before:
RHJ’s defense (to some degree) mitigated decline of Joe Johnson, Bogdanovic, etc. With him out, really hard to see a lot of wins coming.
— devin kharpertian (@uuords) December 7, 2015
Lionel Hollins quickly tabbed Bojan Bogdanovic as RHJ’s replacement in the starting lineup, per Mazzeo. The second-year swingman from Croatia has had a rough autumn, averaging just 8.1 points per game on 43 percent shooting and 29 percent from three-land in 23.5 minutes.
The early-season point-differential numbers are discouraging. Bogdanovic fared much worse alongside the other starters so far than Hollis-Jefferson did. It’s a much smaller sample size, but it’s disappointing nonetheless:
— Mike Mazzeo (@MazzESPN) December 8, 2015
While it’s safe to assume Bogdanovic won’t be as effective as Hollis-Jefferson on defense or in transition, the one positive is that he gives the Nets a better shooting option at tip-off.
Bogey has looked worse than mediocre for much of the season, but Nets fans know he’s capable of much more as a perimeter scorer. He finished the 2014-15 campaign shooting 51 percent from the field and 43 percent from three-point range throughout March and April.
The Nets will lose a ton of games while RHJ is out due to shaky defense and less-than-explosive offense. However, Bogdanovic may finally get the chance to find a rhythm from beyond the arc. In the process, he’d boost Brooklyn’s pathetic three-point production (4.6 triples per 48 minutes) and give them a fighting chance during high-scoring skirmishes. When Hollis-Jefferson returns, hopefully, Bogdanovic will continue to shoot better.
Despite the potentially positive side effect, Hollis-Jefferson’s injury is a huge overall setback to the team and the player. Brooklyn benefitted immensely from his stoppage and springiness, and RHJ had a magnificent opportunity for hands-on experience and a substantial role early in his career. Now both developments are on hold while one of the Nets’ few exciting assets nurses his ankle.