Lionel Hollins said pregame of the Nets win over the Houston that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will be out "about 10 weeks," which means the Nets will miss the standout rookie guard-forward who has already had an instrumental impact through a quarter of the season in Brooklyn.
Bojan Bogdanovic starts for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who should be out about 10 weeks, according to Lionel Hollins. #Nets— Alex Raskin (@alexraskinNYC) December 9, 2015
What does that mean for the Nets in those two-and-a-half months? The team will definitely take a hit on the defensive end, as RHJ was already drawing the opponent's toughest player on a nightly basis and his boards were welcomed to a poor rebounding starting unit.
Brooklyn was a fantastic defensive team with the starting lineup of Jarrett Jack, RHJ, Joe Johnson, Thaddeus Young, and Brook Lopez, allowing only 95.8 points per 100 possessions in 220 minutes. Without him, it's 107. Yikes. A small sample size, but indicative of what that lineup can achieve.
The aforementioned Nets lineup grabs 56 percent of available rebounds, up from their team average of 51%. Hollis-Jefferson has a great nose for the ball and he uses his length to win some rebounds away. As well, he hustles on all plays, never giving up on plays and always trying to put his backside on the opponent when the shot goes up.
Hollis-Jefferson's ability to crash the glass will be greatly missed by Lionel Hollins as anyone who fills in for him (as of now that is Bojan Bogdanovic, we'll dive into this later) is nowhere near the rebounder he is.
What also makes Hollis-Jefferson such a perfect complement to the Nets most highly used lineup is the fact that he isn't needed much on the offensive end just yet. Sure, it would be appreciated if he could transform into a knockdown three-point shooter, but at the moment he is taking 10 percent of the team's field goal attempts when he is on the floor, per NBA.com. Since he is mainly sharing the floor with the likes of high usage players like Jack, Lopez, and Johnson, it is good for Hollis-Jefferson to get his buckets off of backdoor cuts and follow ups. His shot will come, but since he doesn't have a shot at the moment, it is good that he is assimilated into his offensive role.
That being said, RHJ is not taking the back seat on defense. As stated before, he is taking the toughest defensive assignments on a nightly basis and his impact is felt. The Arizona rookie is totaling nearly a third of the Nets total steals when he is on the floor and grabbing more than a quarter of the team's defensive rebounds. Hollis-Jefferson has been an instrumental cog in the Nets' marginal success this season and the going is sure to get tougher without him.
So, who steps in? The short-term answer seems to Bogdanovic who was a key part of Brooklyn's playoff team last season, being a spot-up threat in the Nets drive-and-kick system. Bogdanovic, however, has seemed to regress quite a bit this season. Bogdanovic is playing similar minutes than he played last season but his three-point shooting has fallen off; the Croatian is shooting 28% from beyond the arc after shooting 35% in his rookie season.
It was clear after his rookie season that Bogdanovic is a confidence player, with his game subject to change on if his shot is falling but we are yet to see him get comfortable in year two in Brooklyn. His offensive rating was 106 points per 100 possessions last season, an above average mark for an offensive spark plug. This season, it stands at just 92 points per, a terrible number and one that has to change if Hollins is going to trust him with the fifth starting spot.
I advocate for the second-year pro to continue getting reps with the second unit so he can be an offensive catalyst and continue to shoot himself out of this funk. The Nets also need defense from the team's second guard considering Jack and Johnson have been getting cooked on that end all season long. Bogdanovic looked solid in his first shot at the starting spot, hoisting up 16 shots and a +16 +/- rating to go along with his 19 points. However, I'm not sure if he is the option that Hollins should go with.
It's up for debate, but I'm in the camp that believes Markel Brown should be back with the starters. I need to see more of Bogdanovic but I think that Brown's similarity to Hollis-Jefferson and his ability to hold his own on defense will work well for this unit with extended minutes. Brown has struggled to stay in the rotation through his first season and change in Brooklyn, but when he has played the Oklahoma State product has always proved his worth. He has a great wingspan and has been able to take care of the ball as a secondary ball handler.
I get Hollins' rationale of putting talent in Bogdanovic over need in Brown at the second guard spot, but I think that in this case the need is too great for Hollins to overlook this. Brown's defensive numbers this year aren't pretty, but he has not really been part of the rotation after suffering an ab injury during the preseason. Hollins should give Brown at least more minutes and then potentially make the swap for the two in order to get another athlete out there to mask some of Brooklyn's defensive woes.
Here's the crazy thing, though, the numbers don't yield what conventional wisdom thinks. The Nets second and third most used lineups are the starting five with Bogdanovic and Brown subbed in for Hollis-Jefferson. The Nets' offensive performs about equal to the normal output with Bogdanovic on the floor and their defense falls quite a bit. However, with Brown, the Nets offense is nearly 20 points better per 100 possessions better but their defense is about 13 points off. I think that Hollins needs to try both Brown and Bogdanovic out in the final starting spot before he commits to anyone.
There has been talk that Shane Larkin could slide into the starting two guard, but then any guard is going to score on a backcourt of Jack and Larkin. I think that Larkin has made great strides at point guard forming great chemistry with Brook Lopez in the pick-and-roll. Larkin has a lot more confidence now and it seems that he has bought into his roll. He isn't afraid to put the ball on the floor and he is finding his teammates with ease. I think that he should stay where he is. Moreover, he is one of the NBA's best three point shooters.
It's going to be tough to hide the loss of Hollis-Jefferson who has been by far the bright spot in what has been a dark season in Brooklyn, but I think that Hollins needs to tinker with lineups, switching out the likes of Bogdanovic and Brown, maybe even Wayne Ellington in short burstsâwill be for the best until he finds a unit that clicks. This injury should tell us about how Hollins' can handle major injuries in Brooklyn. He did fine last year with Jack taking Deron Williams' place, let's see if he can find a remedy this time.