A couple of tweets caught our interest late this week. The first was from Andy Vasquez, who caught David Nurse, the new shooting coach, working with what appears to be his top pupil.
The second was from Bobby Marks, late of the front office...
We still have not seen BKN Chris McCullough (pick 29). Lottery talent before his ACL injury who should be on the the court soon.— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) January 29, 2016
The two may seem unrelated, but they portend what the rest of the Nets season is going to be about, the development of Hollis-Jefferson and McCullough, two of the three Nets draft picks last June. (Like the two first rounders, Juan Pablo Vaulet is also rehabbing from injury in Argentina. Like RHJ, it's about his ankle.)
Nobody's saying much about when RHJ and CMC will return, but we're hearing a few things:
--Nurse's primary role will be helping Hollis-Jefferson correct his jump-shooting form as the 6'7" swingman rehabs from ankle surgery in December. He's out of the boot and been seen shooting both at practice and in warm-ups. As every pundit --from Chad Ford to John Schuhmann-- has noted, the only thing preventing RHJ from developing into a complete player is his shooting. The Nets would like to see him play the 2. "That's the goal," said the league source. (Nurse, it should be noted, is not on the front office directory and his appointment has never been officially announced, leading us to believe he's more of a consultant.)
--McCullough's likely to return before Hollis-Jefferson. He's been practicing now for a month and one league source told us his debut is "very close." The Nets have been extremely close-mouthed about his progress, but the same league source says that once he is on the court, don't be surprised if he's playing small forward. The general thinking has been that CMC is being prepped for the stretch 4 slot, but with Thaddeus Young playing so well, putting the (listed) 6'11" McCullough at the 3 --as well as the 4-- raises interesting possibilities and questions. He has very good handles and great athleticism (37" vertical and a 7'3" wingspan) for a player his size. Defense has always been his strong suit, but watching him shoot doesn't give you confidence in his range ... not at the 3 anyway.
--Expect to see a lot of these two and others --Bojan Bogdanovic in particular-- on the court after the All-Star Break. Do not expect so much production from McCullough and Hollis-Jefferson, not with their injuries. McCullough hasn't played competitive basketball in a year. Hollis-Jefferson will be playing his 20th game when he next steps on the court. Getting into basketball shape will take some time. Look instead at their potential. RHJ is 21; CMC 20. For the Nets, the off-season starts after the All-Star Break and trade deadline.
Over the next few weeks and months, the Nets ownership and management will make a lot of decisions on a new GM; on a new coach; on a unified strategy; on how play the draft with its limitations; on free agency, on the role of the Long Island Nets. Maybe even who to trade. Knowing how their rookies --half their "core"-- are working out (or not) will be key to a lot of those choices.
In effect, off-season begins when these two step on the court.