SB Nation asked all of their NBA team sites to take part in their NBA Rookie Week, in which each team site will highlight this year's rookies, a group who some are saying could end up being among the great class of NBA rookies. We highlight the two Nets who make up what could be a bright future in Brooklyn.
It may be that we look back at the NBA class of 2015 and marvel at just how many transformative players came out of said draft. It may also be possible that we'll look back at the 2015 NBA Draft and mark it as the moment that the Brooklyn Nets truly outlined a blueprint for the team's future.
Having entered the draft owning the 29th pick, after the team was required to swap picks, originally 15th overall, with the Atlanta Hawks, and the 41st pick, there was little perception that the Nets would be able to walk away from the draft with not one but two players in which they can build around.
It may be, however, that they did just that.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was selected 23rd overall by the Portland Trail Blazers as a 20-year-old sophomore out of the University of Arizona. As a 6-7 wing, he was touted as being one of the best athletes in the draft class, known for his defense, and knocked for his lack of a consistent jump shot. He became a member of the Brooklyn Nets on draft night as the team traded away their most athletic big, and a very popular player among the fan base, in Mason Plumlee. Someone five years his RHJ's senior.
In Hollis-Jefferson, many saw shades of another young, athletic Wildcat and former Nets rookie, Richard Jefferson, along with some comparing him to yet another former Net, Gerald Wallace. Again, you get the picture, he's a young athlete who can cover the court, get out in transition and provide the team with something they've been lacking for years -- energy at the wing position.
Like Jefferson and Wallace, though, Hollis-Jefferson needed to show that he could construct and NBA jumper, allowing himself to be more than a one-dimensional player on offense. Jefferson actually developed into a legitimate jump shooter, while Wallace, well, not so much.
After fracturing his ankle back in December, Hollis-Jefferson remains sidelined for the Nets and has played in just 19 games this season. He has, however, started in 14 of those games and showed signs of being exactly who many expected him to be -- an athletic wing who can defend, rebound and who, yes, struggles with his jumper.
Chris McCullough's journey to Brooklyn was much different than Hollis-Jefferson's. He was actually drafted by the Nets, No. 29 overall, and missed the first 52 games of the season (inactive for the first 50) due to an ACL injury he suffered in college. He was, as some inside the Nets organization would say, the "make up pick" and the team's "2016 lottery pick." Meaning, no expectations for this season, but as a kid who would have been a lottery pick had it not been for his season-ending injury, they can bring him along slowly in 2015-16 and tout him as their "lottery pick" in the 2016-17 season.
McCullough, 21, is long, athletic and a player who can beat you in multiple ways on the offensive side of the ball. He's played just 8 games this season, to date, logging 88 minutes. But, again, he's next year's pick, and if healthy, a pretty good one at that.
It's understandable that Nets fans aren't quite ready to crown Hollis-Jefferson and McCullough as the franchise saviors. I don't blame them. Both are still very young, dealing with injuries and have skills they need to develop before we can surely call them building blocks. However, on the flip side, both are still young and developing. And what might get lost by many, both have already shown at such young ages that they are capable of overcoming adversity.
Anthony Puccio did a fantastic job of profiling the struggle that Hollis-Jefferson had to overcome just to get to this point, while we're currently all playing witness to the uphill battle that McCullough has had to fight while going through his recovery from an ACL injury.
It's going to sting, certainly, when the Nets watch a likely top-5 pick head to the Celtics this summer. It also might sting when they're forced to swap second rounders with the Los Angeles Clippers. For as bad as the Nets are, it's possible that they may end up with just late-second round pick in the 2016 draft. "Them's the breaks," as they say.
With Hollis-Jefferson and McCullough, however, the Nets have two potential starters in the near future who, unlike some of their current starters, can compete in the NBA and who, believe it or not, still have their best years ahead of them.
This time last year, the thought of having two young, skillful players whose best years are ahead of them seemed like an impossible feat. Now, it's a reality, and it's one that actually feels like the Nets have a blueprint in place.