We aren't Elias Sports Bureau, but we have a hard time believing that any team has ever had two first round picks miss 50 consecutive games --each-- in their rookie season. That's the precise number Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris McCullough sat this year, McCullough recovering from an ACL tear suffered at Syracuse, and RHJ, with a broken ankle suffered in a December practice. (The Nets second round pick, Juan Pablo Vaulet, missed 19 games to an ankle issue, at the start of the Argentine league.)
Taken at No. 23 -- Hollis-Jefferson -- and No. 29 --McCullough, the Nets draft won an A- grade from Chad Ford but the reality is the Nets will have to wait until next year to learn just how good the 6'7" swingman and the 6'11" stretch 4 can be.
Scott Howard-Cooper, who covers rookies for NBA.com, gave RHJ a shout-out Thursday, naming him one of the "overlooked" members of this season's rookie class.
"With his defense and solid shooting, he could have stayed among the 10 best rookies, lottery or not, the entire season if not for the ankle injury," wrote Howard-Cooper (who knows something about hyphens) and included video of RHJ's block of the night.
For the year, 26 games so far, Hollis-Jefferson is averaging 5.3 points and 5.3 rebounds in 21 minutes. Since returning, the numbers are roughly the same, although he has shown some better range on his jumper (thank you, David Nurse), a welcome development. In the last three games, he's hit 3-of-5 from three, showing better form as well as results. In addition to the block, we've seen other evidence of RHJ's athleticism, like on this dunk Wednesday.
McCullough's return was a bit slower. He hadn't played in more than a year when he took the court and unlike Hollis-Jefferson, who played two full seasons at Arizona, the Syracuse product had played only 16 college games. it was on the job learning. And it's starting to pay off.
Over the last four games, Tony Brown has played McCullough at least 20 minutes a game, his numbers no doubt a result of Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young sitting. He's played 87 minutes, scored 28 points, grabbed 22 points, had seven steals -- including five Wednesday. Per 36, that works out to 11 points and 10 rebounds. He has yet to shoot well, but he's played an increasingly aggressive game as this block demonstrates.
In other words, despite all that lost time, 100+ games when you count rest, they're learning. It's hard to take solace from individual performances when the team is losing and games hardly matter. On the other hand, there's progress and recovery. That may be the best you can hope for.