The Brooklyn Nets got a spark from Rondae Hollis-Jefferson when he entered Thursday against the Philadelphia 76ers, but is it enough for a rotation spot?
Injured during the offseason and slow to recover, Hollis-Jefferson lost his starting job when he was unable to go in the preseason and began the year coming off the bench — ineffectively for the most part.
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He got a chance to start 21 games into the season and was extremely inconsistent over his first 17 starts of the season, averaging 11.1 points and 6.2 rebounds in 28.0 minutes per game, but shooting just 40.9 percent from the floor.
That was after shooting a career-best 47.2 percent in 2017-18 while putting up career-high numbers of 13.9 points and 6.8 rebounds a night, starting 59 of the 68 games in which he appeared.
His run of starts ended when he strained his right adductor early in a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Dec. 29. It was a strained left adductor that wrecked his preseason preparation.
RHJ missed seven games and when he came back, he had once again lost his starting job to Jared Dudley, who took over in the preseason when Hollis-Jefferson was out initially, and then to Treveon Graham, who stepped in for Dudley when the veteran strained a hamstring in mid-January.
Hollis-Jefferson has started just two games since, both when Graham was out dealing with bad issues, and after a 1-for-6, two-point performance in a loss at home to the Portland Trail Blazers coming out of the All-Star break, RHJ found himself in a very unfamiliar position.
On the bench and out of the rotation.
Since the All-Star break, RHJ has taken eight DNP-CDs — the most of his career by far — and despite putting up 14 points in 17 minutes and scoring the game-winner in Brooklyn’s miraculous 28-point comeback against the Sacramento Kings, Hollis-Jefferson didn’t get off the bench in either of the Nets’ next two games.
With the Nets down to the Philadelphia 76ers by 17 points midway through the second quarter Thursday, coach Kenny Atkinson dialed Hollis-Jefferson’s number and the former first-round pick responded.
RHJ scored 12 points in the second quarter as Brooklyn climbed back into the game and finished the night with 19 points and 10 boards, getting the bulk of the playing time at the 5 in the second half — playing 19 minutes after the half and 26 in all — as the Nets wound up falling short in their comeback bid.
He was a team-high plus-6 against the 76ers, hitting 7-of-14 from the floor and going 5-for-7 at the foul line.
The 19 points were the most in a game for RHJ since he scored 20 as a starter in a win over the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 8.
The abundance of minutes — all at the 5 — in the second half Thursday came because Atkinson chose to keep starting center Jarrett Allen on the bench for the final three quarters of the game.
The problem for Hollis-Jefferson as that spot is size — or his lack thereof. At 6-foot-7, there was no way he was going to be able to consistently check Joel Embiid or Boban Marjanovic, who scored 35 of their combined 55 points with Allen on the bench.
But Allen wound up on the pine because those two guys combined for 20 points in the first quarter.
It’s not been the season Hollis-Jefferson had hoped for with restricted free agency — or unrestricted free agency should the Nets choose not to extend him a qualifying offer.
And how much that qualifying offer would be for RHJ is still up in the air. With 22 starts this season and 59 in 2017-18, he is one away from hitting the starter’s standard — averaging at least 41 starts in the final two seasons of his rookie deal.
That would increase his QO to a different level — 120 percent of the amount applicable to the No. 9 overall pick, based on Hollis-Jefferson being the 23rd overall pick in 2015 — of $9.011 million. His QO if he doesn’t get the remaining start he needs to his the starter threshold would be $2.995 million, a pretty hefty difference.
But you have to give RHJ a lot of credit for keeping himself prepared and delivering when called upon, even when those opportunities aren’t regular or frequent. He’s been a professional, has stayed engaged and hasn’t been a distraction.
And he has a nice buzzer-beater to his credit to boot.