Brooklyn Nets: Developing McCullough, Hollis-Jefferson Is Paramount

Oct 8, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (24) drives to the basket past New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 8, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (24) drives to the basket past New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris McCullough were unable to showcase their full potential with the Brooklyn Nets last season because of injury. Now, getting set to enter their sophomore seasons, improvement is necessary.

All NBA players need to improve, and all of them want to improve. For the Brooklyn Nets, though, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris McCullough tapping into their potential is for the long-term betterment of the franchise.

Whether they know it or not, they’re a part of the core.

Both guys missed almost the entire season last year because of injury. RHJ had ankle surgery in December, didn’t return until March, and finished his rookie season with 29 games played. McCullough missed the first half of the 2015-16 season to recover from an ACL injury he suffered as a freshman with the Syracuse Orange. Brooklyn didn’t activate him until February, and he played in 24 games as a rookie.

What’s peculiar going forward is that Kenny Atkinson has already said publicly that McCullough will be spending time in the D-League with the Long Island Nets. Both guys will be developing, but McCullough’s won’t be as explicit as Hollis-Jefferson’s.

Apr 11, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (24) defends against Washington Wizards guard Jarell Eddie (8) during second half at Barclays Center. The Washington Wizards defeated the Brooklyn Nets 120-111. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Apr 11, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (24) defends against Washington Wizards guard Jarell Eddie (8) during second half at Barclays Center. The Washington Wizards defeated the Brooklyn Nets 120-111. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s Sophomore Projection

2015-16 Per Game Stats: 21.2 minutes, 5.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals

Strengths 

  • Defensive Potential
  • Motor/Competitiveness
  • Physical attributes and athleticism
  • Rebounding

Weaknesses

  • Raw offensively
  • Three-point shot needs improvement

I’m a big fan of how Hollis-Jefferson plays the game, and it was upsetting watching him miss most of his rookie season. Just from seeing him grind it out defensively, you knew that he was giving 100 percent on every possession–no matter how badly the Nets were being blown out.

That’s where his biggest advantage is, and the organization is fortunate enough to have a wing player with All-Defensive potential. Not only does he have the size to compliment his motor (6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan), but he’s explosive, has quick hands and feet, and has the strength to boot.

Going forward, RHJ is going to have to be the defensive leader for Brooklyn, and expect some serious maturation from him as the year goes on. He averaged 2.1 fouls per game during his rookie year, and discipline is the key to the 21-year-old’s growth. That doesn’t reflect his ability, but how rookies always have trouble adjusting to the NBA.

The game is quicker than college — the players are more skilled and athletic, and it takes time to acclimate to a coach’s schemes.

Now a second-year player, those excuses become less usable. Fortunately, Hollis-Jefferson is talented enough not to need those excuses, and he’ll learn that he’s far too valuable to his team to rack up silly fouls.

As our focus shifts toward the offense, RHJ doesn’t need to contribute right away and can spend another season refining that part of his game. Hollis-Jefferson seems to know what his job is on the court and he doesn’t want to get away from that.

That’s fine; Brooklyn has a myriad of offensive-minded guys, and RHJ won’t need to worry about scoring. Bojan Bogdanovic, Sean Kilpatrick, Jeremy Lin, and Brook Lopez will shoulder most of it. A reduced load on offense allows more energy to be exerted on defense.

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In the future, though, Hollis-Jefferson will need an offensive game that opponents can respect if he wants to be a top player for this franchise. Right now, his skill set allows him to finish around the basket, and he has a very accurate mid-range shot that’s seldom used. According to NBA.com, Hollis-Jefferson shot 44 percent on attempts from 15-19 feet.

The keyword in the above paragraph is “respect.” Hollis-Jefferson won’t ever need to become a 20-points per game guy, but defenses will need to gameplan for him, or Brooklyn will suffer. Him becoming a reliable three-point shooter would be perfect. If he could knock down anywhere from 35 to 38 percent of his threes, the floor would open up and lead to more productive offense. He can then develop as a slasher and create more plays.

For that to happen, he needs to put in work. And according to a Newsday article, RHJ has vehemently been working on his jump shot.

Apr 6, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Chris McCullough (1) dunks the ball against the Washington Wizards in the third quarter at Verizon Center. The Wizards won 121-103. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Apr 6, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Chris McCullough (1) dunks the ball against the Washington Wizards in the third quarter at Verizon Center. The Wizards won 121-103. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Chris McCullough’s Sophomore Projection

2015-16 Per Game Stats: 15.1 minutes, 4.7 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals

Strengths

  • Athleticism and length
  • Three-point touch
  • Versatility and potential

Weaknesses

  • Raw offensively
  • Lacks defensive discipline

It was alluded to in the introduction, but Chris McCullough is going to spend time in the D-League. In the long run, he’ll benefit more by seeing time down there than sitting on the Nets’ bench. Most likely, his assignment to the Long Island Nets is rooted in his poor offensive polish and lack of skill on defense.

Neither of which is a bad thing, but being in Long Island will allow McCullough to hone other parts of his game and become a better individual defender.

Improving his touch from mid-range would be immediately beneficial, and it would give the Nets a reliable pick-and-pop guy if he spends time up from the D-League. Moreover, his shot mechanics are great, and he has a high release that’s tough to block. Then, he can operate as the roll man. Although he’s not the best screen setter, his insane athleticism provides an excellent target, and he’s one of those guys who can go up and get the ball above the rim.

As far as post-move development goes, that’s toward the bottom. Brook Lopez already occupies a ton of real estate on the block, and McCullough’s shooting ability is more advantageous.

Through 24 games of his rookie year, McCullough was very active on defense, and he only improved as the year went on. Right now, he’s relying on athleticism to compete defensively, but it takes more to be a game changer on that side of the ball.

Over the final five games of the season, McCullough averaged nearly 22 minutes and had three games with at least three steals. Furthermore, he cut down on his fouls. Officials called just five personals against the former first round pick, and it was evident McCullough was beginning to adjust. Another thing he needs to improve in the minor league is his shot-blocking ability. In addition to his athleticism, he’ll learn how to time his jumps properly.

Since preseason started, McCullough has played sparingly–16.5 minutes per night. Because of that, his shooting rhythm is botched, but he has been a solid rebounder and a noticeably improved defender.

Another huge–and this is massive–improvement is in his free throws. As a rookie, McCullough shot abysmal 47.8 percent from the charity stripe. That number jumped up to 68.4 in the Summer League and is now at 72.7.

This article originally appeared on

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