The Brooklyn Nets will have Rondae Hollis-Jefferson back on Wednesday night when they visit the Cavaliers in Cleveland to start a two-game road swing that will have them in New Orleans on Friday before they return home to host the defending champion Golden State Warriors on Sunday.
Hollis-Jefferson was out for the preseason as he worked his way back from a summer adductor strain, and last Wednesday, the night the Nets opened their season in Detroit, his son Rylen was born.
“It’s a great feeling, a wonderful feeling,” said Hollis-Jefferson. “Just to see a little baby that’s yours and to just know that you have someone else to look after and care for, be there for. It’s an amazing feeling.”
The forward’s return is a welcome one as Brooklyn’s options have steadily dwindled at the four spot while he has been out. DeMarre Carroll underwent surgery on his ankle just before the season opener. Treveon Graham injured his hamstring against the Knicks on Friday and coach Kenny Atkinson didn’t have a timetable for his return. Rookie Rodions Kurucs, who seized an unexpected opportunity to contribute back-to-back double-figure scoring games against the Knicks and Pacers along with an oversized dose of rookie enthusiasm, rolled his ankle in Indiana and is uncertain for Wednesday night.
So the timing is right to bring back the incumbent starter at the position. Hollis-Jefferson averaged career highs of 13.9 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds a year ago. But mostly Atkinson is looking forward to a defensive upgrade.
“He can guard a lot of different guys,” said Atkinson, “his length, 7-foot-3 wingspan, versatility, can guard five positions, and he’s a good rebounder.”
“I think I can help a lot,” said Hollis-Jefferson. “Just something I kind of want to take initiative in and being the go-to guy defensively. We know we can put Rondae on anybody. He’s going to defend them. He’s going to make it hard for them, and that’s something I’m going to take pride in.”
Hollis-Jefferson will be stepping into an offense with a slightly different feel. The Nets are more spaced out, with even center Jarrett Allen operating largely on the perimeter. Through three games as of Monday, Brooklyn was leading the NBA with 56.3 drives per game. That’s a positive for the 6-foot-7 forward, who had success last season working out of the mid-post and facing up defenders for quick blow-bys.
“He’ll play closer to the basket,” said Atkinson. “But again, we’re driving the heck out of the ball and we’re getting to the rim. I think it fits his game. He can play on the perimeter, too, because he can play pick-and-roll. He can roll to the rim. I think he’ll be fine. He’s picked it up great.”
“It gives me a lot of room to see cutters, to space the floor, to get into the paint and just be effective in that way because I know I can get by anybody,” said Hollis-Jefferson. “At the end of the day, it’s about once you get in there it’s about, once you get in there, making the right read. It may be a simple pass, bounce pass, Jarrett cuts or it may be a two-dribble kick to Joe Harris spacing in the quad. At the end of the day, it comes down to making those right reads as you play.”