• Erik Slater

Brooklyn Nets: Hole at power forward amplified by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson struggles

As the NBA All-Star break approaches, the Brooklyn Nets enter a crucial stretch in their playoff push.

Following a heartbreaking 127-125 loss to the Toronto Raptors Monday night, the Nets are 29-29, sixth in the Eastern Conference.

Brooklyn has far exceeded expectations this season, but the lack of a floor-spacing power forward continues to be a problem in coach Kenny Atkinson’s offense.

While several players such as D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris have continued on their upward trajectories, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has significantly regressed while battling injuries in his fourth season.

Following a promising 2017-18 campaign, Hollis-Jefferson appeared in line for an enhanced offensive role. The Arizona product displayed an improved offensive game in his third season, averaging 13.9 points per game on 47.2 percent shooting from the field.

The main reason for this offensive improvement was a newfound touch from the mid-range. Hollis-Jefferson shot 47.7 percent on shots from 10 to 16 feet in 2017-18, a 13 percent increase from the prior season.

The Nets have developed one of the most exciting offenses in the NBA under Atkinson, playing a fast-paced brand of basketball that favors pushing the ball in transition and finding shooters. Brooklyn has attempted 34.8 threes per game this season, the sixth-most in the league.

With Atkinson’s pace-and-space system representing the future, many hoped last season’s improvement signaled Hollis-Jefferson could develop into the long-term stretch 4 Brooklyn had been missing, but that sentiment has since disappeared.

Hollis-Jefferson has struggled this season while battling injuries. He is shooting a career-low 40.1 percent from the field and just 29.6 percent on shots from 10-16 feet. The forward has attempted 43 3-pointers, converting on just nine.

This regression from last season’s success in the midrange begs the question of whether or not Hollis-Jefferson will ever be a consistent shooter in any capacity, let alone from 3.

His jump shot is not the only thing that has regressed. Hollis-Jefferson has also struggled to finish at the rim. He is often out of control, putting his head down midway through drives, causing him to lose sight of the basket and open shooters.

Hollis-Jefferson’s lack of a 3-point shot was already an issue, but if he is not converting on his midrange attempts or drives, the forward is an undeniable liability.

Not only does his presence take away a shooter from the floor, but it makes it much harder for the shooters playing with him to get open looks. With his jump shot presenting no threat, defenders can play off and help on driving guards.

This clogs up the lanes, making it more difficult for Russell to drive and kick to shooters like Harris, Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll and Rodions Kurucs.

While Hollis-Jefferson offers a unique skill set defensively, this does not outweigh his offensive ineptitude.

In his fourth season with Brooklyn, Hollis-Jefferson is the longest-tenured Net on the roster. The 24-year-old will be a restricted free agent this summer with a qualifying offer of $3.6 million. Brooklyn’s free agent aspirations may make him a salary cap casualty.

However, his ability to defend multiple positions is an extremely valuable asset late in games. General manager Seab Marks could choose to keep the defender at a discount rate as a plug-and-play option.

Regardless of Hollis-Jefferson’s fate in Brooklyn, there is still a hole at the power forward position. Free agency could give Marks an opportunity to find his stretch 4 of the future.

Former New York Post columnist Peter Vecsey reported that the Nets “intently covet” Tobias Harris this summer. The newly acquired Philadelphia 76ers forward is averaging a career-high 20.8 points per game on 44 percent shooting from 3 this season.

Harris’ combination of size and versatility on both ends of the floor makes him a rare talent. At 6’9″, the forward can score from all levels of the floor while switching onto multiple positions on the defensive end.

Kristaps Porzingis will also be a restricted free agent this summer. The former Knicks forward was dealt to the Mavericks in a blockbuster trade last week. Porzingis listed the Nets as one of four destinations he would sign a long-term contract with.

Marks could throw one of his famous poison pill offer sheets at the Latvian, but Dallas, having traded several assets to acquire him, would likely match any offer.

Outside of Harris and Porzingis, any star acquisition at power forward would likely come via trade.

The power forward position has been a gaping hole for Brooklyn all season. While a star may not be available at the position this offseason, new faces will be featured at the 4 in the near future.