In a lost season, the Brooklyn Nets can at least take solace in the fact that two players should be around for the foreseeable future. Sean Kilpatrick and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson have displayed the attributes necessary to become part of a winning team.
The Nets fell, 105-100, to the playoff-bound Charlotte Hornets Tuesday night at Barclays Center, but the aforementioned players’ competitive spirit gave the 15,739 in attendance a glimpse of next year’s roster. Hollis-Jefferson made his return (15:24 of game-time) from a 50-game absence with a broken foot, and Kilpatrick notched a career-high 25 points (9-of-12 from the field) in 27 minutes. While little is set in stone–and much of the Nets’ roster could emerge as trade bait for rookie general manager Sean Marks–Hollis-Jefferson and Kilpatrick have carved out niches in the roster.
“I’m just playing with confidence … playing with energy and trying to outwork everyone, that’s something I’m really trying to do,” Kilpatrick said. “I’m just trying to outwork everybody, and my ability, scoring ability and skill will take over everything pretty much. If you play with energy, it’ll help you throughout the game.”
Kilpatrick resembles Will Barton, someone he played behind on his last 10-day contract with the Denver Nuggets, while Hollis-Jefferson most favorably compares to Tony Allen. The former serves as a scoring spark plug off the bench, while the latter has the ability to become a defensive stopper.
The Nets’ problem: there’s only two of them.
“I like the spirit of Sean Kilpatrick; I love the spirit of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson,” interim head coach Tony Brown said following the game. “They play their butts off when they’re out there. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough guys pulling the rope in that direction, and it’s frustrating because I know [the other players] can do better. But I’m in a point in this season where I’m just going to play the guys that want to play the most spirited basketball.”
Hollis-Jefferson’s enthusiasm on the defensive end gives the Nets a winning player. In this 19-51 season, not many Nets have committed themselves on defense, and it’s shown with the team’s plummeting numbers against. “It felt good to be out there talking, playing defense, helping my team offensively,” said Hollis-Jefferson, who added five points on 2-of-4 shooting. “It felt good to be a teammate, to be out there on the floor instead of in a blazer on the sidelines.”
Brook Lopez also added another banner offensive performance, posting 29 points in a game-high 39:26. The Nets could not contain two free-agents to be, however. Nicolas Batum poured in 23 points, including a pivotal four-point play late in the fourth quarter, and Jeremy Lin backed up his 29-point outburst in a win over the San Antonio Spurs with 21 more against the Nets. Given the Nets’ point-guard situation, Lin could very well find himself on the team’s radar this offseason.
“He brings a lot to the team and definitely takes us up another few notches,” Lopez said of Hollis-Jefferson. “We’ve come to expect that from him, and we’ve been missing it throughout the season.”
The final 12 games will give Brooklyn fans an extended look at the two players sure to be here in 2016-17. “I wish I could have played him more, but it’s just unfortunate,” Brown said. “Like I said, I think that his spirit was great, and it’s nice to have another guy that plays with a lot of energy and passion.”
Hollis-Jefferson said that he was expecting to play anywhere from 14-16 minutes, given his lengthy injury. Initially projected to miss 8-10 weeks, the forward missing 15. Prior to Tuesday, his previous game came on Dec. 4 in a road loss to the New York Knicks.
Kilpatrick and Hollis-Jefferson have taken to guarding each other in practice. The missing competitiveness that Brown had previously alluded to has not made its way over to these two younger players. “I just want to guard him, and of course there’s a lot of trash talking, a lot of holds and fouling, but it pays off in the games,” Kilpatrick said.