Throughout the season, it’s been clear that the Nets believe they have a “core four”: Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Chris McCullough.
But in the past two weeks, another name has made a strong case for that list: former D-League scoring leader Sean Kilpatrick, who earned a multi-year deal after scoring in bunches throughout two ten-day contracts.
Hollis-Jefferson made a triumphant return to the court Tuesday night against the Charlotte Hornets after missing 50 games with an ankle injury, and the Nets were a +15 in the nine minutes Hollis-Jefferson, Kilpatrick, Lopez, and Young shared the floor (McCullough registered a DNP-coach’s decision).
“I like the spirit of Sean Kilpatrick, I love the spirit of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson,” Nets interim head coach Tony Brown said after the game. “(Rondae’s) getting a chance to play again, and they play their butts off when they’re out there.”
Kilpatrick hit a career-high 25 points (9-12 FG, 4-5 3PT), while Hollis-Jefferson, limited to “14 to 16” minutes, did a little bit of everything, including a rim-rocking dunk that was the highlight of the night.
“It was really aggressive,” Hollis-Jefferson said about his slam. “I haven’t dunked in a while in a game. I felt the connection and the vibe. I knew Brook (Lopez) was about to pass it, and I was like, ‘I’m going up with this one. There’s no stopping me. Whether I miss it or not, I’m still going up.’ It just so happened it was really aggressive.”
(H/T YouTube user DownToBuck)
But Brown was unimpressed with the energy from the rest of their roster, and the team fell just short of their 20th win, losing 105-100.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have enough guys pulling the rope in that direction, and it’s frustrating because I know they can do better,” Brown continued. “But I’m in a point in this season where I’m just going to play the guys that want to play more spirited basketball. And I can’t sit and watch guys not give 100 percent and make the same mental mistakes that we do. I’m a little frustrated, but that’s just the way I see it.”
Kilpatrick thrives in chaos. His ability to create his own shot in one-on-one situations befits Brooklyn’s often undisciplined, anarchic offense, and he can bail the team out of a lot of rough moments by spotting up away from the action or creating off the dribble. Lopez’s yearlong commitment to passing out of the post doesn’t hurt either: three of Lopez’s career-high six assists went to Kilpatrick. (Lopez had himself quite a night, finishing with 29 points and nine rebounds along with the assists, but missed an ugly three-point attempt near the end of the game.)
It also doesn’t hurt that he’s riding a blazing hot streak from beyond the arc, hitting multiple three-pointers in eight of his last ten games and an unsustainatble 53.7% of his shots from deep. There will be nights where those shots don’t fall, but the team is impressed with Kilpatrick’s confidence and ability to find clean looks.
Though the dunk deservedly made all the headlines, Hollis-Jefferson freely admitted that his wind wasn’t back yet, though his teammates note that he made it up elsewhere.
“You could tell his legs aren’t all the way back,” Kilpatrick noted. “Playing with a guy like that, that can bring the type of energy that you bring, that’s something that’s really huge and that we need on this team. He brings so much energy and for a guy that can — with him not having his legs back, you can always hear him talking. That’s something that’s huge for us, because all this commotion’s going throughout the game, and when you’re on defense, and then you’ve got somebody behind you that’s really talking that loud and you can actually move around with him, I mean, that’s something huge.”
Though it was Hollis-Jefferson’s first time back to the floor, he & Kilpatrick have become fast friends & competitors. The two are often matched up against each other in Nets practices, which Hollis-Jefferson returned to right around the time Kilpatrick joined the team.
“I would say I’m pretty much closest to (Hollis-Jefferson) on the team,” Kilpatrick said. “I like playing against a guy like that, because he brings it.
“When we scrimmage, throughout the whole scrimmage, I’m guarding him. I just want to guard him. And then of course there’s a lot of trash talk, a lot of holding, a lot of fouling, but pretty much it pays off in the games. When we’re going through foul situations and we’re trying to get through plays when the other team fouls us, it doesn’t mean anything because we do it throughout practice.”
Okay, so it’s not exactly Jordan & Pippen pushing each other en route to six titles. But the chatty, defense-first Hollis-Jefferson provides a nice complement to Kilpatrick’s quick-trigger offense, and it’s no stretch to envision the two having some tough competitions in during scrimmages.
But while the two are competitors on the court, Kilpatrick admitted he’s no match for Hollis-Jefferson in one area: trash talk.
“Oh, he got that by far,” Kilpatrick said, shaking his head. “I just sit there and I try to be quiet throughout the most part. Like (Monday). He started doing that (during practice). And me and him got to moreso a little bit of a wrestling match throughout practice.
“He’s my guy though. I love that guy. … You have a guy like that that’s really continually trying to get better and trying to be the best, I mean, (you see why) he idolizes Kobe Bryant. He plays just like him throughout practice, and the trash-talking, it goes right along with it. When you got a guy like that with the competitive spirit, I mean, it’s easy to gravitate to somebody like that.”
When asked what sort of trash-talk Hollis-Jefferson had for him, Kilpatrick paused, then grinned. “It’s too explicit.”