Can Rondae Hollis-Jefferson bring personality — and defense — back to Brooklyn?


It’s been quite some time since the Nets have had an emotional leader with a big on-court impact. Gerald Wallace was supposed to be that guy, but the mileage on his body led to the precipitous decline in his production. Paul Pierce was that player, but his brief, late-career stint in Brooklyn limited his mark on the organization and fans.

For Nets fans, the fun comparison following the 2015 NBA Draft was linking the past to the present. There was once an R.J. (Richard Jefferson), and now there’s an R.H.J. (Rondae Hollis-Jefferson). Both played collegiate ball at the University of Arizona, and both man the small forward position. Both are athletic forwards who did not come into the league with a reputation for outside shooting. Hollis-Jefferson will even wear Jefferson’s number (24), so what long-time Nets fan wouldn’t feel nostalgic?

Last names, initials, numbers, positions, and alma maters aside, you could make the case that R.H.J. should conjure up memories of another former Net from the glory years in New Jersey — Kenyon Martin.

Yes, K-Mart was a power forward and had a wholly different personality, but consider the attributes, skills, and intangibles he brought to the court, and you’ll see the similarities.

His jump shot wasn’t reliable or pretty (Remember this 2003 NBA Finals game?), but any shortcomings on the offensive end were made up with his freakish athleticism, which allowed him to cut to the basket with ease and finish strong around and above the rim. Martin was also great at running the floor in transition.

Martin earned fanfare for his ferocious dunks, but his real strength was his defensive prowess. He was the type of player who took pride in shutting down his opponent. His M.O. following a key defensive play was a cocky smirk or loud roar. Long-time Nets fans should remember how he gave All-Star Jermaine O’Neal fits during the 2002 playoff series against the Pacers.

Jason Kidd was the most important player on those teams, but Martin brought an attitude and toughness to the floor that helped shape the Nets’ identity. Believe it or not, the Nets were more of a defensive team that era: those signature fast breaks wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t from a forced turnover or defensive stop.

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Martin was beloved not just because he was “homegrown” — drafted by the organization — but how he connected with fans. His emotions may have gotten the better of him (in the form of flagrant fouls) one too many times, but his intense energy, passion, and charisma electrified crowds and teammates alike:

The knock on Hollis-Jefferson is that his offensive game is raw, and his jump shot is in desperate need of improvement. If you focus on the strengths of his game, the Nets get a disruptive defender with tremendous athleticism, length, and a high-octane motor. For a team that has been lethargic and uninspiring in recent years, Hollis-Jefferson and his big personality should invigorate others on the court as well as in Barclays Center.

Some pundits have said that if all goes well, Hollis-Jefferson could be the next Andre Iguodala — also a former Arizona Wildcat. If that’s the case, then Brooklyn has found another important piece in building their roster.

If Hollis-Jefferson can develop into the player the organization and fans hope he can become, then the Nets may have finally filled the void that was created when Martin was shipped to Denver over a decade ago. Just don’t expect any haymakers.

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