Nets' Rondae Hollis-Jefferson expected to miss 8-10 weeks after ankle surgery

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Nets' Rondae Hollis-Jefferson expected to miss 8-10 weeks after ankle surgery
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The brightest light of the Brooklyn Nets' trying season has been extinguished for at least the next two months. Rookie wing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the first-round draft pick who almost instantly became a difference-making defensive presence for head coach Lionel Hollins, is expected to miss the next eight to 10 weeks after undergoing surgery Wednesday morning to repair a fracture to the posterior talus in his right ankle.

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The young guard/forward seemed to be in good spirits after going under the knife:

... which, as you might expect, wasn't the case when he first found out that he needed to do so.

"I was stunned, I was shocked. It's hurtful to be in that situation," Hollis-Jefferson said Monday, according to ESPN.com's Mike Mazzeo. "Trying to be one of the best rookies, working really hard and then you get news like that, you don't really know what to say. You're at a loss for words."

The Nets' official announcement came after Hollins had already laid out the 10-week timetable in a chat with reporters.

“[My reaction] was disappointment,’’ Hollins said, according to Brian Lews of the New York Post. “He was coming on, gaining experience and it hurts us from what he provided for us on the team. But just for his development to sit out 10 weeks and not be engaged and we’ll be that much further along when he comes back, the season will be that much further along and he has to get engaged again and get caught up, so it’s disappointing.’’

Hollis-Jefferson injured the ankle during practice last Saturday, and the team initially thought it was just a sprain. X-rays had come back negative, according to Newsday's Laura Albanese, but "a CT scan Monday revealed the extent of the damage," prompting the diagnosis' change to a non-displaced fracture of the posterior talus, opening the door to a much lengthier stint on the sideline:

An eight-to-10-week recovery period would sideline the 20-year-old wing for between 29 and 34 games, pegging his return somewhere around the All-Star break. That's a huge blow for a Nets team that has seen its defense fall off a cliff when Hollis-Jefferson hits the bench. Before his bad break, the Nets had allowed 98.9 points per 100 possessions, equivalent to a top-seven defensive efficiency mark, in 419 minutes with the Arizona product on the court, and gave up 106.2 points-per-100, a bottom-four mark, in 498 minutes with him on the bench. His talent for slipping past screens, hectoring opposing scorers, creating turnovers (he ranks ninth in the league in steal percentage, according to Basketball-Reference.com) and handling a variety of wing assignments helped cover up for the declining quickness and physicality of the Nets' other perimeter players.

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His penchant for chipping in on the glass — he's pulling down 22.3 percent of opponents' misses, by far the best defensive rebounding rate among players 6-foot-7 or shorter, ahead of even Draymond Green — has helped the Nets finish possessions and limit second-chance opportunities, a critical component for a Brooklyn club that's struggling mightily to shoot and score. It's also been a key piece of improved level of competition that had seen the Nets go 4-5 in the nine games prior to Hollis-Jefferson's injury after starting the season just 1-9.

For now, the Nets will muddle through by sliding Bojan Bogdanovic into the starting lineup. The Bosnian shooter struggled in Brooklyn's Sunday loss to the league-leading Golden State Warriors, but bounced back Tuesday, scoring 19 points on 8-for-16 shooting (3-for-7 from 3-point range) to go with five rebounds, two steals and an assist in the Nets' 110-105 win over the still-scuffling Houston Rockets. Hollins could also look to recoup some of the defensive athleticism lost with RHJ gone by swinging back toward second-year guard Markel Brown, who provided a spark for the Nets last season but had fallen out of the rotation, logging just 10 total minutes during a 12-game span before totaling 40 in the past three.

No solution seems likely to fully replace Hollis-Jefferson's impact, though, which spells bad news for a Nets team that does not own its own first-round draft pick this coming season, thanks to the long-ago trade importing Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry, and that would really not like to hand the Boston Celtics a top-three choice this coming June. Brooklyn would probably have to crater something fierce to get and stay on the level of the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers, but being without their top defensive player and their primary source of energy for roughly half of the remaining season could very well spur such a spiral. It's hard to find a silver lining around a cloud this grey, but we know Hollis-Jefferson has already battled through some awfully tough circumstances to get to this point, and as he works his way through his rehabilitation, if nothing else, at least he knows someone's got his back.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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