This wasn't Lionel Hollins' finest hour.
Hollins may be coaching an unfinished product of a rebuilding roster in a "bridge year," but his decision-making was particularly puzzling in the Brooklyn Nets' 101-87 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night.
Especially odd was Hollins' decision to play rookie defensive sparkplug Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who was a plus-13 and recorded three steals during his time on the court, for just 11 minutes, including three minutes in the second half. This came after Hollins played Hollis-Jefferson for only four minutes in Monday night's loss to Milwaukee.
As it was, Hollis-Jefferson was the Nets' only positive plus-minus player in their latest setback, which made them 0-5 for just the third time in franchise history. Up next is a home date against the winless Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night, followed by dates in Milwaukee, Houston, Sacramento and Golden State.
The Nets need to turn things around quickly. Otherwise, this season could unravel before the calendar even turns to December.
"We're moving forward. It doesn't look like it because we're still losing, but I think that we are moving forward," Hollins told reporters in Atlanta.
On the heels of a tremendous performance by Brook Lopez, who had 16 of his 27 points and all three of his dunks in the third quarter alone, Brooklyn trailed the Hawks team that knocked it out of last season's playoffs by just two entering the final period. But the Nets imploded from there, getting outscored 29-17 in the fourth -- a quarter in which Lopez attempted just one field goal and Atlanta shot 58.8 percent from the field.
Overall, the Nets went 5-for-21 from 3-point range and committed a season-high 19 turnovers. Point guards Jarrett Jack and Shane Larkin went a combined 4-for-13 from the field with seven assists and six turnovers. Joe Johnson had a 1-for-10 shooting night; he is in the midst of a 15-for-53 shooting season.
Under normal circumstances, it would behoove Brooklyn to put young on-court player development above everything else. But because of a series of ill-fated transactions, the Nets don't have a first-round pick in next year's draft, so it's important to them to get wins and make the playoffs.
And while this seems counterproductive -- and in the long run, it probably is -- NBA coaches aren't in the business of losing games. So Hollins, 62, is going to play the guys he believes give his team the best chance to win, even if those decisions run counter to those supported by the advanced statistics.
For example, in RHJ's 79 minutes this season, the Nets are outscoring opponents by an average of 15.8 points per 100 possessions. This is not to suggest that Hollis-Jefferson should become the team's focal point, but his impact is clearly being felt, and there's no reason he shouldn't be playing more than the 15 minutes he has logged over the past two games combined.
Other notable Brooklyn individual on-court net ratings on a per 100 possessions basis in the early going: Jack (minus-13.7 in 124 minutes); Thaddeus Young (minus-15.6 in 144 minutes); Lopez (minus-18.1 in 164 minutes); Johnson (minus-24.2 in 161 minutes).
On Monday night, after Lopez picked up his fifth foul with 4:44 remaining and the game tied, Hollins didn't bring him back in for the next 4:13. The Nets went 1-for-6 from the field with a turnover during that stretch, and by the time Lopez came back, they trailed by three in their eventual loss to the Bucks.
Hollins, it stands to reason, could have at least went offense-defense with Lopez during that stretch, but he didn't.
Two winnable games. Two losses.
With the Nets lacking in the talent department, Hollins is supposed to make up for at least some of that in the coaching department.
So far, he hasn't, and the results speak for themselves.