"Nenew" Traditions

After Nene’s 22 point, 10 rebound effort in the Wizards’ eleventh 19+ point win since 2008, I was feeling a little giddy. Nene looked great, and it was refreshing to have a big man who wasn’t immediately confused when he handed the ball. The team played hard and it felt like Nene’s presence had an actual effect on the team’s effort.

So I had to see Nene in person.

Last night was his first game at the Verizon Center as a Washington Wizard, and I was there. I went to see a mostly empty arena’s reaction to our newfound, thirteen million dollar man. The welcome was about as warm as is possible in building with a capacity of 20,000 people that seemed to house about ten patrons at the start of the game. Of the ten visible fans, six had signs in Portuguese that seemed to be happy to see a real center on the court. I don’t speak Portuguese but the people holding them sure seemed excited. Pretty good ratio, nonetheless.

To start that game, Nene had a few JaVale-like moments that prompted me to tweet, “Nene has done a lot of things tonight that JaVale would have been crucified for.” I wanted to point out that no one is perfect, and even a cerebral veteran with a well-rounded game can do ridiculous things. Someone responded by pointing out that Nene had hit a fade away jumper and had two assists at the time of my tweet. Fair enough.

Nene’s thought process and decision-making are logical and defendable, even if there is a poor outcome. While he was turning the ball over and taking generally terrible shots, I found myself thinking that he was doing more for the team than another Jordan Crawford three-pointer — he was 2 for 9 on the night — would have ever done.

I knew we were getting a guy who scores mostly on assists. I knew we were pairing him with a point guard who racks up assists mostly because he has the ball in his hands all the time. There will be nights like this, when Nene shoots 3 of 9 from the field, until he learns to play with John Wall. Nene can finish around the rim but needs the helpers. He knows where to be on offense, which was clear to me. John just couldn’t find him often enough vs. the Pacers.

While I did enjoy Nene’s presence on the court, this team will have to change with him. The Wizards traded one of the best rebounding big men in the league in JaVale McGee, who is 23rd in the league in total rebound percentage, for one who is 73rd, in Nene, to play with Kevin Seraphin and Trevor, who are 70th and 86th, respectively. This was as evident as it will ever be, not only in Nene’s five total rebounds, but also in the last 70 seconds when the Wizards gave up three offensive boards.

Ultimately, I was a little disappointed with my first look at Nene. I know one game isn’t representative, but the Pacers’ final possession lasted 50 seconds, aided by poor rebounding and enabled by the most comical inbounds pass I had ever seen from Nene, leading to a turnover.

This team has much time to jell and I’m still very excited for a Wall-Nene on-court relationship. Oddly enough, as of March 23, 2012, the Nuggets can thank JaVale for a win and the Wizards can blame a loss on Nene. Would you have ever thought that to be the case? I wouldn’t have, but that’s all I could take away from seeing Nene live.

I’m hoping for more in the future.

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