The Washington Wizards quickly responded to the free agency departure of Trevor Booker by acquiring Kris Humphries in a sign-and-trade with the Boston Celtics. Humphries comes over to the nation’s capital coming off of a solid season in a reserve role with the Celtics. But they didn’t stop there. The Wizards followed that up by acquiring the ’09 draft night fan favorite, DeJuan Blair.
Similar to Kris Humphries, Dejuan Blair played primarily as a reserve last season with the Mavericks and had a solid season in that capacity. So the obvious conclusion is that both of these players should assume a similar role with the Wizards then, right? Before I even suggest what I’m going to propose, I know what you’re already thinking. Nene has been a defensive anchor for this team since he came here, had his way with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in the first round of last year’s playoffs, and was the first true veteran player to come into this locker-room and bring a sense of professionalism. Yes, I acknowledge that entirely, but isn’t it time to consider replacing him in the starting lineup?
The first argument is the obvious one– health.
Nene has not played in more than 61 regular season games since the ’10-’11 season. Assuming he plays a full 61 games, he will still miss one-quarter of the regular season. Wouldn’t it make sense to maintain continuity in the starting lineup versus shuffling the deck every 20 games when Nene gets banged up? Kris Humphries hasn’t played a full 82-game season either recently (averaging 65 games played over the last 3-seasons), but his injuries don’t seem to be of the recurring nature which Nene’s are and some of his absence may have had to do with Boston’s season last year and the lack of urgency in needing him back in the lineup as they played out the stretch. Blair amazingly (considering he has no acl in either knee) has averaged 73 games played per season and has had three seasons where he has played in 78 or more games. Wouldn’t the team be better served having a starting power forward in the starting lineup that they can depend on in terms of health and availability? Wouldn’t a reserve role and slightly less than starter minutes also potentially preserve Nene more so that he is running on all cylinders come the end of season and playoff time?
Do the Washington Wizards really want to put our five best offensive players in the starting lineup (sorry Glen Rice Jr, I can’t put you up there yet!). Assuming a starting lineup of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Paul Pierce, and Marcin Gortat at their respective positions, you already have four players in the lineup who need their touches. Paul Pierce replaces Trevor Ariza, who was more of an off the ball starter for the Wizards and Brad Beal should have the ball run through him more as he becomes increasingly adept to creating his own offense. Marcin Gortat has already made it clear prior to signing his contract with the Wizards that he wants the offense to run through him more and John Wall was amongst the league leaders in time of possession. Where does that leave touches for a fifth starter in this offense? Why not let Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair battle it out for the starting power forward position and play that garbage-man role? Is it really wise to put you five best scorers out there at once and not allow them to establish a rhythm as everyone takes turns to open a game? A role player/glue guy can really help bring the starting five together and maximize the potential of the other four starters.
Which leads to my third and final argument; the positive impact Nene would have on the bench. Nene has a versatile skill-set and impacts the game as a scorer and facilitator. The Wizards likely second unit has no proven go-to scorer.. How great would it be to have Nene anchoring the second unit as its go-to option and while also taking some pressure off of Rice Jr. and Otto Porter as they’re eased into the rotation and their first meaningful role? Nene is also very familiar with Andre Miller from their Denver days, so chemistry shouldn’t be an issue. Nene also will have the advantage of going against the opponents backup bigs where he should have his way on a nightly basis. With the talent that Nene does bring to the table, is there any reason why he couldn’t be a Sixth Man of the Year Candidate in this role?
The argument to bring Nene off the bench is not a reflection of him as a basketball player. As John Wooden’s old adage says, “Its not so important who starts the game but who finishes it.” Nene can and should still be on the floor in crunch time, but a move like this could help the team be in better position when we get there.