Washington Wizards 2015-2016 Player Previews: Nene


Washington Wizards, 2015-2016 Player Previews

Nene, 2014-15 regular season stats: 11 PPG, 5.1 RPG, .03 BPG, 51% FG%, 60% FT%, 25.3 minutes, 67 games

There is a reputation out there that I hate Nene and actively root against him, but I want to take a moment to set the record straight. It’s not that I hate him as a player. What I really hate is how every single Washington Wizards fan treats him like he can do no wrong.

He plays one solid game out of a stretch of six and it’s considered enough to cover up the lethargic effort elsewhere. His constant refusal to do what’s best for the team (in this case, play center) is forgiven because he’s such a good locker room presence. And his pure disregard for protecting the defensive glass is fine because the team rebounds better when he’s on the floor!

Look, I don’t know why exactly he gets a pass for pretty much everything he does.

Maybe it’s because the player he replaced (JaVale McGee) was such a train wreck in his own regard that simply bringing in a competent veteran was enough for fans to see the light. Or maybe it was the 5 game demolition of Joakim Noah in last year’s first round matchup vs. the Chicago Bulls that got everyone all aboard the Nene Train (we’ll conveniently forget that David West destroyed him a round later).

Wait, now it sounds like I do in fact hate him. Ok let me back track.

Nene is still a really useful player with a lot of modern NBA-skills. He is an agile mover who is currently our best man-to-man defender down low. He remains one of the best passing big men in the league, probably a notch below guys like Noah and the Gasol brothers but still capable of having an offense move through his spot on the block.

And since the Washington Wizards have put such a high emphasis on character teammates since the late-2000’s fiasco, we should give him credit for his vocal leadership (though it would be nice to see him take his own advice once in a while about effort and hard work).

So how does Nene fit into the picture next season?

This may be his last year with the club, as his 5 year/$65 million contract expires and Washington is desperately trying to clear the deck for a run at hometown hero Kevin Durant. Nonetheless, the Wizards need a valuable season from the big Brazilian and he certainly has the goods to deliver.

Although he is slated to start the season at power forward next to Marcin Gortat, Wittman saw how much that cluttered the offensive spacing and slowed down the defensive tenacity.

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My guess is he’ll eventually move full-time to backup center, especially since there is no one to fill that void while there are up to 4 options at power forward (Dudley, Gooden, Humphries, and Porter).

It’ll be critical for Nene to maintain his mid-range accuracy to stay on the floor, regardless of position.

He shot 38% from 10-16 feet last season, per Basketball Reference, after shooting 40% the season before.

And realistically, I’d like for him to stop settling for that shot and instead roll hard to the basket to impose more of his brute strength.

A big man with limited range and a True Shooting % of 53.4 = No Bueno.

The final hurdle for Nene is one that has remained since the early stages of his career; injury prevention. He hasn’t played more than 70 games since the 2010-11 season and with no alternatives behind Gortat aside from the corpse of Dejuan Blair, it’ll be more imperative than ever to keep him fresh for the post-season.

I’d like to see Washington sit Nene on those days when playing against largely small-ball teams (i.e. Indiana, New York, Milwaukee, etc.).

One thing I’ve learned to accept about Nene is his statistics (both regular and advanced) will never tell the full impact on the team.

Washington has always played better when he’s active and on the floor. That’s tailed off a bit over the last couple seasons as management has added several other capable players on the roster but he still produced at a near league-average level in terms of PER (14.3) and Win Shares/48 (.086).

However, given this steady and rather predictable decline, I don’t believe his place on this team is as a full-time starter any longer. The Washington Wizards failed to address the power forward spot for a second straight offseason (not counting an injured Dudley) so there may be nowhere else to turn for now but unless Nene slides over to the 5, he can’t run with most of today’s NBA teams.

That doesn’t mean Nene won’t be useful.

Wittman just has to learn the new ways in which to get the most out of him while preserving his fragile body for when it counts. Hard to believe but we’re entering Year 14 of the Nene experience, and Year 5 with the Washington Wizards.

It could be time for me to put aside my harsh eye and enjoy whatever transpires this year. There will be frustrating moments and there will be exhilarating ones.

The great thing about Nene is by looking at his expressions, you can’t tell which type of moment just happened.

Next: A-Dub Could Become Washington's Sixth Man

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