Washington Wizards: Why Nene Will Still Play An Important Role This Season


When the Washington Wizards decided to change their system this season, everyone was excited to finally see John Wall and Bradley Beal play in an up-tempo offense.

Wall, in particular, has never played with other players who are capable of thriving in transition and playing a fast-paced brand of basketball. Wall, who’s the fastest player in the NBA, was forced to play alongside veteran players who weren’t able to play as fast as the point guard would’ve liked.

Even in Randy Wittman‘s archaic offense, Wall still totaled up the most assists in the league and made the All-Star team for two consecutive seasons. He’s been regarded as a top-5 point guard, despite being held back by an old-school offense.

This season, we’ll get to see Wall and Bradley Beal — who’ll finally focus on shooting threes and getting to the basket instead of settling for long twos — play in a system that caters to their abilities.

While Washington’s core group of players was excited to continue a system they had success with in the NBA Playoffs, the big men had to adapt.

Drew Gooden was already a solid three point shooter, but in order for him to get consistent minutes, his output from the perimeter had to increase. Kris Humphries, a traditional bruising big man, suddenly found himself standing in the corner or trailing for three point shots.

If the big men want to get playing time, they have to find a way to space the floor.

Gooden and Humphries quickly adapted their games to the new style and will find a way to get minutes. Along with Jared Dudley, Washington finally has a group of bigs that are able to open the floor up for their star back court.

However, the Washington Wizards still have a few big men on their roster that will never develop an outside shot.

Marcin Gortat is the team’s starting center and will rarely find himself outside of 15 feet, so the change didn’t really affect him.

The newly dubbed Polish Gazelle played in an up-tempo system with the Phoenix Suns and has looked like an All-Star in the preseason. He’s one of the best rim-running big men in the league, so he’ll definitely benefit from the change as well.

The other two bigs — Nene and DeJuan Blair — are kind of stuck in no-man’s land.

After a miserable first season in the nation’s capital, Blair dropped a significant amount of weight this summer and seemed determined to find a way to get playing time. He’s looked fantastic in preseason too. Blair is catching passes in traffic, finishing around the rim and rebounding well. Unfortunately, he’ll still have a tough time finding consistent minutes.

The Washington Wizards are going to want to have at least one “big man” out there that can space the floor. They’re going to play small, so Blair will rarely (if ever) see time at power forward.

At this point, I wouldn’t expect him to get playing time unless another rotation player gets hurt. So, that leads us to the oft-injured Nene…

Nene played in a fast-paced system under George Karl with the Denver Nuggets years ago, but…that was years ago. The Brazilian big man is no longer capable of playing 30+ minutes a night in that system. He’s dealt with numerous foot injuries, and quite frankly, he’s just not the player he used to be.

Wittman swapped Nene out of the starting lineup for Humphries, who’s better at doing the things that the Wizards need from their four man. Humphries can shoot from the perimeter, excels at running in transition and rebounds the ball. Nene is weak at all of the things Humphries is good at. Sadly for Nene, Washington’s change of play will benefit Humphries more than him.

Most people were quick to get frustrated with Nene last season and I was certainly one of them. It’s easy to put the blame on a single player for a loss — you still should’ve grabbed that board over Al Horford; I digress — but we often forget about the #PositivePixels that Nene brings to the table.

Nene is a declining player, but he’s still one of the best passing big men in the league. He’s still a threat in the post and he knows how to command attention. With Kevin Seraphin gone, Nene is the only player on the roster that forces defenses to collapse inside. Even at 33-years-old, Nene is still a force to be reckoned with when he gets it going — just ask Joakim Noah.

His role on the team will be reduced this season. Nene is no longer a starter and he’ll become the team’s primary backup center. Nene isn’t a fan of playing the position, but at this point in his career, he doesn’t really have a choice. If you can’t space the floor, you’re going to play center. It’s really that simple.

It might seem like a demotion (because, well, it is), but Nene is still going to be a key player for the Washington Wizards. He missed the final few preseason games and the second unit struggled at times. Ramon Sessions and Gary Neal are the only two players off the bench that could create offense. Nene will be the focal point of that group once he returns. He’s going to anchor the team on both ends of the floor.

The Washington Wizards were hoping that Alan Anderson would become their sixth man, but their sixth man was already on the roster. He’s no longer a starter nor the player he used to be, but Nene is still going to play a key role to the team’s success. If he embraces his new role, he could potentially contend for that Sixth Man award at the end of the season.

This probably isn’t what Nene envisioned when he came to training camp, but this change was inevitable. The change, though, is going to benefit the team. After all, how many teams have a player of his caliber waiting on the bench? Not many.

Next: 10 Predictions For The Wizards This Season

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