Nene Out ‘Approximately 6 Weeks’ with Sprained MCL; Still, What Will the Wizards Do?
Yes, it is true, per initial reports from Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, that Nene will not be out for the season with torn ligaments in his knee. Still, it’s hard to get too encouraged by what has been diagnosed as a “sprained MCL,” which will cause Nene to miss four-to-six weeks. The official press release from the Wizards says that Nene “will miss approximately six weeks.” Per that timetable, he could miss Washington’s next 14-to-21 games and return for the final 5-to-12 games of the regular season.
The Wizards, thin at depth in the frontcourt already, are still in a whole heap of trouble. Just having fought tooth-and-nail to get back to .500 (28-28), the next four-to-six weeks could be very difficult to survive in a playoff-worthy manner. Take one of the top two players off any roster and that team will likely scramble to struggle through the uncertainty. A coach will say that just as soon as he’ll say, “No one is going to feel sorry for us.”
Some teams, however, are better built to endure, at least in the regular season. The Chicago Bulls are positioned to make the playoffs for the second season in a row without any significant contribution from former MVP Derrick Rose. The Oklahoma City Thunder endured, and excelled, during previous regular season life without Russell Westbrook. And, of course, the exemplary San Antonio Spurs can handle a relatively fully healthy Wizards squad without the services of Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili and, for the most part, Tony Parker.
But that’s what championship-caliber franchises do. They endure no matter what. The Wizards franchise still wastes too much time fighting its own demons.
Remove a pillar from Washington’s house of cards and a collapse becomes imminent. The four pillars in order would be: 1) John Wall, 2) Nene, 3) Marcin Gortat, and 4) Trevor Ariza and/or Bradley Beal.
Life without Nene, even if just temporary, is not un-survivable, but it is also just about insurmountable. No free agent signing could come close to compensating for what Nene brings on offense, much less defense. From the top view that counts, the Wizards are 1-6 this season without Nene; they were 3-18 without him last year; and they are 7-33 (.175) when Nene’s been sidelined in the regular season since he arrived in March 2012.
Nene is the man who made unselfish offense in Washington cool. He can create spacing with soft jumpers, and he can cause havoc in the post with his strength and agility (when he wants the finish). Most importantly, Nene opened the ignorant eyes of Wiz Kids in displaying how a mere willingness to pass the ball out of the post to the perimeter,
or to a cutter going toward the basket, can do wonders for team offense. His only offensive weakness: free throws.
But, as the numbers reflect (read on), Nene has a much greater influence on the defensive end of the floor. He possesses the strength and smarts to fight for and keep position in the post. He possesses the quickness (for his size via Brazilian soccer passion) to contain and contest stretch 4s on the perimeter better than the average bear. Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza come close, but no other Wizard has as much of defensive influence on the game as Nene; the court presence of others features a dramatic drop off.
Per NBA.com.stats, the Wizards allow opponents to score an average of 102 points per 100 possessions on the season (DefRtg).
- In Nene’s 1,477 on-court minutes, that DefRtg drops to 99 points per 100 possessions, the best on the team amongst those who play significant minutes. (Gortat is second-best at 100.3, and Ariza is third-best at 100.6.)
- In the 1,256 minutes that Nene has been on the bench this season, Washington’s DefRtg jumps to 105.7.
- Washington’s OffRtg (points produced per 100 possessions) remains a consistent 101.8 whether Nene is on the court or on the bench.
The defense gets really messy when you look at Washington’s non-Nene (and non-Jan Vesely) five man units. In order of minutes played and including DefRtg:
- 105.4 DefRtg – Wall, Beal, Ariza, Booker, Gortat (242 minutes)
- 112.1 DefRtg – Wall, Webster, Ariza, Booker, Gortat (139 minutes)
- 116.1 DefRtg – Temple, Beal, Webster, Booker, Seraphin (57 minutes)
- 138.7 DefRtg – Wall, Beal, Webster, Booker, Gortat (35 minutes)
- 93.8 DefRtg – Wall, Beal, Webster, Ariza, Gortat (29 minutes)
- 99.2 DefRtg – Wall, Webster, Ariza, Seraphin, Gortat (29 minutes)
The last two lineups probably convey too small of a sample size. The main takeaways are that Martell Webster generally has struggled on defense this season, making it somewhat difficult for 4/5 combos like Booker and Gortat to survive their own inefficiencies.
When Gortat said that “50 percent of Nene” is better than most, well, it wasn’t necessarily hyperbole.
So with the Big Brazilian down for a month to a month-and-a-half, what ever can the Wizards and Randy Wittman (and Ted Leonsis, and Ernie Grunfeld) do? Because Nene’s injury could mean the difference between a four-to-six seed in the East and a competitive first round series, and the 7-or-8 seed and a first round defeat at the dominant hands of Miami or Indiana.
1) Use the 15th roster spot.
This seems like as much of a “no-brainer” as the move to get Andre Miller, as Wittman called it on Saturday night. Beginning in early January of this season, teams could start signing players to 10-day contract auditions. (Note: After two 10-day contracts, a team must sign a player for the rest of the season or let him go.) Of course, with a franchise like the Wizards, dangling a 10-day contract as bait might not attract the kind of talent needed that a contract for the rest of the season would.
Nonetheless, there are plenty of bags of bones available to Grunfeld—Marcus Camby, Joel Przybilla, Chris Wilcox, Kwame Brown, Troy Murphy, Hamady N’diaye, and Drew Gooden (who shares an agent, Dan Fegan, with Wall, Nene, Martell Webster, and Al Harrington, FWIW); maybe Ivan Johnson (currently playing in China) would be the best option; maybe there’s a D-Leaguer
Point is, the Wizards only have two players capable of truly playing power forward or center: Marcin Gortat and Kevin Seraphin. Trevor Booker is an undersized 4, Al Harrington is a stretch-4, and Chris Singleton still exists, technically. And that’s it … five healthy big men on Washington’s roster. Kind of stings on paper, totally stings in reality… even with a healthy Nene.
NOTE/UPDATE: ESPN’s Marc Stein is reporting that a deal to bring Drew Gooden to Washington is “likely.” The Washington Post’s Michael Lee reports that Lou Amundson or DeSegana Diop could also be options.
2) Still #Pray4Nene.
Also a no-brainer, but I’m not sure it will help much more than it already has or has not. Not only does Nene’s knee need to recover toward the most optimistic end of the timetable, but it also needs to recover fully. Much easier said than done with a man of Nene’s storied injury history.
3) Get John Wall and Bradley Beal to recommit to defense.
It’s kind of sad that Garrett Temple is the only capable perimeter defender off
the bench (and really only the third capable perimeter defender on the team after Ariza and Wall; Beal and Webster are both currently in the class of sub-par, to varying degrees). Stopping opponent points in the paint starts with perimeter defense, and too many times Wall and Beal have been found asleep at the wheel.
4) Right-size expectations.
Nene going down does not kill the playoff goal—obviously if he returns before the regular season is over—but it does put a large, woolen wet blanket over hope. There are 26 games to go, maybe 21 without Nene. If you factor in the Wizards’ .175 winning percentage when Nene’s not available, they would project to go 5-16 over the next 21 games (which would make them 33-44 overall). The schedule ahead is light on competition (on paper), and so the Wizards should be better than that (i.e., perhaps/maybe/hopefully continue to be a .500 team). But… yeah.
The Wizards were ripe for a one-and-done playoff appearance anyway. (OK, so maybe they were actually ripe for a second-round loss with an indeterminate ability to compete.) Ted Leonsis’ pixel monsters have already backed down from “Playoffs or Bust” mantras… Now whether this latest injury buys Grunfeld more time to tinker past this 2013-14 season remains to be seen. There will always be an excuse to not cut ties in a Stockholm Syndrome kind of manner.
The uphill rebuilding battle is now at a much greater incline, especially as you consider that such an injury might put Nene’s career, not just the season, in jeopardy. Remember, this is the guy who has long said that he would prefer to retire at the end of his current contract so he could start a church in his home country of Brazil (Nene is owed $26 million over two seasons after this one and would be 33 years old—going on 34—at that time).
Washington Wizards Playoffs 2013-14? It’d
be a great sugar pill. And who knows, maybe Nene comes back #FullNene and bakes the Wizards a cake.
The future, however? Still very much #SoWizards with a chance of cloudy.
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